Unconventional Wisdom: Red And Romo Are Earning Their Money

The Cowboys are 2-3, and although before the season started everybody expected them to be either 2-3, or 3-2 at this point of the year, two old stories are making a come-back.

a)     Tony Romo is a loose canon, and a loser. We can´t expect to win anything with him.

b)     Jason Garrett is a horrible OC, who doesn't know how to use his weapons.

Are they? I think not.  In fact, I will argue that they are probably giving us better bang for the buck than at any other time in their careers. Are you intrigued? Allow me to explain myself, but let's start by remembering some basic facts:

  • When your running backs are capable of moving the ball 4 or 5 yards every touch they get, the defense must adjust by playing closer to the line of scrimmage, making it easier for your receivers to get behind the secondary.
  • When your OL excels at pass protection, and you have fast receivers, they will run deeper routes, stretching the field, opening up several possibilities to your tight ends, slot receivers, running backs, and so on.

As we all remember, the Cowboys' offenses of the 90s could do both things very well, making them virtually unstoppable. To a lesser extent, our offenses of, say, four years ago, were very versatile too. Back then, you might remember Jason Garrett saying on numerous occasions that the Cowboys would let the other team choose their poison, and take whatever the defense gave them.

But what about now?

When you look at our elite receivers, our tight ends, our speedy running backs, and at our quarterback, we might be forgiven for deluding ourselves into believing that we have the talent to be an elite offense. Nevertheless, the truth is that our talent at the skill positions is neutralized to a great extent by our OL.

Sure, they are full of desire, and it is not entirely unrealistic to expect them to improve, but as of right now, it is obvious that they are young and undersized. They can't be trusted to open up lanes for the running backs, nor to pass protect consistently.

Right now, our OL is barely adequate and we are hostage to it. We know it. Our opponents know it. Because of that:

  • Our opponents don't fear our running game, nor the deep pass, so they basically prepare themselves to protect the middle of the field.
  • Our offense knows that it can't run effectively, nor expect adequate protection to play the deep pass, so we also game plan to exploit the short and intermediate passing game.

As of right now, our game plan is to create some confusion, hope that one of our elite receivers will get a favorable matchup, catch the ball in space, and run after the catch for a long gain. However, that can only happen a few times every game.

The rest of the time, the performance of the offensive line is forcing Romo to release the ball a lot faster than he would want to, against well-covered receivers, and into traffic. Many times he throws the ball, hoping that the receiver will see the same thing that he does, and run to the place where he is expecting him to be.

Knowing that, our opponents are realizing that it is not necessary to do anything special to stop the run, or to pressure Romo. They can rush the passer with their basic packages and ask the rest of their players to protect the middle of the field, where the Cowboys concentrate their attack.

Their strategy is very simple. Force us to march the whole field, because there is a good chance that one of 3 things will happen: a) our OL will kill the drive with an untimely sack or penalty; b) we will reach the red zone and fail to score a TD, or: c) we will turn the ball over.

It sounds bad. Horrible in fact. But what else is there to do?

I assure you, Garrett is not an idiot. Romo is not a compulsive risk taker (at least not in a clinical sense). They would both LOVE IT if it were possible to open up the whole playbook.

  • I mean, it sure would be nice to count on adequate pass protection, to go through your reads, let the receivers open up, and pick the defense apart.
  • It would also be swell to cool off the pass-rush by handing the ball to your running back, knowing that he will give you 4-5 yards every touch.
  • What about giving it to the running back on first and goal at the three, and score, or know that at worst you will face second and inches?
  • And, of course, how awesome would it be to hand it over to the running backs, gain 50 yards, chew four minutes of the clock, kick a 28 yard field goal, and ice the game?

All of those options are better than what we are doing right now. We are throwing the ball, almost every time, exactly where the defense expects it.

It can be done of course, in fact, we are doing it. But it is very difficult for the offense. They won't get many long gains. They will move the ball, 5, 7, perhaps 15 yards at a time. Long drives. Many opportunities to screw up, so execution must be perfect in order to score.

On the other hand, our opponents' defenses don't need to do much. Slight miscommunication between quarterback and receiver. Tipped ball. Rushed decision. Anything or whatever. Their defense only needs one good play to stop our offense. One slight mistake, and they steal the ball from us.

So, I get it. Romo has to protect the ball better. But be fair. In case you haven't noticed, he can't play it safe at all. Some of his best plays of this season involved putting the ball in a place where the ball could easily have been intercepted (think of the TD that Austin outwrestled from Cromartie against the Jets, or his diving TD against San Fran).

He is being forced to play in a situation in which the distance between hero and clown is razor-sharp, and nevertheless, he keeps making plays. Add to that that he is playing hurt. And he is being a good teammate (a number of people in his situation would be throwing teammates left and right under the bus, but not him, he is taking it all).

And Garrett. I won't second guess situational playcalling, because if it didn't work, there will always be a "better" alternative. To me, the important thing is that he has managed to have a productive offensive season with serious injuries, and subpar personnel in key areas. Between him, and Ryan, they managed to survive the worst part of the schedule in a position to make a run for the playoffs.

I won't deny that the Cowboys are a couple of plays away from being 5-0. It hurts that it did not turn out that way. But given their current talent level at the OL, and the injuries they had, they might as well be 0-5.

And if you think about it longer, it turns out that Garrett has been disguising the deficiencies of the OL, not only this year, but for quite a long time. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Note: Well, that's my view, but will be happy to discuss it! Take into account that it is my first post, and I speak English as a second language. Be gentle!

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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