Here's the NFL Thing We Used to Call 'Fabs and Flops,' Week 2
September 19, 2012INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
All aboard the Romocoaster! After 10 days as the shiny, winning-friendly leader of the Cowboys, the new Tony Romo suddenly crumbled to reveal that it was the same old loser all along. All the doubts that were erased by Romo's triumphant 1-on-53 victory over the Giants were rewritten over the course of 60 minutes, when he single-handedly caused the Cowboys to lose to far inferior opposition.
And people say, stat guys don't watch the games! If you take a look at how Romo actually played against one of the league's most underrated defenses on Sunday afternoon, as I did, you'll see a guy who wasn't really all that much different from the player who took down Dallas's big blue elephant. It would be downright impossible, though, to ignore how little Romo actually got from the players around him.
To put it kindly, Dallas's offensive line got torched by Seattle's front four. It was one of the more obvious examples of a game in which sacks fail to tell the story of pass pressure. Although the Seahawks only sacked Romo on one of his 41 drop backs, they knocked him down six times, pressured him into scrambling on a half-dozen more throws, and forced a number of premature throws and checkdowns.
Virtually every Cowboys lineman was at fault. Left tackle Tyron Smith had opposite defensive end Chris Clemons eat his lunch all day long, starting with a swim move on the opening play that ended up with Smith facing his own end zone and Romo checking down for a small gain. Clemons was able to force a number of desperate scrambles from Romo on plays in which the Seahawks only rushed three or four linemen, and his twists with other defensive linemen gave Smith and left guard Nate Livings fits.
The only answer the Cowboys had for Clemons, honestly, was Romo. His best play of the day came during Dallas's first drive, on a play in which the Cowboys blew a protection and failed to block Seattle's best pass rusher. With Clemons rushing at him at full speed, Romo manages to juke out Clemons with a false step, does a 180, rolls out against the grain, and then fires a strike to a closely covered Kevin Ogletree for 26 yards. It's an absolutely ridiculous play that will get no attention because of the final score.
Romo was also victimized by a number of drops. Now, it's true that every quarterback is going to see a drop or two per game, but the drops afflicting the Cowboys on Sunday were particularly egregious. Everyone's definition of a drop is different, but by my count, the Cowboys dropped six very catchable passes on Sunday. Four of the drops were by the usually sure-handed Jason Witten, who had a dismal day. Among Witten's drops were an easy third-down conversion on the opening drive, a 25-yard pass up the seam where the closest defender in coverage might have been Felix Hernandez, and a 50-yard bomb from Romo that hit Witten in the hands. Dez Bryant was responsible for the other two drops, including a drop that immediately preceded Romo's ugly interception.
Oh, that interception? It's worth a look. You can see what happens pretty clearly: Romo tries to throw a quick slant, pulls it down when a dropping lineman gets into his throwing lane, and then tries to improvise by throwing the ball across his body to the opposite hashmark. It was a good decision (not throwing the slant) followed by a terrible one (the actual intercepted pass). Romo also had a would-be interception on a second-and-20 pass later in the game dropped.
For me, the problem with excoriating Romo for that admittedly bad decision is the same issue that I mentioned with regard to Jay Cutler last Friday. The Romo who tried to improvise a throw to Witten on the fly was the same guy who eluded the Clemons rush and hit Ogletree in traffic with a perfect throw. How do you extricate the bad Romo from the good one? If you try to eliminate the improvisational decisions of the guy who made the bad pick, don't you end up with a guy who gets laid out by Clemons? Is that better?
In the end, the Cowboys just weren't able to overcome the hole that their special teams left them in. Felix Jones fumbled the opening kickoff, producing a field goal, and the Seahawks blocked Dallas's opening punt before recovering it for a touchdown. Seattle was up 10-0 before the Cowboys had any idea what hit them, and their pass rush promptly pinned back their ears and gave Dallas fits. That's a ride that would even give the Tony Romo of Cowboys fans' dreams heartburn. The Cowboys need a better week out of their special teams and offensive line against the Buccaneers on Sunday, not a new quarterback. The Romocoaster should be just fine.