Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features

HackenbergChr15.jpg

» SDA: From Death Valley to Happy Valley

While Saturday won't give us an answer to which is the best one-loss team, it is still a big week for conference races across the country.

19 Dec 2013

Film Room: Tony Romo

by Cian Fahey

At first glance, it was just another Tony Romo meltdown game, a game where Romo undid all of his previous good work by throwing two late interceptions that handed the Green Bay Packers a one point victory. Some are satisfied to just blame Romo and blindly assign team wins to the quarterback position. Others will have noticed that Romo was being asked to carry a roster lacking in talent, while following the orders of a coaching staff that lacks any real direction or discipline. Only those who look closely at both teams will recognize the striking juxtaposition that took place in Texas on Sunday.

Even though Romo was the scapegoat on Sunday, a label he so regularly receives and so rarely deserves, Matt Flynn played much worse. His statistics didn't show it, but Flynn was carried by his teammates. He didn't throw two late interceptions, but he should have thrown two crucial interceptions earlier in the game. One of those throws turned into an interception that set the Dallas Cowboys up deep in Packers territory, while the other turned into a Packers touchdown because of the brilliance of wide receiver Jordy Nelson.

That was the beauty of this game. It wasn't decided by Romo or his decisions late in the fourth quarter. It was decided by two franchises that carry completely different cultures, that are the polar opposites in how they build their teams and that have enjoyed completely different levels of success in recent times.

Even without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers were able to come away with a victory because of high-quality coaching and a supporting cast that is capable of assuming responsibility from their quarterback. Nelson, Sam Shields, Andrew Quarless, James Jones and Eddie Lacy all alleviated the pressure from Flynn who looked overwhelmed at times.

With Romo, the Cowboys coaching staff looked lost. Save for Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith and DeMarco Murray, players whose impacts were hindered by that coaching staff, nobody on the Cowboys roster did anything to alleviate the pressure on their quarterback.

This game was a clash of cultures that showed off why quarterback wins is a very flawed statistic. We didn't get another rope to hang Romo with, we got another example of why the Cowboys will continue to lose so long as Jerry Jones is the owner/general manager and this kind of coaching continues in Dallas.

The Cowboys Offensive Failings

The value of the NFL running back has plummeted. No longer do teams need to spend high picks on backs to find value, while very few backs are worthwhile investments during their second contracts. Even though Adrian Peterson won the MVP last season, he is an outlier amongst his peers and the Vikings would be much better off with a quarterback of equivalent talent.

And yet, while the value of the individual players has fallen because it is easy to find backs who can contribute and/or start, the value of a reliable running game is still very high. By neglecting their running game against the Packers, the Cowboys helped demonstrate why.

The Cowboys' game-planning and play-calling has been amateurish this season. In fact, most amateurs would understand how short-sighted the Cowboys have been with their offense. Instead of trying to build a balanced offensive attack with the tools at their disposal, Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan have repeatedly asked Romo and his receivers to do too much. Romo has attempted at least 36 passes in eight of his 14 starts this season. Five of those eight games saw him throw the ball at least 40 times. This is a team with the second-ranked offensive rushing DVOA along with the 30th ranked defensive DVOA and 31st ranked defensive weighted DVOA. The Cowboys have neglected the run all season long in spite of the fact that it would ease the pressure on their quarterback and their ailing defense.

The Cowboys had a lot of success when they based their offense off the run. On the very first drive of the game, the Cowboys had three successful runs and one negative run. Their first two runs set up play-action shots that put them in scoring position. Those two play-action attempts gave Romo clean pockets to throw from and wide open receivers. The negative run set them up in third-and-long, which eventually led to a field goal when Micah Hyde made an excellent play in coverage against Miles Austin.

The Cowboys' discipline continued on their second drive. One quick pass to the outside preceded another handoff to Murray.

Murray broke off a 41-yard gain after picking up 16 yards on his first four carries. He has averaged 5.5 yards per carry this season, but he only has 178 total carries. He has games with just 14, 12, 7, 4 and 14 attempts in the 12 games he has started. Murray actually finished this game with 18 carries for 134 yards, but those carries weren't distributed to the best effect. This long run set up a big pass play to Bryant off of play action to get the Cowboys to the Green Bay 9-yard line. From there, Murray had one carry for four yards before the Cowboys called two passing plays that resulted in incompletions.

On the following drive, Murray had a nine-yard reception before he ran the ball for 16 yards. That set up a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten down the seam.

