With Tony Romo in 2015, the Dallas Cowboys went 3-1. But without him, they lost all but one sloppy Monday Night Football game against the Washington Redskins. Even with the best offensive line in football and a running game that finished in the top five in terms of statistics, backup quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore all weren't able to get the job done.
Even with a player like Dez Bryant, admittedly hobbled, on the outside, a Hall of Famer in Jason Witten at tight end, and other play-making options like Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams, Dallas' arsenal of weaponry wasn't enough for whoever was playing quarterback to get the job done.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Romo will be back in the saddle for the 2016 season, that is if he doesn't endure another major injury. Romo's skill paired with a running game led by Ezekiel Elliott is an offense that could be as explosive as any in the NFL. But if Romo does indeed have another serious injury, how much slack can the talent of this offense pick up if either Moore or Jameill Showers is at quarterback?
Obviously, this offense's ability will diminish without Romo as its signal-caller, but the goal of an offense led by a backup quarterback isn't too score 30 points. It's instead to keep a team afloat by using a scheme tailored to the backup's skills, and giving the football to your most talented players.
A good backup quarterback is a quarterback that doesn't turn the football over, doesn't try to do too much, and one that can make the simple throws. When backup quarterbacks are given an extended role at the helm of an offense, coaches adjust their philosophy to make their playbook more basic.
While many will think that Dak Prescott will be the backup quarterback, the No. 2 quarterback battle will likely come down to Moore and Showers. The only way Prescott jumps the aforementioned two is if he puts on an absolute show in training camp. But because Moore and Showers have performed well over the offseason, it is more likely that the Cowboys keep three quarterbacks on the roster rather than having Prescott as the No. 2.
Unlike last year, the Cowboys will be able to rely upon a running game with three backs who can contribute. Elliott is going to get a healthy amount of carries, but other players like Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, and even Darius Jackson can be called upon if Elliott needed a rest.
A strong running game can do a variety of things for a team. By putting a big emphasis on running the football with success, the Cowboys can suck in defenses to focus on limiting the run, opening up passing holes in the defense in return. It also helps with the time of possession battle. The Cowboys were so good in 2014 because they were consistent with winning the time of possession battle. Even with a backup quarterback, if Dallas can win in this department, it would do wonders for whoever is at quarterback.
Dallas' receiving corps also consists of players that may be "quarterback-friendly". Bryant is a player that can simply do it all. By throwing the football in his direction, no matter the ball placement, there is a good chance that Bryant will come down with it. His performance last year was affected by the lingering injury he faced, but by returning to full health in 2016, his impact on this offense will be greatly felt.
Terrance Williams has never really done anything spectacular as the Cowboys' No. 1 receiver, but the 2016 season could pay huge dividends for Williams. Entering his contract year, Williams' play will improve and if Bryant draws double coverages, it will be vital for Williams to beat his man and get open.
Perhaps the most quarterback-friendly player in the Cowboys' offense is Beasley. Teams were able to limit him last year by putting stronger cornerbacks on him in press coverage at the line of scrimmage. But with Bryant back to health, putting Beasley on the same side as him could lead to defensive nightmares on that half of the field. There would also be Witten, who will draw eyes in the middle of the field. The Cowboys can be dangerous by also using Witten and Beasley as decoys and instead designing plays to get the football to gadget players like Lucky Whitehead.
Both Brice Butler and Whitehead came on at some point in the 2015 season. Towards the end of the year, the offense was creating plays to get the ball in Whitehead's hands in space. With a healthy Bryant and Beasley on the field, Whitehead's quickness could be used in a variety of ways in the Cowboys' offense. In Butler's case, when he came back from injury, his skill allowed him to get open. Look no further than the Cowboys' final two games of the season. Despite having Kellen Moore in at quarterback for those two games, Butler caught eight passes for 134 yards.
With all of these weapons, Dallas' offense could return to its 2014 form. They could also have a season similar to the one they had last year because of injury. The problem for the Cowboys' 2015 team was that it wasn't just Romo they were without. They lacked an identity, they did not have a reliable option on their roster without Romo or a completely healthy Bryant.
But with an offseason to get entirely healthy, all seems fine on the offensive front. But if Romo goes down with an injury, which is a possibility considering his age and his recent history, this year's Cowboys' offense should be better to help out whomever comes in to play quarterback; whether that is Moore, Jameill Showers, or Dak Prescott. With an offensive line as stable as it is and a running game that is soon to take off with Elliott running the show, the Cowboys may finish with one of the best offenses in football. But in the case of injury, Dallas will be able to keep their head above water.