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Fixing the Cowboys

I'm looking for the magic wand, the one I can waive around and make things all better. Where's Harry Potter when I need him? The Dallas Cowboys, as a team, were exposed Monday night. All of their flaws were on display before a nationwide audience.

We have no right to claim we have a top-flight defense, not when we continue to give up big plays resulting in big scores. The talk before the game was all about the Giants copying the Eagle's blueprint on defense and attacking Drew Bledsoe. We all forgot about the Giants copying the Eagles blueprint on offense and attacking free safety Pat Watkins. Just because Watkins has loads of potential and looks like he might be a mainstay on defense for years to come, that doesn't exempt him from blame this year.

What about the Dallas pass rush? Why, with so much talent, are they unable to generate sustained pressure on opposing QB's. In the second half of the game, Dallas blitzed more than I've seen them do in quite a while. The result was a big, fat nothing. Eli Manning calmly stood in the pocket and hit his receivers on simple out patterns. Our blitz was all sound and no fury. Ellis and Ware had moments when they got to Manning, but not enough to truly affect the outcome of the game. Chris Canty and Marcus Spears have largely been absent from the pass rush.

The run defense wasn't in top form last night. I'll have more to say about this when I review the game tape, but two things stood out to me. It looked like we missed a lot of tackles, something we normally don't do. We also took bad angles in trying to make those tackles, something we also normally don't do. The second thing was the Giants ability to get their linemen on our linebackers. The Giants are a very good team at running the ball, so this area is the least of my concerns. I never expect a team to go through a whole season without have a breakdown in an area at least once, and this was the one for the run defense.

Over on the offensive side of the ball, the Cowboys are a maddening mix of good and bad. When you look at the final results, they should be a top-flight offensive team. We've yet to score under 17 points in a game, and we average 28 points a game. Still, we have a 3-3 record. Now, we've had to change quarterbacks. A team that averages 28 points a game had to change QB's, contemplate that thought for a moment.

The offensive line has failed us. We score points because we have a bevy of skill players that are capable of taking on any defense in the league. But the offensive line keeps breaking down so that we give up big play after big play to the opposition. Sacks and turnovers have doomed a promising season so far, and the turnovers are not coming from any other position than the QB. Even changing to Tony Romo didn't stop the problems. He was sacked twice, had to scramble to safety numerous times, and threw three interceptions. Here, there are no quick fixes, the Cowboys coaching staff will have to scheme around the issue and I'm not sure that's even possible.

So I've done the easy part, pointing the numerous flaws we have as a team. But how do you go about fixing the Cowboys in time to make a playoff run? I'm not sure it's possible, but I'm going to give it an attempt.

Stay with Romo. As discussed previously, here, you can't go back to Bledsoe now. The die is cast. So now that Romo is the starter, what do you do to make him successful? Use his natural abilities, and that includes letting him run. Opposing defense knew that when Bledsoe dropped back, he wasn't going anywhere; this despite the couple of rushing TD's he's gotten recently. Use Romo on roll-outs, bootlegs and called some designed runs like the QB draw. We know the Cowboys offensive line isn't going to improve dramatically, so we need to keep the defense guessing. We need to make them stay in their lanes and be cognizant of guarding against Romo's feet as well as his arm.

Next, work from the shotgun, often. Put Romo in a position where he doesn't have to worry about dropping back and he receives the ball ready to make a play. Doing this brings up another problem, Andre Gurode is terrible at snapping in the shotgun. His snaps last night were slow and usually high. He needs to practice this regularly from here on out. If he can't get it done, and I can't believe I'm saying this, we might have to turn to Al Johnson. Gurode has played very well this season, so it pains me to even suggest it, but we can't live with those kinds of snaps.

Forget the max protect schemes, they aren't protecting anyone, anyway. Get Fasano and Witten out into the pattern. The second half of the game showed me that Romo likes to throw to the TE's, Witten had his best game all season just in the second half last night. This may sound counter-intuitive, but the Cowboys would be better off sending their receivers into the pattern and taking their chances with Romo being able to escape the rush on occasion and using his quicker release to hit the receivers. Like I mentioned before, if Romo gets in trouble in the backfield, he should just tuck the ball away and run.

The Cowboys passing offense should be a combination of shotgun, flooding the defense with receivers, designed roll-outs and runs for Romo. Most of all, Romo should not be afraid to take off running. Last night there were several plays where he had open field in front of him, he needs to take advantage of that.

I would like to suggest that we change the offensive line, but I'm not sure any option we have on the bench is any better. We probably will just have to live with what we got.

On defense, there's not much we can do. We tried to blitz the Giants in the second half and that didn't work. As for the run defense, I would suggest we just trust that they will return to form and that this game was a one-time aberration. In terms of the secondary, I would consider moving Pat Watkins to a part-time player. So far, he's not been capable of covering WR's deep. After the Eagles and the Giants exposed this, other teams are sure to follow. Marcus Coleman should play more in passing situations.

The only other suggestion I have for the pass rush is to use Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher - when he returns - more. Both guys seem to have the ability to get to the QB. We might want to think about regualr rotations on the defensive line.

The natural tendency with a new QB is to rein him in, to give him a limited playbook and try to protect him as much as possible. In addition, the normal practice is to rely more heavily on the run game. Some of this is applicable to the situation we have now. The Cowboys should try to use Julius Jones and Marion Barber as much as possible to take the pressure off of Romo. They also need to run the screen passes and patterns in the flat to the RB's as alternative running plays. When they decide to pass, give Romo the freedom to move the pocket and to run with the ball if he doesn't like what he sees downfield. Get Fasano and especially Witten more involved in the passing game. One of those two should always be a safety valve option on any pass play.

One more thing, throw the ball to Terrell Owens, the guy is pretty good.

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