This version of the Cowboys offense can be unstoppable at times. Regardless of the poor defense they were facing, the balance and execution they showed off would make them formidable against any caliber of opposition. On three drives, the Cowboys had 13 points and probably would have had 17 had they not abandoned the run on the goal line during their second drive. The Packers had shown no ability to even slow down this offense. Murray wasn't grinding out big yards; he was running through gaping holes and away from players who had no chance of tackling him.

Logically, it made no sense for the Cowboys coaching staff to change their approach. Yet on the next drive, they didn't run the ball once. On eight plays before punting, the Cowboys gained just 23 yards. They were leading by 10 points at the time and they only looked to get Murray the ball twice. Both were passing plays, one screen pass on first-and-10 and one throw down the sideline after that. Murray gained 10 yards on the screen play, but couldn't get to the ball on the pass down the sideline. Considering how easy it is to get him the ball with a handoff and how easily Murray had racked up yardage, this was inexplicable.

Although many of the headlines this week have suggested that the Cowboys gave up on the run at halftime of this game, they actually gave up on it early on in the second quarter. After not attempting a run on their fourth drive, the Cowboys came out throwing again on their fifth. Play action led to a 20 yard gain on the first pass of the drive, but Murray only had two carries -- one for a first down and one for a three-yard gain -- before two incomplete passes set up another field goal attempt.

At this point, there were four minutes left in the second quarter and the Cowboys were leading 16-3. Flynn threw an interception to set the Cowboys up deep in Green Bay territory. This was the perfect opportunity to drain the rest of the first-half clock by running the ball to set up what would be a deflating touchdown. Instead, the Cowboys called three passing plays that led to two incompletions and a sack. They were forced to settle for a field goal.

The Cowboys did score a touchdown before the half when Romo ran a two-minute drill that focused on Bryant. Sometimes talent will shine through and shadow over poor coaching and on this occasion it did. The Cowboys entered halftime with a resounding 26-3 lead.

Twenty-six points in two quarters is a phenomenal output for any offense. A 23-point lead meant that the Cowboys didn't need to match the Packers' output in the second half. They were in perfect position to return to running the ball, chewing out the clock as much as possible to make a comeback as tough as possible on their opponents. Their first drive in the third quarter reflected that ideal and was well-balanced, but from that point onwards any discipline or direction that led the team towards a comfortable victory disappeared.

The Cowboys attempted just three runs after their first drive of the second half. Even after the Packers scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the third quarter, this approach was counter-productive. Even when leading by five points late in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys continued to throw the ball.

Not every successful quarterback in the NFL has a running back as talented as Murray, but every successful quarterback has a coordinator who doesn't actively make his job tougher by repeatedly asking him to do too much in conditions that are conducive to failure. This was a typical Romo meltdown game, but the definition of that is not what the label implies. Romo was at fault for this loss to a much lesser degree than the Cowboys' coaching staff, the general manager, and the atrocious play from some of his teammates on the defensive side of the ball.

The Packers Offensive Execution

In any Romo meltdown game, there are two perspectives to take. One side sees the collapse of the Cowboys, while the other side enjoys the comeback win. This comeback win was different because the Packers offense proved to be the complete opposite of the Cowboys offense. While the Cowboys were asking too much of Romo, the Packers were carrying Flynn to victory.

In the first half, the Packers beat themselves. Bad execution from the quarterback position and missed assignments from the offensive line put the offense in insurmountable situations more than once. After a field goal drive that came from a Jones slant route that he turned into a huge gain, the Packers punted at the end of every drive except for when Flynn threw that interception in the second quarter. The Cowboys defense accepted the plaudits for essentially shutting down the Packers offense, but they did little more than benefit from the Packers willingness to beat themselves.

While the Cowboys continued to play poor defense, they were no longer being let off by Flynn and the rest of the offense. Flynn improved slightly as he threw with better accuracy and looked more assured of himself when pushing the ball further downfield. His minor improvements allowed the team's receivers to make outstanding plays that carried the passing game. In the first half, multiple receivers dropped easy passes, but in the second half they were routinely catching those passes and making very tough receptions too. That said, it was Lacy who set the comeback in motion. Lacy never really got going in the first half. He had two toss plays that didn't really play to his strengths, and he couldn't escape when he ran between the tackles for various reasons. He never got an extended look because the offense didn't establish and sustain drives.

He didn't need an extended look in the second half. On the very first play of the third quarter, Lacy broke off a 60-yard run.

Although Lacy didn't make it to the end zone, he set up the offense in scoring position. Two runs from James Starks set them up with a third-and-3 before Flynn threw his first touchdown pass of the day. It was a pass that should -- and likely would -- have been intercepted if the Cowboys had better defensive backs.

