The year was 2014 and Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo threw just a tick under a 70% completion percentage . He threw for 3,705 yards with 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Even more impressive was his quarterback rating at 113.2. He took less sacks and his touchdown percentage and average per completion were the highest since his rookie season. Romo's efficiency dialed in with a vicious running game led by DeMarco Murray that helped the Dallas Cowboys go from three 8-8 seasons to a playoff team that was a serious contender. By the end of the year, Romo tied with Murray for third place in the MVP vote.
The Cowboys saw the effects a dynamic running game can have on an entire offense. Since the 2011 NFL Draft, Dallas had been working diligently to make upgrades to their offensive line. It started with the drafting of Tyron Smith and then continued in the 2013 and 2014 NFL Drafts when they drafted Zack Frederick and Zack Martin. Getting the guys they wanted upfront to run the scheme, the Cowboys deployed one of the most elite quarterback-friendly zone-blocking schemes in football. The effects of it immediately paid off.
Dallas was basically guaranteed to run the football on first down. And they didn't care if other teams knew it either. Defenses would load the box and the Cowboys, led by their three All Pro lineman, were still able to pick up gains upwards of four yards per carry. If the Cowboys decided to throw on first down, they would have one-on-one coverage all over the field, allowing guys like Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley to get open. There's a reason why Bryant led the league in touchdowns, Witten was the same Witten, and Beasley led the league on completion percentage to a receiver on third downs. And it all had to do with the team's ability to run the football with success and authority.
This was the way Dallas dictated games and took advantage of their opposing team's lack of time of possession. It also took a ton of weight off of Romo in the process. His yardage and touchdown numbers may have been less than other years, but that doesn't discount that his efficiency led to an offense that finished in the top 10 in almost every major category.
Things obviously took a turn for the worse in 2015, but if the Cowboys can steer clear from the injury bug, it should mean that the offense could once again finish atop the league. Of course, that's a huge "if", but the offense undoubtedly has just as much, if not more talent than it did in 2014 and it starts with the running back position. To say Ezekiel Elliott is better than Murray is a little unfair. Elliott has yet to play a snap in the league, but there really isn't anything he struggles with. I called Elliott a five-tool player and I stand by it. He can simply do it all and while the Cowboys may be hesitant to give him the football around 350+ times a year, with a player of his talent, the Cowboys need to find a way to get the football in his hands as much as possible.
On the outside, we see the same cast of receivers in Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Beasley. However, one player that could have a nice role on this roster is Brice Butler. With size and speed to go with it, Butler is going to be an excellent home-run target for Romo to work with. In fact, if Butler can prove his worth as more of a deep-ball threat and become more of a possession guy, there's a chance the Cowboys could opt to have Butler play the No. 2 receiver in 2017, letting Terrance Williams go elsewhere in free agency.
Romo's weapons are also such nice complements to each other. With guys like Bryant, Witten, and Beasley who can consistently get open, with players like Butler and Lucky Whitehead playing wild-card roles, and a backfield that can go "three deep", Romo will have solid options on about every play. And when you remember that the best offensive line in the league is in front of him, allowing him to hold onto the football and go through his progressions to find the best read, it's not hard to see why Romo can have a season on MVP level like the one he had in 2014.
Fortunately, because of the back surgery and the clavicle injuries, many will be quick to rule out Romo and the Cowboys. But this is a team that has the talent to finish as one of the bests in football. If health isn't the issue, this team will go as far as one player takes them and that one player is Tony Romo. And if Romo can stay healthy, he could be back in the MVP race.