Friday, September 06, 2013

Romo Starts Up That Hill Again

250 days.

I know it seems that football season is longer than ever before and that in someways it is going year-round.  

Well, I am telling you that you have gone to sleep and awakened to a new day 250 times since the Cowboys spit the proverbial bit in Washington on December 30, 2012, in a game that Tony Romo might just take to his QB-career grave.

If you need a reminder of how I summed it up 250 mornings ago, here is a brief snip of this larger post:

this offensive performance must be positioned as nothing short of a failure.  The job, in particular by Tony Romo - the man who is most responsible for the Cowboys being in this position to begin with - was just not nearly at the level it needed to be to win a tough divisional road game on the final night of the season.  
Romo, as I am sure you are well aware, picked a horrendous time for his 4th multi-interception game of 2012.  In those 4 games, as you might imagine, the Cowboys were winless.  The first 3 were home games against the Bears, Giants, and these same Redskins, but this one had all of the trimmings of a playoff game and the picks were all damaging and key.  
But, no interception of Romo's career might hurt as much as the last one of 2012.  For that was a pick that comes down to that moment that everyone dreams when they discuss the credentials of their favorite QB.  They always ask the question, "can this guy get your team down the field on that one drive with everything on the line?"
There it was. 3:35 to play in the game, down 21-18.  A quick 14 yard gainer to Witten down the middle  gave the Cowboys breathing room out to their own 29.  And on 1st and 10 from their own 29, they hurried to the line with shotgun again with 3:06 to go. 
The Redskins bring tons of pressure all game and that particular blitz was seen on several occasions.  In fairness to Romo, if he can get the ball over the top of Rob Jackson, the right outside linebacker who starts toward Romo and then peels off to stay with Murray, then Murray will have the ability to run a long, long ways.  The Redskins are defending with recklessness and despite their success, if the Cowboys can break one play on this final drive, they can win the game and the NFC East.
But, because of the pressure, Romo is back-pedaling.  This will not allow him to measure his throw with any amount of precision.  And because he is off balance, his lofted throw is short and Jackson is able to recover and and attack the ball, securing it for the biggest play of his career. 
There are a number of problems with this decision from your QB, with the most obvious one being that it is 1st Down.  You cannot likely survive a sack, but this is where you either see Witten open over the blitz or you throw the ball into the sideline.  You cannot make a risky throw on 1st Down with everything on the line.  And you also cannot excuse him because of some Jim Haslett ambush call.  That blitz was as predictable as could be after seeing his calls for 57 minutes already.  Romo just got it wrong at the most inopportune time - possibly of his career. 
And this is where the Cowboys' QB is again; In a place where he will unfortunately have to serve as a piñata for the next several months as people who barely watched him will latch on to the easy narrative rather than considering a very strong season running an offense that made him over-come obstacle after obstacle all year long.  He is good enough to carry a team for months at a time, so how come he isn't good enough to perform at an efficient level in this one-game scenario last night against an equally-battered team? 
I will continue to say that the Quarterback is not holding this franchise back - not at any level.  But, that doesn't mean that he didn't let them down last night.  In fact, this was a spot where we knew that they needed their best players to be their best players, and as much as I appreciate the challenges he has to deal with, he simply had to do better than he did with his opportunities on this Sunday night. 
Making you read that again certainly wasn't nice, now was it?

But, as much as has been written here about all of the different components and elements of the 2013 Dallas Cowboys, I would be kidding you and myself if I really allowed the season to begin without one single entry about the most important player on the field, and of course, that is Romo.

He does get ripped mercilessly other places.  And perhaps, for that reason, I avoid writing about him too often.  But, that is disingenuous if I over-do it.

No, I don't think the Cowboys lose because of Romo.  I never have.  I am also aware and have written about his track record and bottom line numbers.  

Yes, I think that Romo is the reason that this team has been and will be always in the playoff mix as long as he plays at this level.  So, while I enjoy writing about DeMarcus Ware and DeMarco Murray in the preseason as well as countless discussion about 53 man roster construction, special teams, and the idea of having some injury luck, let us not forget this basic and obvious fact:

If Tony Romo is good, the Cowboys can win their division and have a chance to "make a run."  If he doesn't, well, the rest of this doesn't much matter when it comes to arriving at any desired destinations.

He is now 33.  He is better than most will ever admit to, but those of us who consider ourselves loyalists, we have to be willing to look at moments like his last game in 2012 and demand better - rather than look to blame Jerry Jones or the front office or the offensive line.

Of course, those departments leave plenty to be desired.  But, he knows the drill by now.  The job is that he is going to have to be great.  He is going to have help at times, and others he is going to have to drag the team to victory.  He will be able to throw picks, but not many of them.  He will never get the week-to-week credit and he will have to like it.  In exchange, he will make an absurd amount of money for a player who is 33 and has been a part of one playoff win.  I assume it is a deal he is ok with.  Otherwise, he could have passed on the extension and attempted to find a new situation in a city with less of a challenge.

It is interesting that so many people focus on his interception total last year, which, admittedly, led the league with 19.  But, he also threw 648 passes (his previous career high was 550) and therefore saw his interception rate at a very reasonable 2.9% - better than several starters and right near his career rate of 2.8%.  This is not where the league leaders are - there were 6 starters who had below 2%, but he doesn't have to change much.

He just needs to prove his quality and see it through.  He needs to get a chance to right the wrong of Week 17 in Washington.

This time, it is hard to say that his offense hasn't been improved.  More weapons, all 3 of the interior 3 OL have been addressed.

So now, as you can make a case for 7-9 or 10-6, I have to attach any predictions to the health of Tony Romo and his performance when things break down around him.  I am going to sit on 9-7 this year, and mostly because I think he will keep them in games.

But, at age 33, I know he is feeling that this career train is traveling fast.  Urgency and maturity will push him to new heights.  And having a weapon like Dez Bryant may revive his form of 2007 when he had a dominant Terrell Owens - a time when we wondered if Romo was the best QB in the NFC.

On the eve of his next challenge, I perhaps saved the most obvious points for last.  He is vital to their success and he is the guy who keeps them in the mix.  But, being in the mix has not been good enough for anyone and here is his next chance to change his perception.  One NFC Championship game, at least, and suddenly, the commentary on him would soften.

Otherwise, those that seem to make their living constructing a misleading and misguided narrative about his career will continue to have the last word.

And certainly, we don't need that.


gerald reynolds said...

I thought this post was fair. Good work. Big fan of Romo. Doesn't mean his last game stunk but I am not a fan of the idea that winning makes you automatically a better man or losing worse. Then again I was big fan of Danny white

gerald reynolds said...

I thought this post was fair. Good work. Big fan of Romo. Doesn't mean his last game stunk but I am not a fan of the idea that winning makes you automatically a better man or losing worse. Then again I was big fan of Danny white