The Packers are set up on the Cowboys' 12-yard line. Nelson is lined up in the slot to the left across from Orlando Scandrick. Jones is wide to the right, Jarrett Boykin is to Nelson's left and Flynn has a back and tight end behind the line of scrimmage with him. The safety to Nelson's side of the field is moving towards the line of scrimmage, which suggests that Nelson will likely be working against Scandrick on an island. Flynn seemingly recognizes this before the snap.

Flynn immediately looks to Nelson's matchup with Scandrick as the wide receiver runs a deep out route that puts him in the end zone. Flynn stares down his first option while shifting slightly to the left. He unleashes a throw to the far corner that falls limp in the air. He never should have attempted the pass because Scandrick was in perfect coverage and the ball is almost certainly going to be intercepted. At the very best, Nelson should only be able to prevent an interception by tipping the ball away from behind him.

Much like what Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall did to the Cowboys' defensive backs in Week 14, Nelson is able to turn a bad pass into a reception. He leaves his feet before Scandrick and reaches over him with his arms. Scandrick still gets to the ball first, but he is not strong enough or aggressive enough to prevent Nelson from ripping it away from him. Nelson doesn't rip it in such a way that it falls incomplete, instead it comes towards him and he pulls it into his chest with his fingers.

Not many receivers in the NFL could make that kind of play, but even the ones who can will rarely do it against a defensive back who doesn't allow them to. Scandrick should have had an interception, but Nelson plays wide receiver on a different level than Scandrick plays cornerback.

If you isolate what Flynn did and only focus on his actions, then he made a bad decision and a bad throw. Nothing about what the quarterback did suggests he should have scored. Yet, because of the quality around him and the coaching that created that quality, the team succeeded.

Lacy's run and Nelson's touchdown appeared to give the Packers new life. On the next drive, Quarless proved to be an impossible matchup for the Cowboys linebackers and defensive backs. He gave Flynn multiple easy throws that led to important plays, while Nelson made another incredible one-handed reception even after he was interfered with by a defensive back. Quarless topped off the drive with a touchdown, as he easily beat Sterling Moore on a slant at the goal line.

Flynn made a quick, good throw, but Quarless is 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds and Moore is 5-foot-10 and 199 pounds. His size and quickness to get inside the defensive back in space gave Flynn a huge window to throw into. By asking the tight end to run a quick slant route infield, the Packers coaching staff gave Flynn an easier throw to execute. Comparatively in the first half, Romo was tasked with throwing a back-shoulder pass to his backup tight end who was running a fade to the back pylon at the goal line. Even with Bryant drawing a double team on the other side of the field, the Cowboys didn't take advantage of the space that had been created. Instead they expected Romo to make another tough throw.

Flynn's third touchdown was a perfectly timed and executed screen pass that asked little of the quarterback again.

At the 11-yard line, the Packers come out with four eligible receivers tight to the formation. They have a fullback offset to the left ahead of Starks in the backfield, with Nelson lined up wide to the left. The Cowboys respond with nine defenders in the box and one safety accounting for Nelson and the cornerback out wide to the right of the defense.

The Packers run a lazy play-action. Instead of trying to sell the run, Flynn turns his back to the defense and barely holds the ball away from his body. The fullback immediately releases into the flat and both Nelson and the left tight end release into their routes immediately also. The Packers' offensive linemen don't fake a run blocking motion, instead they just drop into their pass blocking stances immediately.

A lazy play-action is the term I use for a play-action that is meant to make the defense think they've deduced that it is a passing play, but also punish them for it. The Packers do this by hitting a very quick screen to Starks underneath. Starks immediately has a running lane because the defensive tackle aggressively attacked the A-gap to the left thinking that it was a pass play. Both defensive ends were trapped downfield and so was the left defensive tackle. This created space for Starks initially.

Each of the receivers who ran routes are pulling towards the sideline to try and draw defenders away to create space on the second level.

The Cowboys defense did react, but the play-design created enough space for Starks and allowed his blocking to release into the secondary with ease, meaning he had a relatively easy touchdown.

Flynn's final touchdown was very impressive. He manipulated the defense with his eyes and found a hole in the coverage quickly before throwing an accurate pass.

The difference between the outputs of Romo and Flynn were minimal on Sunday. The differences between the Packers and the Cowboys as a whole were vast. Change doesn't appear to be on the horizon for the Cowboys, because Jerry Jones' inability to understand that he is wrecking the thing he loves the most isn't going away any time soon. With Romo locked into a long-term contract, it's safe to say that there will be more games where Romo steals the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

But we should always remember that those are only moments. Even though it runs against our natural instinct, moments are not more important than the sum of all the parts. If moments were all that mattered, both Santonio Holmes and David Tyree would be elite NFL receivers, Romo would be a terrible quarterback, and Bill Belichick would be an even worse head coach.

