This is the second part of the Cowboys/Eagles game review focusing on the offense. The defensive review can be found here.
Where to start? Might as well start with the QB, since that's what we always do. Tony Romo's Magical Mystery Tour is starting to hit some roadblocks. It's not all his fault, there's definitely some guilt by association. The entire offense has been a little inconsistent over the past month. The line has regressed, the receivers are still dropping passes, and the running game has only hit its stride in spurts. But Romo has had more trouble recently than he did in the middle of the season. Maybe it's the competition, maybe the defenses are getting a better understanding of how to play against him. I suspect it's a little of both. This isn't to say Romo is letting the team down, or that his future isn't extremely bright, but when your team only scores seven points in a game, the QB has to take some of the blame.
Romo still makes amazing plays with his arm and his mobility. The 4th and 2 conversion he made prior to the goal line stand was incredible. He dodged an unblocked pass rusher and managed to hit Crayton on the move while being grabbed by another defender. That's a play you just can't teach. He followed that up by keeping a play alive and hitting Anthony Fasano with a pass at the half-yard line. It wasn't his fault Dallas couldn't score on that drive - more on that later. He had other plays when he was under duress and still made the pass completion. He did a very nice job of moving around in the pocket until something opened up on his TD pass to Terrell Owens.
He moved the team effectively in the first half. The first drive got into Eagles territory, the second drive ended with the disastrous goal line sequence, and the third drive resulted in a TD. If the Cowboys would've scored after the second drive, the game would've been completely different. And for kicks, how about the play he made on the high snap over his head when he coolly scooped it up and fired a strike to Witten. The kid will make plays.
The thing Romo is doing recently that's become a disturbing trend is throwing interceptions, at crucial times. This time he made the choice to throw into double-coverage, then compounded the mistake by throwing the ball inside to the defender, instead of leading his receiver outside where it was his ball or no one's ball. The score was only 16-7 and the Cowboys were in Eagles territory and had a 2nd and 3. You just can't turn the ball over in that situation. His touch on deep passes is still hit and miss, he missed Terry Glenn on a deep pattern early in the game. Of course, it doesn't help when Terrell Owens drops a deep ball with perfect touch on it. But previous to that play Romo took a 9-yard sack by holding on to the ball too long on a short-drop pattern, then on the next play got a little jumpy in the pocket when he had time and fired a pass away to nobody on the sidelines. His completion percentage is down, from a little of his own inaccuracy and a little bit of throwing the ball away when no one is open.
So it's not perfect with Romo, but he's not the problem either. His play is still pretty good, but the turnovers are starting to become troublesome.
The offensive line play was spotty all night. Each player had moments when they had very poor blocks in the run game and in pass protection. In general, on the running plays they weren't getting a very good initial push. The Cowboys backs rarely had big holes to run through, and had to work pretty hard to get the meager yards they did. In the pass rush, the Eagles did a good job of running delayed blitzes where they took advantage of holes in the line after the blocking scheme had already been set-up. They also physically beat the Cowboys blockers on several plays, including the sack given up by Marco Rivera. It wasn't a jail-break rush for the Eagles like in the first game, but Romo spent a lot of time moving in the pocket and was less than comfortable. The line simply has to play better than this game for the Cowboys offense to operate anywhere near full-efficiency.
Let's talk about the goal line disaster, which was a failure by the coaching staff and the players. The play calling was definitely suspect. The Cowboys had 2nd down with the ball inside the 1-yard line. For the life of me, I can't figure out what Parcells has against the QB sneak. It works a high percentage of the time in "less than a yard" situations. In fact, the Cowboys should've used it earlier in the drive on a 3rd down, instead they chose to run wide with MB3 and lost yardage. Running MB3 wide on that play was a curious call.
On 2nd down back at the goal line, they ran MB3 into the line - instead of running a sneak - and Colombo gets pushed back, Hoyte runs into him and MB3 is tackle by an unblocked defender. On 3rd down, the perfect play-action down, Dallas decides to run again. But they put Hoyte in motion to draw away a LB, so now they are running to the middle of the line with no FB. Strange call indeed, no one actually thought the ball was going to Hoyte, so the effect was negligible. It didn't matter anyway, because both Philly ends crashed down the line beating Flozell and Colombo, and the play actually loses yardage. On 4th down, instead of taking the sure three points, the Cowboys decided to run MB3 outside again. Hoyte misses the block and the play is dead in its tracks. Bad execution and even worse play-calling.
Of the receivers, only Jason Witten had a good game, he caught six balls for 50 yards; the next closest receiver caught two for 29 yards. Terrell Owens dropped two passes and Terry Glenn dropped one. It also looked like the receivers were having a tough time getting open.
JJ didn't have much room to run, he occasionally picked up some good yards, but the running game wasn't effective at all. When MB3 is getting stopped at the goal line, you know we aren't getting the blocks we need. Another problem is that JJ and MB3 had a combined 16 carries for the game. The Cowboys defense was giving up long, time-consuming drives giving the offense fewer chances to score. And once we fell behind, we were forced to pass more. So the way the game unfolded plus some poor run blocking left us unable to generate a sufficient ground game. In addition, Oliver Hoyte didn't play that well. Besides the missed block on the goal line he had a couple of other bad blocks. On the bright side, Tony Romo did have 42 yards rushing.
It's hard to dissect what is wrong with the offense. Romo doesn't look quite as sharp recently, the offensive line is giving up more of a pass rush and the run blocking is also regressing. The play of the receivers has been pretty stable, but teams are trying to prevent Romo from utilizing the short passing game and the receivers are just not getting open as quickly. And Owens continues to drop big passes. I have no real answers for the recent decline by the offense. Part of it is the defense losing the time of possession battle and giving them fewer opportunities. Part of it is related to the lack of a consistent run game. A lot of it has to do with lack of execution by the players. We can blame the coaches for poor play-calling, but the missed blocks and passes on the field belong to the players.