\The Cowboys have lost franchise quarterback Tony Romo for the Eagles game and for the remainder of the post-season if needed. A crushing blow to a team that forced another win-or-go-home game in their own stadium. There have been plenty of articles talking about the injury here on The Landry Hat, so I’m going to defer to some of our other great writers on that story. But this piece will be on what transpired on Sunday for the team.
The Cowboys were down to one final play to save their season. A fourth down and goal from the 10 yard line, a minute left, down by six. Anything but a score would eliminate (after the Eagles win Sunday night) the team from any hopes of the playoffs. Today we will examine how the last play was executed by the Cowboys.
But before we begin, it must be noted that this is an area where the Cowboys have excelled this year. The Cowboys are third in the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency, scoring touchdowns on nearly 70% of their trips inside the 20. I have always believed that if there is one area you want to be good at in the NFL, it’s scoring efficiency in the red zone. The team has become one of the best red zone teams in the NFL because of an improved running game, but more so because of Dez Bryant’s dominance in the end zone. Dez has scored 10 touchdowns in the red zone on only 20 targets. His 10 red zone touchdowns are the most in the league. But onto the play, we will get back to Dez shortly.
The Cowboys line up with 3 receivers to the left of Romo (Williams, Austin, Witten) with Dez lined up to the left and Murray in the backfield. The team will send out all four wide receivers in the route, with Murray leaking out.
The Redskins decide to counter with nickel coverage and rush only four. Essentially, the Redskins have six players playing in the end zone and are allowing the Cowboys to throw the ball short of the endzone where they can come up to make the tackle. Let’s take a look at what Tony Romo saw as the play unfolded.
Tony Romo’s first read is Dez Bryant. Dez has been as reliable as there is in the NFL in the end zone and already secured one touchdown in the red area during the game. But Romo reads the extra safety hanging around Dez and this causes him to look for another option. While throwing a jump ball to Dez wouldn’t have been the worst decision, Romo looks to his next few reads to see what is open.
Romo looks towards the middle of the field, and Witten is covered by London Fletcher with a safety lurking behind him. Translation = he isn’t open. Romo moves onto his next target Miles Austin (far left) and he is being bracket by two corners (one outside the shot). There is a very small window to throw the ball there, but Washington is baiting Tony to throw that ball into coverage, short of the first down. At this point, nobody is open. Right guard Mackenzy Bernadeu is being walked back to the quarterback and this forces Romo to get outside the pocket.
This is when the magic begins. As you can see, DeMarco Murray is just now starting to leak out of the backfield and turns his head towards the quarterback. But he too is not open. Linebacker Perry Riley Jr. is spying both Murray and Romo. Romo is going to force Riley into a decision. Romo then pump fakes to Murray which holds Riley for a split second. The fake allows Murray get the depth he needs on the route to catch the ball and then slip into the endzone.
Give credit to the offensive line on this play. They give Tony Romo the time to scan all of his receivers and allows him to move around the pocket and find Murray for the score. The Cowboys continue to be successful in the red zone and will need to be just as dominant on Sunday when they take on the Eagles without Tony Romo.