Posted by: Cian Fahey on 19 Dec 2013

51 comments, Last at 23 Jan 2014, 7:35am by Cheap Snapback Hats

Comments

1
by Holden Caywood (not verified) :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 1:46pm

As someone who tries not to overreact to moments, single game performances or 1 failure, does the analysis change if the person or team never, ever succeeds in the championship game(s). Players like fran tarkenton, dan fouts or teams like the bills or vikings. It's one thing to say they shouldn't be judged on 1 season, but to have decades of futility in the clutch is hard to ignore. We have reasons why we believe the bills and vikings made it to the super bowl but no strong evidence why they ALWAYS lost other than coincidence.

2
by jfsh :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 2:20pm

Maybe coincidence is the reason, then. Not as satisfying as other explanations, perhaps, but far more likely.

10
by CBPodge :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 3:31pm

The Vikings thing is solely to ensure that Will Allen is never happy when he comments on here.

12
by gomer (not verified) :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 4:06pm

Maybe in big moments the team is always facing greater talent. I'd say the Cowboys have been the best bad team of Romo's tenure. Romo's play keeping them from the 3-4 win seasons that their talent and coaching should have earned them. But when they go up against teams that actually have some level of talent and a complete coaching concept they lose.

Because they actually aren't that great at most positions. Any GM that starts rebuilding with a star WR is not very good.

15
by RickD :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 4:48pm

I find it hard to lay the accusation of "never plays well in big games" to any team that made multiple Super Bowls, even if they didn't win. The Bills and Vikings had to win a lot of "big games" just to make as many Super Bowls as they did.

This conversation wouldn't even consider the Bills if one makeable field goal had been a bit more to the left.

Fouts is in a different category than Kelly and Tarkenton. Those Chargers teams were notoriously weak on defense. Hard to blame Fouts for that.

47
by NathanBroncos24 (not verified) :: Sun, 12/22/2013 - 10:35am

Statistical variance?!!! You can't seriously expect every team to go .500 in super bowls, can you? If I were less lazy I'd run a binomial distribution to model these flukes. It's possible that Romo truly sucks in December, or the Bills truly suck in February. But it's also possible that he happens to play well in November and badly in December because he just happens to, and people notice because he plays for the Cowboys and find inflammatory stats (never accompanied by confidence intervals). Not everything needs a psychological explanation, a lot of clutch is just randomness, and that's why you'll find near zero year to year correlations for clutch stats.

48
by NathanBroncos24 (not verified) :: Sun, 12/22/2013 - 10:35am

Statistical variance?!!! You can't seriously expect every team to go .500 in super bowls, can you? If I were less lazy I'd run a binomial distribution to model these flukes. It's possible that Romo truly sucks in December, or the Bills truly suck in February. But it's also possible that he happens to play well in November and badly in December because he just happens to, and people notice because he plays for the Cowboys and find inflammatory stats (never accompanied by confidence intervals). Not everything needs a psychological explanation, a lot of clutch is just randomness, and that's why you'll find near zero year to year correlations for clutch stats.

3
by Matt T (not verified) :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 2:21pm

Laying this all on the Dallas coaches is really giving Romo a free pass. He did throw the two interceptions at the end of the game, typical of his meltdowns, and we know he checked into the pass for at least one of those. How many more runs did Garrett call that Romo checked out of? How much of the offense is predicated on Romo throwing because he's lobbying to have more control of the offense? A lot of talk in Dallas has been that coaches need to "reign Tony in," so that he doesn't have the power to check out of running plays when they need to burn clock. That may be true, but doesn't excuse Tony. The fact that the coaches haven't over-ruled Tony's ability to make crappy decisions doesn't excuse the fact that he makes crappy decisions. And coincidence or not, Romo blows a bunch of games in the 4th quarter.

3
by Matt T (not verified) :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 2:21pm

Laying this all on the Dallas coaches is really giving Romo a free pass. He did throw the two interceptions at the end of the game, typical of his meltdowns, and we know he checked into the pass for at least one of those. How many more runs did Garrett call that Romo checked out of? How much of the offense is predicated on Romo throwing because he's lobbying to have more control of the offense? A lot of talk in Dallas has been that coaches need to "reign Tony in," so that he doesn't have the power to check out of running plays when they need to burn clock. That may be true, but doesn't excuse Tony. The fact that the coaches haven't over-ruled Tony's ability to make crappy decisions doesn't excuse the fact that he makes crappy decisions. And coincidence or not, Romo blows a bunch of games in the 4th quarter.

