By Matthew Postins
First and 10 is RattleandHumSports.com’s Dallas Cowboys wrap-up. Consider this an outline of the 10 most important things to come out of the previous game and how it related to the outcome. It’s analysis and opinion of each week’s game that goes beyond the box score. Today it’s First and 10 after the Cowboys’ 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos.
Romo in the first 58 minutes: Has he ever been better in a single game than he was in the first 57 minutes on Sunday? I mean he was electric. He was, at times, better than Peyton Manning. He moved around the pocket, made fantastic throws and, for once, had solid protection. His receivers were on it all day, making great catches and moving the football down the field. Romo had the best statistical day of his career. Five hundred yards passing and five touchdowns? How do you argue with that? Well …
Romo in the final two minutes: … this is how you argue with it. The Dallas Cowboys needed Romo to be flawless for one more drive and he wasn’t. It might have been more acceptable if the Cowboys had just gone three and out and put it on the defense. At least that way Romo couldn’t have been blamed for a bone-crushing mistake. But he threw that interception, and it was a pass that, frankly, should not have been thrown. Twitter blew up after the pick. Fans lost their minds. “Same old Romo,” they said. That’s legitimate. He’s not an elite quarterback. Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are all elite quarterbacks because they avoid those mistakes and make plays to help their team win the game in those final minutes. The only way that Romo will get his championship ring, in my opinion, is if he has a better overall team around him. It helped Trent Dilfer and Jim Plunkett. But that’s his only path. He’s not going to change his spots now.
As one Dallas Cowboys fan told me afterward, “This game is a microcosm of his career.” Indeed.
Let them score?: Was anyone else thinking that the Dallas Cowboys should have just let Knowshon Moreno score on that third-and-1 near the Cowboys 1 at the end of the game? Think about it. Moreno scores and the Cowboys get the ball back with about 1:30 left to try and tie. It’s a reasonable question. Mike Holmgren did it in a Super Bowl. I’m going to explore that a little more in-depth in my weekly column. But it made sense to me at the time. Sure, Moreno might have taken a dive before the goal line and that would have been smart on his behalf. But what if he just walked in and gave the Cowboys offense one more chance? Sometimes you have to think out of the box in this league.
Where did the running game go? So the Dallas Cowboys expertly used the run game and the pass game in tandem to chew time and score that opening touchdown on the first drive of the game. That was the template. That’s how you beat the Broncos. Let’s put it like this. DeMarco Murray had 12 carries in the game. He had 10 of them on the Cowboys’ first three drives of the game, all of which were scores. He had two the rest of the game. Two. The Dallas Cowboys can talk all they want about balance and the run game. But in a game in which they had to have a run game – and in a game in which they were successful running the football for the first three drives – it’s inexcusable to just run away from the running game like that. It really makes you wonder if the Cowboys are really committed to running the football at all. Because, if you look at Murray’s overall numbers, he should be getting more work than he is right now.
Williams’ coming-out party. Given his game-crippling mistake in San Diego, this is exactly what you wanted to see out of Terrance Williams. He showed off his ability to stretch the field, his ability to catch from different angles and his breakaway speed. His 82-yard touchdown reception was critical to the comeback. His play the last two weeks makes losing Miles Austin a little bit easier.
Waters makes a difference. The stat sheet doesn’t necessarily back it up, but I think this offensive line is looking better than last year, and I think the big reason is the veteran guard, Brian Waters. Since taking over at starter last week this line seems more cohesive. In fact, the interior play – Waters and fellow guard Ron Leary, along with center Travis Frederick – are doing some fine work. Waters’ veteran influence is key, though. He’s been through it all and he can help the youngsters make adjustments. The Dallas Cowboys have to be kicking themselves for not bringing him in sooner than they did. The Broncos did have four sacks, but Romo has plenty of time for the most part on Sunday. The Cowboys just didn’t give this group enough to do running the football.
The passing problem. This Cowboys pass defense has to get better, and it starts with the back seven at this point. Sean Lee lost a player in coverage for the second time in consecutive weeks and it cost the Cowboys. The safety play has regressed. They’re allowing big chunks up the field no matter who is back there. Morris Claiborne had a nice bounce back game at corner. But I don’t hear Brandon Carr’s name much on the other side. It’s clear there is enough tape out there and that opponents are seeing the vulnerability. A better pass rush will help, but…
… can the defensive line keep it up? The Dallas Cowboys had no sacks on Sunday and weren’t able to make Peyton Manning uncomfortable. Now, the Broncos have a solid offensive line. But this was the first time this season the Cowboys didn’t get a good push up front. This unit is banged up and they’re too reliant on unproven depth to get a pass rush. I thought they wouldn’t pay for that until later this season. Perhaps the Cowboys will pay sooner for not addressing the defensive line in the draft or in free agency. The Cowboys have to hope what happened Sunday is an aberration.
Turnovers and points. Let’s point out a good thing on Sunday – the Dallas Cowboys forced two turnovers and the offense scored 14 points off those turnovers. The Cowboys wouldn’t have been in this game without those miscues and points. That’s a trend the Cowboys hope continues.
The Ware problem. I think DeMarcus Ware is banged up a lot more than he or the Cowboys are relating publicly. He left the game for the third time in as many weeks on Sunday, but returned. It’s beginning to look like that back issue the Cowboys talked about last year could be a long-term issue this season. If that’s the case the Dallas Cowboys don’t have the depth to manage that. Ware got to Manning once, but it was on a run play at the end of the game.