As Tony Romo goes, so go the Dallas Cowboys.
Truer words were never spoken. Against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, the Cowboys struggled with execution on both sides of the ball. It was a far cry from the dominant performance against the Buffalo Bills a week ago. If not for Tony Romo, this team would be 5-5 today instead of 6-4, sitting atop the NFC East thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles doing the Boys a favor and beating the New York Giants Sunday night.
Consistency is a problem for this team, as we’ve clearly seen this season. It’s also a problem for the majority of other NFL teams, so this is nothing new. The only team who is consistently dominant appears to be the Green Bay Packers, but they have their own problems on defense as well.
On Sunday, the Cowboys defense played one of its worst games of the year. Key players such as Terence Newman, Orlando Scandrick, and Gerald Sensabaugh were caught out of position at times. For as great as Demarcus Ware is, he was unable to win his one-on-one matchup against Trent Williams for most of the game. His only sack came while rushing from the other side. Tackles were missed. Assignments were blown. Overall, this was not a good showing by the eleventh ranked defense in the NFL. What’s most concerning is that many of those breakdowns came at critical points in the game:
In the second quarter, facing 3rd down and 7, Rex Grossman was able to find David Anderson who beat Orlando Scandrick deep. That led to Grossman’s touchdown run which put the Redskins on the scoreboard. Later, in the fourth quarter with Washington needing a touchdown to tie the game, Scandrick whiffed on a tackle which allowed Darrell Young to rumble for 29 yards. The fourth year cornerback, starting in place of injured Mike Jenkins, admitted to having a bad game despite recording his first interception of the season.
Before the end of the first half, Jabar Gaffney beat Gerald Sensabaugh to the inside and pulled in the pass from Grossman to put the Redskins up 14-10.
With 22 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, Alan Ball was beaten on a fade route by Donte Stallworth for the game-tying touchdown.
These are plays absolutely cannot be allowed to happen, especially against an inferior team. Though it wasn’t all doom and gloom on the defensive side of the ball. They did force two turnovers and were able to hold the Redskin’s, albeit meager, running game in check with 60 total yards rushing. It was the first time in three weeks the defense was able to hold an opposing team’s running back under 100 yards in a game.
Still, it was Rex Grossman picking apart a Dallas secondary which allowed a season high six plays of 20 or more yards after allowing only four the previous two weeks. Rob Ryan will have to tighten the belts on this defense before these leaks begin to sink the ship.
On offense, the Cowboys struggled at times to move the ball against a stingy Washington defense. As was expected, the loss of Tony Fiammetta hurt DeMarco Murray’s effectiveness. There were many times where he wasn’t sure where John Phillips’ lead block was going to be, and he hesitated a bit instead of hitting the hole with confidence. Though he was still able to pick up 73 tough yards, and Jason Garrett showed a commitment to the run by giving Murray the ball 25 times. It’s worth noting that with Fiammetta, the Cowboys are averaging 145.8 rushing yards per game. Without him, they are only averaging 85.6.
The offensive line is average at best. Montrae Holland and Phil Costa are merely band-aids this season and shouldn’t figure to be long-term solutions. The Cowboys desperately need to find a quality guard and center in the offseason. For now, they just hope this patchwork line is good enough.
For as much as Tony Romo and Laurent Robinson were out of sync early in the game, they were able to put it together in the fourth quarter. If you watched Tony Romo, this was not one of his better days throwing the ball. Many of his throws were off target or sailed on him. Despite that, he still made the biggest plays in the game to lead his team to victory.
Quarterbacks are paid to convert third downs. Against the Redskins, Romo converted three third downs for touchdowns, and in overtime converted a 3rd and 15 to set up the game winning field goal. More importantly, he did not turn the ball over for the third straight week. He was the reason the Cowboys won this game, in spite of themselves.
On Turkey Day, the Cowboys, riding a 3-game winning streak, will face a Miami Dolphins team who come in with a 3-game win streak of their own. Both teams have built their streaks against opponents with losing records. The difference is Dallas was expected to beat these inferior teams all along, and until three weeks ago, Miami had yet to record their first win of the season.
This will be Miami’s first true test since getting their first win against Kansas City. They have to travel to face the Cowboys on a short week with limited preparation time. On paper, the Cowboys should have little trouble beating the Dolphins. However, we all know how inconsistent this team can be.