13
by gomer (not verified) :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 4:08pm

He didn't check into the play, it was a packaged play. Run play with pass option if the D over loads. The D overloaded. What he didn't do was reset his feet after dodging the rush. If he had it would have been a TD.

5
by Will Allen :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 2:23pm

There is a lot wrong with this analysis, masked by some statements which are true. Yes, Romo has taken a lot of stupid criticism, stripped of the context which Romo plays within. Yes, the Cowboys are poorly coached. However........

Romo was truly awful on multiple deep pass opportunities, from the beginning to the end of the game. Long incompletions should have been completions, and long completions should have been touchdowns. He was awful because his mechanics were awful, even when he wasn't pressured, which wasn't all that often, especially compared to Cowboys offense in recent years. This isn't the turnstile offensive line that has been mostly been the case for more than decade, and this team should have scored in the mid 30s in the first half. I say this as someone who has defended Romo a lot in years past.

As bad as the coaching is in Dallas, the offensive playcalling is not among the biggest issues, because that playcalling is in large measure dictated by a defense which is historically awful. When you take the field with the full knowledge that your defense may be unable to make the opponent punt, it constricts the playbook.

7
by Perfundle :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 2:41pm

"When you take the field with the full knowledge that your defense may be unable to make the opponent punt, it constricts the playbook."

Seems to me, then, that they should take a page out of San Diego's playbook. Dallas has pretty much the same QB, a better running game, better receivers, much better red-zone offense and even a better defense because at least they can get turnovers. There's no reason their offense can't approach San Diego's in ability if they commit to the run game.

8
by Will Allen :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 3:15pm

Philip Rivers of this year or of last year? Playcalling is not the major difference between the two.

14
by gomer (not verified) :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 4:12pm

I'd say it is. When Norv Turner asked Rivers to play with a 40 yard arm he didn't have it. But when the current coaching staff asks Rivers to play with a 25-30 yard arm he's one of the most productive QBs in the NFL.

Conversely, Romo takes risks, always will. So don't give him the option to take the risk or give him a better importunity for his risks to pay off, such as more shotgun game.

26
by Will Allen :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 7:46pm

If I was a Cowboys fan, what I'd like to see is Romo not having the option of being a lazy-ass in regard to his throwing mechanics, thereby squandering big play opportunities.

27
by gomer (not verified) :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 8:08pm

If a cowboys fan wants Romo's throwing mechanics to improve they better ask Santa for a new offensive line. Because the pass blocking for the boys at times is offensive.

36
by Will Allen :: Fri, 12/20/2013 - 2:17am

The Cowboys offensive line this year is not nearly as bad as it has been in most years Romo has started. He was not badly protected against the Packers. It was a lazy performance by Romo.

31
by Anonymoussfhfdf (not verified) :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 9:18pm

When did it become a common opinion that Rivers struggled under Turner and couldn't throw the deep ball? He had a couple excellent years doing exactly that, mainly to Vincent Jackson. The Chargers' offense now is more a product of not having a true deep field threat, IMO.

34
by Anonymoussfhfdf (not verified) :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 9:26pm

In fact, in 2009 in arguably Rivers' best season he was #3 in deep pass% in 17 games behind only Raiders Gradkowski and Russell in 7 and 12 games, respectively. Can we end this silly myth that Rivers can't throw the deep ball? His struggles had nothing to do with that.

37
by Will Allen :: Fri, 12/20/2013 - 2:18am

Well, I didn't write that.

39
by theslothook :: Fri, 12/20/2013 - 3:30am

Having been guilty of putting words in Will's mouth myself, I must say, somehow, it's easy to get lulled into doing it.

43
by bravehoptoad :: Fri, 12/20/2013 - 11:45am

Because we know, deep down, that he enjoys it.

45
by Will Allen :: Fri, 12/20/2013 - 2:04pm

Generally speaking, I prefer it when people give me whiskey to put in my mouth.

38
by Will Allen :: Fri, 12/20/2013 - 2:21am

repeat delete

16
by RickD :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 4:51pm

"When you take the field with the full knowledge that your defense may be unable to make the opponent punt, it constricts the playbook."

Don't see exactly why or how. If you want to keep your defense off the field, shouldn't you use the running game more, especially if it's proven to be a powerful tool? If you fear using your defense, the tried and true thing to do is burn as much clock as possible.

