The Dallas Cowboys, on paper and via the eye test, were a much better team than the Tampa Bay Bucs heading into the game. This meant that a loss was inexcusable. A win wouldn't be a cure-all, and wasn't, but a loss would have sunk any realistic hope of this team making noise in the playoffs if they could qualify. While the defense stepped up against an inept Tampa Bay offense and without their two biggest stars for all but 9 snaps of the game, the true conquering hero was one Antonio Romo, quarterback for your Dallas Cowboys.
Romo proved once again he is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL. While his 2011 stats look similar to the numbers he accrued in 2007 and 2009 (his last two full seasons), his legend grows due to his escapability. It seems that at least five times every game, Romo is evading sack artists and turning "Oh Fudge!" into "Fudge Yeah!" Granted, the Bucs defense was overmatched, but as the third play of the second half clearly exposed, it only takes a handful of big defensive plays to change the face of a game.
The story is two-fold though. It seems that some teams force Romo and the Cowboys into these precarious situations more than others. A few weeks back, the Arizona Cardinals wreaked havoc on Dallas, but that was the only recent 'blip'.
Yes, Jason Pierre-Paul beat Doug Free to force a sack-safety on Romo, but the line in general held up very well against the vaunted (overrated?) Giants defensive front. They were only credited with 5 QB Disruptions for the entire game; it's just that three of them were actual sacks. A QB Disruption is either a sack, hit or pressure that forces the QB to escape the pocket or release the ball before he wants to.
The Bucs were credited with 12 QBD's on Saturday. In fact, other than the Cardinals who have resorted to a blitz-happy edict in recent weeks, Dallas has done a more than adequate job keeping the pressure off of Romo recently.
Follow the jump for a look at the QBD-Against stats for Dallas this entire season.
Dallas 2011 Offensive QB Disruptions Allowed
|Week||Opponent||Total QBDs||QB Sacks||QB Hits||QB Pressures||Defensive Front|
|8||Eagles(L)||13||4||0||9||4-3 (Wide 9)|
|4||Lions(L)||8||1||1||6||4-3 (Wide 9)|
I sorted the data by the Total QBD's so that the glaring theme would jump out at everyone: The Cowboys continue to struggle against the 3-4 front. It's something we've talked about, but this puts quantitative spin in front of our eye tests.
The Cowboys face a 3-4 defense every day in practice, and have for the last 8 seasons, since Bill Parcells' second year in Big D. Yet, they seem to continuously struggle to protect against this front. Notice how the Eagles Ultra-Wide-9 also gave them fits this year. It would seem to be a safe assumption that the protection schemes are unable to account for the wide angle responsibilities that wide rushers present, while still being able to protect up the middle.
Unfortunately, it appears that after the initial offensive dominance I anticipated for the entire league early in the season, this team's overall passing success is again hampered by facing the 3-4 pressure.
Dallas has had two games against 3-4 fronts where they were able to amass a high Net Passing Yards Per Attempt average; Week One against the Jets and Week Two against the 49ers. Outside of those two games, 3-4 and Wide-9 defenses have forced Dallas into seven of their eight worst NY/A averages on the season. The lone "pure 4-3" standout in the group is the St. Louis Rams game, and the Cowboys ran over and through them for 294 rushing yards; a feat that rendered passing yardage rather moot.
Dallas 2011 Offensive NY/A
(hat tip to Fan In Thick And Thin)
|8||Eagles(L)||4-3 (Wide 9)||4.7|
|4||Lions(L)||4-3 (Wide 9)||6.7|
If the Cowboys are able to secure a spot in the tournament, their offense will likely have to carry them. Once they get there, they will possibly have to face a string of wide fronts in their attempts to advance. The Wild Card round could net them either Detroit (Wide-9) in a rematch or the Atlanta Falcons. A victory there would send them to Green Bay (3-4), and an upset could send them back to San Francisco for a rematch against the 49ers. Tough sledding for a team that notoriously likes their defensive linemen in front of their faces.