"Without Tony Romo the Cowboys don't have a fighting chance."
How many times have you heard that? In fact, most of us have probably said it. And after going through the 2015 season, Cowboys fans have lived it. As we embark on a new season, fans again will collectively hold their breath every time Romo gets knocked to the ground as the fate of the season relies on his ability to get back up. It's a painful feeling and I don't like it.
It's not a stretch of the imagination to expect that the Cowboys front office will make a strong push in upgrading the backup quarterback position so that a Romo hiatus isn't the end-all, be-all to the season. And while a viable backup is extremely important, a healthy Romo is a critical ingredient for any real shot at a deep playoff run. How can you expect to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender without Tony Romo? Well, I'm glad you asked because there is a simple answer that I will now address.
Have a great defense.
Trent Dilfer is a Super Bowl champion. When they passed out rings after the 2000 Baltimore Ravens beat the New York Giants 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV, he was allowed to have one. Dilfer only completed 12 passes for a total of 153 yards in that Super Bowl blowout. He was the epitome of what has now been deemed a "game manager." The Ravens defense was spectacular, led by Defensive Player of the Year Ray Lewis. Trent Dilfer has always been up there on my list as one of the worst quarterbacks to help his team win a Super Bowl. But Dilfer's 2000 seasonal performance doesn't rank the lowest for all quarterbacks who have reached the Super Bowl. Based on the stats from a per-play value from fivethirtyeight.com, that honor goes to Vince Ferragamo of the Los Angeles Rams in 1979.
But the guy right next to him might surprise you.
(Shout out to Roger Staubach for a great 1971 performance!)
Surprisingly, the next lowest performing quarterback on the chart is Peyton Manning this season. The Denver Broncos will be playing the Super Bowl this Sunday with a quarterback who's had the second worst per-play performance of any of the quarterbacks to ever play in a Super Bowl. Manning had some injury issues this season and only played in 10 games, but in those games he only threw nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions, accumulating a career low, 67.9 QB rating.
It was just a couple years ago that Peyton Manning threw a single-season record 55 touchdown passes on route to the Super Bowl. The Broncos would get crushed by Seattle that year, forcing Denver to regroup and take a different approach. And now, the 2015 version of the Broncos are all about defense. They have Pro Bowlers, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware rushing the quarterback and Pro Bowlers, Chris Harris and Aqib Talib picking off passes. And they have playmaking linebackers like Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan in the middle, with each of them having over 100 tackles. They are a complete defense.
When the Dallas Cowboys returned to glory in 1993 in Jimmy Johnson's first Super Bowl win, it was those Hall of Fame "triplets" that most people remember. But none of that would have been possible without Charles Haley and Ken Norton Jr getting after Jim Kelly. The Cowboys generated a Super Bowl record nine takeaways in that game. That is just two more than the Cowboys had all season in 2015.
While trying to find the heir-apparent to Tony Romo is meaningful, the real success of this team will come down to the pieces they are able to put around whomever is quarterbacking. Build that defense. Nasty defense. Collect a group of guys that can shut offenses down. So when the day comes that Tony Romo is not throwing passes, the Cowboys can still be a force to be reckoned with.