Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Running game is the answer for Cowboys

by Matt Bowen

Is anyone surprised that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is standing behind his quarterback — even after that same quarterback crashed his open house party Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium?

I would have to agree with anyone who pointed the finger at Tony Romo after Dallas lost 33-31 on a last-second field goal to the Giants in the late hours of Sunday night. His turnovers cost them points on the scoreboard.

Instead of Romo being the quarterback who tied a nice little bow around Jones’ new stadium, it was Eli Manning of the Giants, who threw for 330 yards and two touchdowns while leading his team down the field with ease to set up the winning kick.

Romo, on the other hand, had to watch from the sideline with his three interceptions and a week of media scrutiny ahead of him while his team fell to 1-1.

Suddenly, the sky was falling in Dallas, just like it was in places like Green Bay, Pittsburgh and New England — three cities that don’t deal with losing very well on Mondays.

And that’s why Jones came to his rescue. Not because he believes that Romo will respond, but because the owner has a lot of pull in the organization — and the last thing you want to do is take away that last bit of confidence after a performance like Romo had Sunday night.

However, even with Jones standing behind his high-priced quarterback, the issues in Dallas after two weeks go a lot deeper than just the quarterback position.

This Cowboys defense, as good as it was at getting to the quarterback in 2008, is suddenly, well, invisible. Through two weeks of the ’09 season, the Cowboys defense has yet to notch a single sack and is giving up more than 430 yards a game. And the turnover ratio in Dallas — thanks to Romo’s game Sunday and the lack of playmaking ability of this defense — is currently sitting at minus-4.

Think of the game film from Sunday night and what Eli did to that secondary. Not only did he have time to throw against a defense that’s known as one of the best at attacking the quarterback, he also exploited the secondary with receivers who were supposed to be the Giants’ downfall. He attacked the middle of the field and had success when he put the ball down the field in the vertical passing game.

That game film will go to every team in the league, and you can bet the Cowboys’ opponents are seeing the same things we are. Because this defense was supposed to be the answer, even if Romo had an off night. Yes, they did contain Giants RB Brandon Jacobs, but as we could see, that wasn’t the New York game plan.

The Giants thought they could win with Manning and his arm, and with Steve Smith and Mario Mannigham. And it worked.

Because the Dallas defense allowed it to.

The Cowboys, from my vantage point, can run the football as well as anyone in the league, and for them to be successful this season, it’s going to have to be the answer when they prepare for Sundays. Control the clock and put Romo in position where he’s facing eight defenders in the box with open windows to throw to versus the now one-on-one matchups he has on the outside.

Sure, the ‘Boys will need Romo to step up in some way during the season, but with the backfield talent they have in Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, this isn’t a team that needs to get creative down the field to win games.

I agree it will be hard for Jones to watch his money at the quarterback position hand off all game long, but that’s what will win in Dallas this season — and a defense that finds a way to make plays on the quarterback and when the ball is in the air.

Then Jones can stand behind the entire team.