Jason Garrett likes to say that the next game is the most important one. Well, Sunday's game against the New England Patriots certainly qualifies as an important one for the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas is trying to get the post-bye part of the season off to a good start and is going to New England to play one of the best franchises in the NFL. They are arguably the best team facing the Cowboys for the rest of the season.
There has been a lot of analysis of the numbers and how each team has performed to date. When you parse the figures, there are things that are favorable for the Cowboys and things that are not. I actually think the 'Boys match up well with the Pats. Both have some scary good receivers. Dallas has some clear advantages on defense. The Patriots have been using their running game effectively, but Rob Ryan's D has been stuffing the run all season. You can go back and forth all day.
What will the game turn on? I think it might come down to the minds of the quarterbacks.
Tony Romo is trying to get beyond his mistakes in the Detroit Lions game, and he is inevitably going to be compared to one of the elite quaterbacks in the league in Tom Brady. While Tony is working on getting past errors out of his mind, Tom is going to have to worry about the chaos facing him.
The things that the opposing signal callers have to deal with are of differing natures. Brady's issues are pretty much all external. He is going up against a team that has been bringing a lot of pressure in the early games, and they are coached by a man who has already figured out how to get into his head and disrupt his play. I don't question the fact that Tom Brady is a truly great quarterback. But if there is one thing that can get him off stride, it is to put pressure right in his face and move him in the pocket. Watching video of the previous two Patriots games, I saw that Tom Terrific is not so terrific when the pocket breaks down. That is how you make him more like all the other quarterbacks out there. The problem with him is that it has to be fast, because he has such lightening quick decision-making and release of the ball.
It does appear that Dallas has exactly the kind of defense that can put a kink in Brady's game. At least according to him.
Q: Do a lot of their interceptions come from pressure on the quarterback because they're so good at rushing the passer and forcing the passer to throw earlier?
TB: Yeah, I think they do. Anytime a quarterback is limited in the amount of time that he has to dissect a play or hold on to the ball, then you don't make as good of throws or as good of reads.
And the big gun is definitely on Brady's mind.
Q:Is DeMarcus Ware a guy you need to keep your eyes on at all times?
TB: Sure, yeah. He can get after a quarterback as good as anyone we play. He's powerful, he's fast off the edge, he's got a bunch of different moves.
He also has some nice comments about the secondary and this new guy outta nowhere called Sean Lee. Now, I don't know how much of this is just being respectful towards the opponent, but it does show that Brady sees that Dallas presents the exact threat to him that can throw his play out of whack. I like seeing those thoughts in his head.
For our guy, the biggest issue is not the opposition. New England has given up more yards per game than any other team this season (although their scoring defense is actually middle of the pack). For Tony Romo, the big question is whether he can control Tony Romo.
I think that the way Tony handles this game is going to set the stage for what happens the remaining 11 games. Without going into agonizing detail, I think that the two losses so far for the Cowboys can be chalked up largely to mental mistakes on his part. If he can shrug those off, this team can challenge anyone in the league. After this game, the schedule is not terribly intimidating, with only the Buffalo game really jumping out at you (I am one who thinks the start the Bills have had this year is for real). If Tony can avoid the mental flatulence he has experienced early on, the Cowboys could easily be a real contender in the NFC East and the conference as a whole.
To do so will require a certain ability to shake off the blunders he has made and still play his game. Fortunately, he has one thing in his life that gives him perfect training for this. His often maligned golf game.
His attempts to qualify for the PGA have been well documented, like this for example. A lot of people have questioned, often rudely, whether his attempts to be a professional level golfer are more of a foolish distraction. But frankly, I can think of no sport that teaches you how to move on after a bad mistake better than knocking that little white ball around. And as for learning to deal with mental pressure, well, what other pressure is there in golf? No one is going to hit you while you are trying to putt. No one is going to try to intercept your drive. The only person who can stop you - is you. Emotions will ruin your game. And every golfer is going to make some horrid shots. The winners are the ones who can make those clunkers, and then follow up with a beautiful stroke.
That is why I think that Tony Romo is going to be fine in this game. His attitude during the bye has been, well, just plain confident. I think all those hours on the links may pay off this week.
And here, I am going to respectfully differ with my colleague, rabblerousr. I am the connoisseur of the Kool Aid, after all.
Cowboys 31, Patriots 21.