18
by tuluse :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 5:27pm

You have to take more risks and increase scoring per drive. You can't pull a 2005 Bears, rush 3 times and punt for half a dozen drives each game.

21
by Perfundle :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 7:19pm

Running three times and punting is still better than passing incomplete three times and punting. Dallas' heavy passing regime (3rd-highest passing percentage in the league) is forcing them to punt on almost 46% of all drives, good for 7th-worst. They're actually one of nine teams that have a lead on average when they get the ball back, so it makes even less sense that they're not running more. That Romo has accuracy issues gives yet another reason to do so, because the more the opponent expects run the more open receivers should be on play-action passes.

25
by Will Allen :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 7:44pm

Running three times is more likely to result in a punt than passing three time. When you are convinced that punting will result in the opponent scoring, you tend to pass more.

24
by Will Allen :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 7:42pm

You can't risk not scoring on a drive when you don't think your defense will ever stop them. Thus, you take different risks, that you would otherwise avoid. Most coaches really don't think it all the way through, however, since if they did, they would explicitly adopt a 4 down strategy for a much large chunk of the field, hwich would likely meaning running a bit more, since third and five could still be a running play.

6
by DA (not verified) :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 2:30pm

In the 4th pic on the long run, Lacy must really be talented to both cut down the Safety and Run for 60 yards

9
by coremill :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 3:31pm

This article should really be called, "Film Room: Matt Flynn" or "Film Room: Dallas Defense." I see four plays broken down, and only one is a Dallas offensive play, and that play is a run play where all Romo does is hand off.

This article is also very one-sided. A good example are these two paragraphs:

"At this point, there were four minutes left in the second quarter and the Cowboys were leading 16-3. Flynn threw an interception to set the Cowboys up deep in Green Bay territory. This was the perfect opportunity to drain the rest of the first-half clock by running the ball to set up what would be a deflating touchdown. Instead, the Cowboys called three passing plays that led to two incompletions and a sack. They were forced to settle for a field goal."

Somehow the Cowboys running three straight passing plays that failed gets blamed entirely on the coaching staff. Wasn't Romo the guy throwing the passes? How were the failed plays not at least partially his fault? Maybe if we'd gotten film breakdowns showing poorly designed plays or blocking schemes, or that Green Bay was one step ahead of them on defense, that would support the "it's all bad coaching" argument, but that's missing here.

The next paragraph:

"The Cowboys did score a touchdown before the half when Romo ran a two-minute drill that focused on Bryant. Sometimes talent will shine through and shadow over poor coaching and on this occasion it did."

Now that the Cowboys passing is successful, that's "talent shining through". So when Romo does well, it's because of his talent and in spite of the coaching, but when he does poorly, it's all because of bad coaching. Gotcha.

17
by RickD :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 5:00pm

I thought the obvious point was that calling three straight passing plays was itself a mistake. When you have an effective running game, you shouldn't abandon it. That seems like a valid point.

11
by Michael LaRocca (not verified) :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 3:57pm

He's just having fun out there.

19
by N8- (not verified) :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 5:36pm

zing!

20
by DOL (not verified) :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 6:33pm

Weird to see an article criticizing the Dallas coaching staff for passing too much when there is a ton of evidence from this site and others like it that passing is much more effective than running. I think it is absurd to blame Romo for the loss, but I hate seeing arguments like this from an analysis-base site.

All the evidence I've seen has shown that passing and running are largely independent of each other; running more or passing more doesn't improve your efficiency for either strategy. Can the author provide any numbers suggesting that running more would have made Romo more effective, or is this another "it's so obvious!" line of reasoning that leads to people blaming Romo for the loss?

22
by Perfundle :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 7:29pm

That passing is always more effective than running is a blanket statement that must be analyzed for context. Are you arguing that the optimal team strategy is to never run it at all? There's a ton of evidence from Dallas' play this year that their passing is not so much more effective than their running that they should be passing it so much.

23
by theslothook :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 7:37pm

I like Cian's main point, but this game is a poor example of trying to displace blame on Romo.

Of course the defense was terrible, but Romo's had a bad game. Cosell mentioned that all three ints - including the one that was overturned and the last one, were all poor decisions by romo. He also missed a ton of deep throws that were designed shot plays.

But most of all, one of the biggest myths I hear is this notion of trying to eat clock to either protect the defense or stop another team's offense by keeping it on the sideline. You don't eat up clock by just running, you do it by picking up first downs, which is something everyone tries to do anyways. Trying to run just for the sake of running is meaningless. If you're a passing team that has a 60 40 split, going 50 50 to kill clock as early as the third quarter does nothing. Pick up first downs the best way you can. People point to 3 incompletes and a punt, but what if they completed the third down pass for a first down. Then no one ever mentions that.

28
by gomer (not verified) :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 8:10pm

+1

29
by BlueStarDude :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 8:14pm

Not sure how Cosell can say all three were on Romo when Beasley came out and said that on the last one that wasn't supposed to be an option route. Romo had a bad game, and contrary to what the talking heads had been saying for weeks he is far from "having the best season of his career," but the last INT might not be on him; as it was, it took a stellar play from Williams to pick the pass off, so if Beasley runs through the route it's likely a catch and a first down.

Which speaks to the point in your second paragraph which I agree a bit with. Even though I spent much of the second half raising my voice at the TV for them to run the ball (not generally something I do but they had been gashing them in the first half and really the OL and Murray have been doing very well for a handful of games now), I fear that the team will overcorrect. Without the benefit of hindsight I don't think anyone could say the 2nd and 6 play that led to the first INT was an entirely bad decision. In fact, that should have been the killing blow. But, like so many other passes from Romo that night, it was a poor throw. If anything made it a bad decision it was that Austin was the intended receiver and this team has been burned plenty of times in big games on passes to Austin which fail for one reason or another. I just don't see why they continue to trust him.

In terms of this article in general, it might not be well argued, but Garrett is simply not a good head coach. For a smart man he has continuously made poor decisions: way too conservative on fourth downs, even at end of games, and his clock management has not improved over his three plus seasons. The team really, really needs to move on from him.

30
by theslothook :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 8:41pm

Here's where the last throw gets complicated because I actually know what cosell is arguing but I don't know how dallas usually attacks it. The defense was running a play called cover 2 trap. The idea is, the left corner is meant to drop into a kind of medium zone, ie run with the receiver on the outside and then pass him off to the safety and be ready to stop routes in that zone or routes that catch passes underneath. Instead, its a fake. The safety is in man coverage against the outside receiver, williams fakes that hes going to cover the medium zone, but its actually going to cover the shallow zone that beasley is running to. Ideally, beasley will run his route right to williams and williams will either break on the ball and intercept it or tackle him before the sticks.

I say it gets complicated because we don't know exactly what dallas' respective players were thinking, so we are left with three options. Option 1 - It didn't matter what the coverage was, it was just a mix up. Romo expected an out route, beasley thought he was to run a quick out and stop. option 2- the route itself is an option route and beasley, recognizing the coverage, purposely didn't complete the route and stopped where he thought there was a hole and it was romo who failed to read the option route correctly and threw a pick. Finally option 3 - both Romo and beasley recognized it was cover 2 trap, but had a mix up about what to do in that situation, with romo thinking the plan is still to run that a long out route while beasley thought the plan is to stop short.

Of the three, I've heard cosell and jaworski say they thought it was option 2 - that beasley knew it was cover 2 trap and purposely stopped his route and it was romo who failed to read the coverage.

I will agree with you, we have no idea which of the three it was so its probably unfair to just assume it was romo who screwed the pouch.

Anyways, Romo was in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. Notice, if he wins this game, its not a big game because hes at home, the packers are without rodgers, its not a playoff game, etc etc. He loses in this fashion and all of a sudden, its back to romo is a choker, can't win big games in december, etc etc.

Ultimately, this whole romo narrative is just lazy. Every qb who feels like they can't trust their defense will start to throw picks. I encourage people to go back and look at drew brees when his defenses sucked(as recently as last year) and see what happened to his int numbers.

33
by Ben :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 9:25pm

Ultimately, this whole romo narrative is just lazy. Every qb who feels like they can't trust their defense will start to throw picks. I encourage people to go back and look at drew brees when his defenses sucked(as recently as last year) and see what happened to his int numbers.

Or any number Manning's performances in Colts playoff games. Of course, he gets the "can't win big games" label too.

40
by Perfundle :: Fri, 12/20/2013 - 4:45am

Running just for the sake of burning clock is certainly not a good strategy. But in the Packers' game, Dallas' average run gained more yards than the average pass, so running picked up first downs better than passing did. That's the reason for the complaints.

49
by Noah of Arkadia :: Mon, 12/23/2013 - 10:28am

True, but the "run to keep your defense off the field" cliche infects even this site. It doesn't matter if you run 5 times or 50, both teams will still have approximately the same number of drives for the game. It's not even true that running will give your defense more rest, since running consumes more game-clock, but the same normal time as passing.

------
The man with no sig

32
by tbwhite :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 9:23pm

I love this site, and articles like this, but the whole Romo 'controvery' makes me glad to be able to just be a fan. An Eagles fan, who just loves watching the Cowboys lose in new and increasingly excruciating ways. As a fan, I happen to like the Romo is a choker narrative, it's deeply satisfying. After all, it's not that Romo is bad, it's that he is fatally flawed. It therefore logically follows that the Cowboys are forever doomed so long as he is QB, which considering his new contract extension is roughly forever. The idea of the Cowboys looking at another lost decade is decadent(what's the relationship between decade and decadent grammar police ?) and delicious. Isn't that enough ? Does it really matter whether it's true ? Why can't we just sit back and enjoy the story ? Do we have to be the person watching the movie who points out all of the incongruities and mistakes ? Can't we just revel in the moment and suspend our disbelief ? Don't ruin this for me with your logic and facts.

35
by theslothook :: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 9:38pm

Im curious how you enjoyed the same narrative thrown at the feet of mcnabb, whos own failures were explained in far worse terms: "hes an oaf who can't read defenses because he's too stupid and too entitled due to Reid favoritism."

41
by BJR :: Fri, 12/20/2013 - 5:56am

"thrown at the feet"..... I see what you did there

44
by tbwhite :: Fri, 12/20/2013 - 12:11pm

I don't think the same narrative was ever really thrown at McNabb.

There was always the thrown at the feet thing. Which I know drove some people crazy, but which I thought was why McNabb had the lowest INT rate. Even if there was no benefit from all of those screen passes into the grass, they don't have the same emotional impact as throwing INTs while your team blows a 4th Qtr lead. If the Packers had a big 4th quarter lead and the Cowboys came back but fell a little short because Romo made some innaccurate throws and they turned the ball over on downs, the above article wouldn't have been written.

In McNabb's early years, he was given a pass because of Trash and Stinkston. The Eagles didn't blow leads late in the NFC Championship Game, the offense just never showed up. Blaming Trash and Stinkston was validated when TO arrived and they finally got to the Super Bowl. In later years, after Jim Johnson's passing, the defense was usually blamed for the team's failures. Did McNabb take heat later in his career for the team's falures, of course, but was he ever viewed as the single point of failure ? No. There was always the receivers or the defense that got a lot of the blame. And the reason for that was that McNabb didn't lose in spectacular ways, when he lost it was usually just by being underwhelming. No one blames the NFC Championship loss to the Bucs on the pick 6, the Eagles were manhandled that day.

I think even McNabb's biggest detractors in Philadelphia would concede that if he had TO or another good receiver to work with in those first few years the Eagles probably would have won a Super Bowl. There was a point where people concluded that the Eagles weren't going to win it all with McNabb, but that's different from saying they weren't going to win it all BECAUSE of McNabb. That's where we are with Romo today. Forget Dez Bryant, forget the very good running game, the Cowboys will never win because Tony Romo. Take the 1985 Bears and put Romo at QB, do they win the Super Bowl, of course not, because Romo would blow it. I never felt like people thought the same of McNabb.

42
by Will Allen :: Fri, 12/20/2013 - 10:44am

I was really irritated with the producer in the FOX broadcast truck, for not giving me enough Jerry Jones reaction shots, as the Debacle in Dallas culminated last Sunday.

46
by Arkaein :: Fri, 12/20/2013 - 10:39pm

So Flynn played much worse because he almost threw two interceptions and was darried by a great running game.

Huh, by that argument Romo was responsible for FOUR should have been interceptions my my count: two actual interceptions, another one overturned on very shaky replay evidence, and almost threw away 3 points when a 3rd down pass in the red zone was broken up by Morgan Burnett on what easily could have been an interception if Packers safeties could catch this year.

As others have pointed out, the Dallas coaching staff didn't do Romo any favors, but if he had really outplayed Flynn so decisively then being asked to throw MORE should have resulted in better production in the second half. In actuality, Romo played well overall in the first half, but fizzled in the red zone all game long, and wasn't that great in the second half.

Flynn was bad in the first half, but had very little run support at that time (unlike Romo). And over the whole game was much more efficient in the red zone.

50
by cheap San Francisco Giants Jerseys (not verified) :: Tue, 01/21/2014 - 9:05am

Howdy, i read your internet site often and also this i own the same one along with i was just wondering if however you get many spam thoughts? If that

51
by Cheap Snapback Hats (not verified) :: Thu, 01/23/2014 - 7:35am

I lately saw your websites and are generally reading quite a lot of posts from yours. I solely thought I