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Dallas Cowboys: Stuck in Neutral

The Dallas Cowboys are mired in the swamp of mediocrity. Give the Dallas Cowboys a winless team (Bucs, Panthers) and we can take care of business. Give us an undefeated team (Giants, Broncos) and we're just good enough to lose in heart-breaking fashion. We're not at either end of the bell curve; we're stuck pretty near the middle at 2-2. This team is treading water.

The Denver Broncos are for real; if their defense can play like that regularly, they'll win a lot of football games this season. But make no mistake, the Cowboys had plenty of opportunities to win this game, and to tie it late, but they failed. Falling 17-10 to the Broncos wasn't what we had in mind when looking at the schedule before the season, but it's a reality today. Denver is a good football team; Dallas is a mediocre one right now.

It goes without saying that Tony Romo has to play better or things are not going to get better. You can't put all of this defeat on him, but his level of play was not up to standards. He knows that, we all know that. The two turnovers were not all his fault, but the multiple passes to imaginary 7' 6" wide receivers were his fault. Three times in a row on one drive he completely missed wide open receivers. His accuracy was poor for most of the night. If Dallas as a team wants to get any momentum going for the season, Tony Romo is the key. That's why he got the huge contract. There's no fair or not fair here - he simply must raise his game.

But he could use some help. The offensive line let him down tonight, too. We saw inklings of this in the Panthers game last week - bringing the blitz befuddles our behemoths. (Ha, alliteration rules!) The Panthers got to Romo, and the Broncos did too. The line isn't going to be perfect all year, but they can't play that poorly each week in pass protection if we are going to make a push as the season progresses. They racked up quite a few penalties in this game and it wasn't all Flozell this time.

Here's the compromise Romo needs to make with his line, on the plays when they do give him adequate time, he can't hold the ball. Get out of the pocket, tuck it and run if necessary, like last week. I don't know what's happened but Romo used to have an uncanny sense for traffic in the pocket. It was an almost unnatural ability to sense danger. We didn't see that on Sunday. On one sack that seemed to be happening in slow motion - the Dumervil beating Cricket sack - Romo appeared totally oblivious to the fact that not only was Elvis in the building, but was right up in his grill. If the coverage is that good, beat them with your feet until they loosen up.

I also think that Jason Garrett needs to reconsider his goal line package. Last week we had the absurd ‘two fade route' debacle. Now, this week was a little tougher, given the time constraints, but the last two plays were questionable. Dallas spiked the ball with nines seconds left, leaving two shots at the endzone. It also gives you time to substitute players. But the Cowboys went with three WR's and kept Jason Witten into block on both plays! Jason Witten, as good a receiver as we have on the team and we didn't utilize him in the most clutch of moments. And what about Martellus Bennett? The guy has size, always a jump ball target. We basically ran the exact same play twice in a row, only with Crayton in the slot going inside on the second play instead of outside.

Here's the real tragedy - Miles Austin was coming wide open on the first of those two plays when Romo chose to go to Sam Hurd. On the second play, Austin also looked more open than Hurd. I don't know why Romo locked onto Hurd, against Champ Bailey twice, instead of looking two the other side where he had two WR's in the pattern. And why not roll Romo out for the run/pass option. Romo's a good athlete, roll him to a side after a run-fake and see what opens up. If nothing's there, zip it out of the endzone and go on to the final play. We could all come up with plays that might have been used, but the call of the same basic play twice, without Witten in the pattern, made no sense to me.

But don't walk away too depressed. We're still 2-2 with a lot of football left to be played. The defense has gotten progressively better since the first game. If the offense didn't keep putting them in bad positions, they could really have something. Keep in mind that while we've lost two games, both were against undefeated opponents and we played well enough that we were in positions to win both games.

We're missing the killer instinct. The ability to take advantage of situations and stick the dagger in is presently absent. Rafael pointed this out a couple of weeks ago when we had four leads on the Giants and squandered each one with turnovers and other stupid plays. The Dallas offense had a chance again to build on a lead in this game but blew it. The defense finally cracked, but the offense did nothing to help them in the second half.

Until Dallas can finish against a good team this year, we'll be just another team.