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With Two Games Left Until Tony Romo Returns, Is There Any Hope With Matt Cassel?

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Actually, there is one key stat that says things could turn around this week.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

As we are all excruciatingly aware, it getting down to the thinnest of edges for the Dallas Cowboys if they are to have any hope of salvaging this season. The loss of Tony Romo looks more and more like the one blow that the Cowboys could not overcome. While the predictable calls are being made to throw Kellen Moore out there against the Philadelphia Eagles in what is now the third or fourth must-win game of the season so far, all indications are that the team will stick with Matt Cassel.

Tony Romo will take part in practice on Wednesday, but he will not take away any team snaps from Matt Cassel this week as the Dallas Cowboys prepare for the Philadelphia Eagles.

"Matt will get the work this week with the ones," Garrett said. "We’re just talking about getting Tony some work in individual work, throwing the ball, maybe the scout team seven-on-seven. We haven’t firmed any of that up yet, but that’s what the preliminary discussions have been."

So what does Cassel need to turn things around and get the desperately needed win against the Eagles? Just maybe it is Sam Bradford.

That may seem a bit illogical, since opposing quarterbacks don't literally go up against one another on the field. But consider a few things. Cassel lost his two games playing against one team with a two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback (whether or not you agree with Eli Manning deserving those accolades) and another whose quarterback was Russell Wilson, the leader in one Super Bowl win and a very close loss the past two years. Those are a couple of pretty impressive quarterbacks running the opposing offenses. For that matter, Brandon Weeden wasn't facing chumps himself in losing games with Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Tom Brady throwing the ball. In a league where roughly half the teams do not have a reliable NFL caliber quarterback, the Cowboys have faced a real murderer's row of opposing passers since Romo was injured. (Hat tip to our old friend Joey Ickes who I believe was the first to point this out.)

Against those quarterbacks, the Dallas backups were about as certain to come out on the short end of any comparison as anything you see in the NFL. And there is some pretty solid data to back this up. Our own master of all things numerical (and just about everything else), One Cool Customer, has been pointing this out for years.

Today, winning in the NFL is all about passing efficiency. The best offenses are those that pass the ball the most effectively, the best defenses are those that prevent their opponents from passing it effectively.

In the past two games, the Dallas defense has been doing a much better job in the prevention department, holding both the Giants and Seahawks to only 13 points by their offenses. But Cassel was not able to provide enough on his part, throwing the ball away at critical times against New York and playing things very close to the vest against Seattle. The latter was possibly by design of the coaching staff after his performance the previous week and also in light of the proficiency of the Seahawks' secondary, especially Richard Sherman, who shut Dez Bryant down all game.

But now, Dallas faces a quarterback in Bradford who has not exactly set the league on fire so far, and whose quarterback rating has been in steady decline since his high water mark against Washington in his fourth game of the season. Remember also that the Cowboys had their only multiple takeaway game in the first game against Bradford and the Eagles. And the Philadelphia secondary is not nearly as solid against the pass as Seattle's (although it is much better than New York's has been in every game except Dallas, although it must be pointed out that they did give up a lot of passing yards when Cassel was throwing to the right color jersey).

For the first time, Cassel is trading series with a quarterback that is playing at a much more comparable level to his. He has a defense that is now in the top ten in passing yards allowed per game and showing a much improved pass rush with Greg Hardy playing and DeMarcus Lawrence starting to step up. Expect the Cowboys' staff to be trying to find a happy medium between the first two starts for Cassel, opening up the passing game more while still working on protecting the ball.

It is going to be a very challenging game for the Cowboys to win, but the personnel matchup looks much less daunting than the Seattle game, which was, after all, just a one point loss. It may still be a slim thread to hang our hope on, but it still looks to be better than they had last game.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB