Dallas Cowboys: Matt Ryan
On Thursday Romo was asked what he remembered about the week leading into the game against the 9-0 Indianapolis Colts.
“Well, Bill (said to) me on Monday, ‘I’m going to turn this game over to you,’ and I said, ‘Let’s go,’” Romo said. “… And we ran it 36 times.”
Manning brings an undefeated Denver Broncos to AT&T Stadium. Romo will be making the 98th regular-season start of his career.
This will be Romo’s fifth start against teams that have started at least 4-0. He beat Manning’s Colts, lost to Tom Brady’s 5-0 New England Patriots in 2007, beat Drew Brees' 13-0 New Orleans Saints in 2009, and lost to Matt Ryan's 7-0 Atlanta Falcons last year.
“I think what you do is, you do what needs to be done throughout most of the football game, and as the game gets to a certain point in the game and the score dictates what you need to do to help your football team win,” Romo said. “Before then, I just think as a quarterback you need to do what gives you the best chance to be successful on that play. If that’s a deep ball, if that’s a dump off, that’s a handoff, whatever it might entail that gives your team the best chance to move the ball, that’s what you need to do."
The Cowboys beat the Colts by holding the ball for 33 minutes, 42 seconds, and running the ball 36 times for 117 yards. On the second play of the game the defense recovered a fumble. On the fifth play, DeMarcus Ware sacked Manning. On the 11th play Jay Ratliff had a sack-fumble. Roy Williams had an interception near the Dallas goal line, and Kevin Burnett returned an interception for a touchdown.
Against the Patriots, the Cowboys were matching Brady, and the defense scored a touchdown on a Jason Hatcher fumble recovery. Trailing 31-24 early in the fourth quarter a fourth-and-1 conversion was overturned by a holding penalty, forcing a punt. Five plays later, Brady threw a 69-yard touchdown pass and the Patriots went on to win 48-27.
Against the Saints the Cowboys scored touchdowns on their first two drives and took a 24-3 lead on the opening drive of the second half. Mike Jenkins intercepted Brees near the Cowboys’ goal line, and Ware, who was not supposed to play because of a neck injury, had two sacks of Brees and three hurries.
The Cowboys won 24-17, rushing 36 times for 145 yards and converting on eight of 15 third-down opportunities.
Last year at Atlanta, the Cowboys sputtered on their first two possessions inside the red zone and had to settle for two Dan Bailey field goals for a 6-0 lead. The Falcons took a 16-6 lead late in the fourth quarter, but Romo connected with Kevin Ogletree for a touchdown with 5:21 to play to cut the deficit to three points. The defense, however, could not get off the field on the ensuing drive (three third-down conversions) and Atlanta ate up all but 17 seconds on the clock.
“Teams get to 9, 10-0, 12-0 or whatever it might be, and they’ve obviously done a lot of good things right and Denver hasn’t really played in a football game yet,” Romo said. “It’s a testament to their players. They’re playing at a very high level. They deserve everything they’ve gotten. To beat a football team like this you have to play at a very high level, and you have to do a lot of things right. Saying that, there’s a certain recipe and certain way to go about the process, and we’re trying to do that.”
|Fitzsimmons & Durrett discuss Tony Romo's contract extension and what it says about Jerry Jones.
How can the Cowboys give Romo a $108 million contract with one playoff victory, three Pro Bowl appearances and a 1-6 mark in win-or-go-home games?
The market dictates so is one reason and another is the Cowboys believe Romo can deliver on a Super Bowl championship. But comparing Romo to the Manning Brothers, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger is almost unfair because these men have won Super Bowl titles.
So why not compare Romo's resume to some other good quarterbacks who haven't won a Super Bowl. We picked the following: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers
Below is a statistical comparison:
Is Romo better than Ryan? Better than Schaub? Is Romo worth the money after comparing him to other quarterbacks?
this latest report, from Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, will help convince those who still think it's possible they don't get this done. Ian's report says that the way Romo's contract is structured prohibits the Cowboys from designated him as their franchise player in 2014. The reason is that Romo's deal still has three more years on it, the final two of which will automatically void, but not until after the deadline for designating franchise players. So they can't tag him, and if the current league year ends without a new deal he'll be a free agent whose price will go through the roof.
Now, this seems like a ridiculous oversight by the Cowboys, but in truth they wouldn't reasonably have been able to franchise Romo next year anyway. The restructuring the team has done on Romo's contract over the years has pushed back a significant portion of his money into those voidable years, and his franchise number would be more than $25 million next year even if they could do it. So they realistically couldn't have done it even if the contract had been structured in such a way to allow for it.
The ultimate point here is a very simple one: Romo is going to get a very nice, long-term contract extension, likely this offseason. The team has been open about the fact that they are discussing this with Romo. They want him to be their quarterback for the rest of his career. They are confident they will get a deal done, and they don't share the fans' impatience because, a) they know huge deals like this take time and, b) they've been able to find ways to add a couple of key guys this week without reducing Romo's $16.8 million cap number for 2013. Once the new deal is done, that number will drop, and they can carry over unused savings into next year's cap if they like.
What Ian's report underlines is the extent to which Romo has the leverage in these talks. The Cowboys need to sign him long-term, for a number of reasons, and he knows it. So why not wait and see what the new deals look like for guys like Joe Flacco (who's already signed his), Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan? Romo's not going to make what those guys make, but they're going to set the top end of the quarterback market and give Romo and his agents useful numbers off of which to work. The only problem Romo has is if he gets into the 2013 season and gets hurt in his contract year and kills his chances of free agency. But that's a deadline that's still more than five months away. In the meantime, Romo is in no rush and doesn't need to be. He's the one holding the cards.
This is a deal that will get done. It's 100 percent certain. And when it does, it's going to be a very nice deal for Tony Romo.
Q: So how come Jerry Jones won't trade Tony Romo for some high draft picks or better yet a quarterback? junior805, Santa Maria, Calif.
A: It doesn't make sense to trade Tony Romo. He's still the best option the team has at quarterback and while yes, I see an influx of rookie quarterbacks come into the league that produce big numbers, the Cowboys have bigger issues. Offensive line and defensive line, running back and tight end are bigger holes to fill than quarterback. I'm not against drafting one, just not in the first round. Remember Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick were not first-round picks and you see the success each had in 2012. In a weak quarterback class, the Cowboys are better suited to find one in the later rounds instead of forcing it in the first.
Q:Calvin, I'm all for Jerry Jones making changes to this team as the owner of the Cowboys. My question is with the defense (Monte Kiffin) moving to a 4-3, and the offense moving from a timing-based offense to the West Coast (Bill Callahan), with all this movement happening, do you feel Jerry is trying to force these transformations down the Cowboys fans' throats, just to prove a point that he will do anything to make sure that Romo has a legacy of success as the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys? Instead of allowing the franchise to rebuild for the long term? What happens, if all these moves backfire on Jerry (I hope I didn't jinx the franchise). Will he be force to start over? Robert, Denver
A: Jerry Jones said he's not making these changes for the sake of change. I believe him. However, the way he's going about things is leading to confusion. He won't admit he's moving Jason Garrett out of the playcalling business and giving it to Bill Callahan. Just say it and end all the drama. I do like the move with a 4-3 under Monte Kiffin, the father of the Tampa 2 defense. If these moves don't work, Jones will have no choice but to start over with the coaching staff. No choice at all. He already has a good young group of players in Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray to work with. It's up to this coaching staff to make this work.
Q: Mr. Watkins, I am a Cowboys fan and try to read everything I can about the team, but I have never read an article that breaks down the management chain of the Cowboys. Meaning who chooses personnel at the draft and who approves that choice? What is the avenue a player takes to get to talk to Jerry about problems? This interests me coming from a military background and we call this a chain of command. All fans blame Jerry for the Cowboys' spiral downward and if we knew this it can help giving us insight. Gabriel, Tucson, Ariz.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers announced on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com that he will not play in the Jan. 27 Pro Bowl because of an ankle injury. Washington’s Robert Griffin III is out following knee surgery and will be replaced by New Orleans’ Drew Brees.
If Matt Ryan wins the NFC Championship Game against San Francisco on Sunday, then he would need to be replaced.
Romo would have to be in the discussion with Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Eli Manning of the New York Giants. The Cowboys do not confirm whether a player earned Pro Bowl alternate status or not.
Romo had more passing yards (4,903) and touchdown passes (28) than Wilson (3,118, 26) and Manning (3,948, 26), but he also had 19 interceptions, which tied Brees for the most in the NFL. Wilson led the Seahawks to the divisional round of the playoffs, and Manning's Giants finished 9-7, one game better than the Cowboys.
But there’s also a question about his health. He cracked a rib in the regular-season finale against Washington that left him in great pain after the game, but three-plus weeks of rest should help.
Romo was an addition to the 2009 Pro Bowl and earned trips in 2006 and ’07.
A fourth trip to the Pro Bowl, no matter how he got it, would help to a small degree in negotiations on an extension.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:
Home-field disadvantage? The Atlanta Falcons are 6-0 at home this season, have won 10 straight home games overall, and are 32-7 in the Georgia Dome over the past five seasons. So the fact that they are playing at home this week should help them, right? Well, maybe not. Their opponent is the New York Giants, who not only beat the Falcons in a playoff game in New Jersey in January but have won seven straight games against the Falcons in Atlanta. The most recent of those games was a 31-10 victory on Oct. 15, 2007, but the Falcons have not won a home game against the Giants since Oct. 1, 1978, when they were able to hold Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik to 86 yards on 7-of-21 passing and win on a 9-yard touchdown run by Haskel Stanback in the fourth quarter. Yeah, that's right. You know where to come for your Haskel Stanback notes.
Uncommon streakers: The Washington Redskins have won four games in a row and are trying for their first five-game winning streak since the 2005 season. They visit the Cleveland Browns, who have won three games in a row and are trying for their first four-game winning streak since the final four weeks of the 2009 season.
Getting to 300: Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is averaging 347.3 passing yards in home games this season, the best such mark in the NFL according to ESPN Stats & Info. He has passed for at least 300 yards in each of his past five home games. However, Sunday's opponent is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have allowed fewer than 300 yards in eight straight games. That's the longest such streak since the 2008 Steelers went 14 straight games without allowing 300 yards. Playing without injured cornerback Ike Taylor could affect that, but Romo's top receiver, Dez Bryant, has a broken finger, which could impact Romo's 300-yard streak.
Season of giving? The Steelers lead the NFL with 16 turnovers in the past four weeks. This should be good news for the Cowboys, but the Cowboys have struggled this year to take the ball away from opponents. Only five teams -- Miami, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Indianapolis and Philadelphia -- have fewer takeaways this season than the Cowboys' 14.
*Bonus playoff-picture note* The 11-2 Falcons are playing for something. They can clinch a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs with a win or a tie and loss by either the Packers or the 49ers. And if the Falcons win and the Packers and 49ers both lose, the Falcons would clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. No NFC East team can clinch a playoff spot this week.
Can the New York Giants' pass rush perk up and help a Big Blue defense that held the Falcons offense scoreless during the playoffs last season repeat that performance Sunday in Atlanta?
Can the two men the Dallas Cowboys brought in to be shutdown cornerbacks keep the Steelers receivers covered while Ben Roethlisberger scrambles to keep plays alive?
Can the Washington Redskins scheme, adjust and work around their defensive personnel shortages for another week, keeping Trent Richardson in check and daring Brandon Weeden to beat them in Cleveland?
These are the key storylines Sunday as the NFC East race spins into its final weeks. Amend them with different opponents, and they are likely to remain the key storylines in this division the rest of the way. Although the quarterbacks get all the attention in this division and statistically there's not a top-10 defense in the bunch, the team that plays the best defense in these final three games is the one most likely to emerge with the division title.
The NFC East race is a jumble. The defending champion Giants hold a one-game lead, but they have road games the next two weeks in Atlanta and Baltimore and are far from assured of winning out. The Falcons and Ravens are a combined 11-1 at home this season and 65-11 the past five. Sure, New York is a defending Super Bowl champion that has shown it can win anywhere, but there's not a team out there that could safely assume it would go 2-0 in those games. The Giants are going to have to play the way they played in January, not the way they've played for most of the past month and a half, if they're going to keep control of the division. To do that, they need to be more ferocious on defense.
The Giants have 31 sacks -- tied for 12th most in the league. Jason Pierre-Paul leads them with 6.5. Osi Umenyiora has six. Justin Tuck has only three.
The numbers are fine, but they're not Giants numbers. This is a pass rush that took out Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady en route to its second Super Bowl title in five years. Unless someone gets more than one sack a game the rest of the way, they're going to finish the regular season without anyone in double figures. That doesn't compute, and it has as much to do with why the Giants haven't already put away this division as anything.
It's possible that seeing Ryan and the Falcons will rekindle memories of how dominant they were up front 11 months ago, and if that's the case, the Giants could be the team that gets on the defensive run that gives them the division title.
The Cowboys sit one game back of the Giants, tied with the Redskins for second place. Statistically fine for much of the season, the defense has endured a brutal rash of injuries. Both starting inside linebackers, a starting safety, a starting defensive lineman and their nickel cornerback are on injured reserve. This week, star pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware (elbow) and starting cornerback Morris Claiborne (concussion) have already missed practice. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff remains in doubt, and his backup, Josh Brent, is out because of his well-publicized issues. The Cowboys are running short of players on defense, which could take them right out of this picture if it continues.
But they've made it this far in spite of their deficiencies. They've won four of their past five games. Running back DeMarco Murray is back in the fold, red-hot wide receiver Dez Bryant apparently is determined to play in spite of a broken finger, and the offense is humming.
The defense has to hold it together, and the key is in that secondary. Ware and Anthony Spencer are playing well at outside linebacker, and the defensive line is average and going to stay that way. The defense is counting on Claiborne and fellow corner Brandon Carr to shut down receivers, especially in a game such as this Sunday's against Pittsburgh's receivers. If Claiborne can't go, the responsibility falls to Sterling Moore, who has looked good in his short time in Dallas.
Carr and Claiborne have been occasionally brilliant but generally inconsistent in coverage this season. The price the Cowboys paid for Carr in free-agent money and for Claiborne in draft picks says they're big-time talents who need to play that way. If they can shut down opposing receivers the next three weeks, the Cowboys' chances of coming from behind and stealing this division are a lot better.
In Washington, all eyes are on rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has a knee injury and may not play Sunday in Cleveland.
But the Redskins aren't really worried about their offense. They can run the ball with Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon can get open down the field for backup Kirk Cousins, and they can score enough points.
Defense has been the Redskins' issue all season. They rank 28th in total defense and 31st against the pass. A secondary that didn't look all that great to begin with is now missing two starting safeties and a starting cornerback. The defense is also missing its best pass-rusher, Brian Orakpo, and starting defensive lineman Adam Carriker. It has been a struggle.
Yet the Redskins, which have managed to win their past four games to move within a game of the Giants, have a real chance. They have looked bad on defense for long stretches during the streak -- the second half against Dallas on Thanksgiving, the first half against Baltimore last week -- but they've managed to hold on. Coordinator Jim Haslett is doing an excellent job of changing up the game plan from week to week and half to half to maximize any advantage he can find. Outside linebacker Rob Jackson can be a disruptive pass-rusher for a half. DeAngelo Hall can be a decent cover corner for a couple of drives.
They mix, match and patch it together, and so far it's not falling apart. The key will be for the Redskins to keep walking that tightrope, and if they can do it for three more games, they absolutely have a chance.
So if you're trying to make sense of this NFC East race as it hits the home stretch, look not to the big-name quarterbacks and receivers but instead to the defenses. If one of these three teams can do something on defense it hasn't been able to do so far, that could make enough of a difference to decide the division.
Archer - Some people here are saying Jason Garrett is in trouble especially with the Sean Payton news. How much trouble is Andy Reid in and could Payton be an option there?
McLane -- He's in a boatload of trouble. Owner Jeffrey Lurie said before the season that the Eagles needed to show "substantial improvement" from last season's 8-8 record for Reid to return for a 15th season. With the Eagles 3-5, Reid would have to finish at least 7-1, maybe 6-2, and make the playoffs to survive. That is a tall order considering how horrendous the team has looked during a four-game losing streak. As for Payton, I think there's a 1-2 percent chance he ends up in Philly should Reid get fired. Most likely, he's stays in New Orleans, and if he goes anywhere it's clear Dallas would be No. 1 on his list. Payton has ties to the Eagles and the area, and Lurie would be a fool not to consider the Saints coach, but it's probably a long shot.
TA -- Tony Romo has not put up good numbers this year. Neither has Vick. The Cowboys offensive line isn't very good. Neither is Philly's. Is there a correlation?
JM -- You bet. The Eagles offensive line has been the Achilles heel of the offense all season long. There have been significant injuries -- Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans are all lost for the season -- but the Eagles failed to stock the line with competent reserves and have paid the price. Vick hasn't been sharp by any means. But he's been hit far too many times and has had little time to throw and it's affected his decision-making.
TA -- How much longer before Nick Foles gets on the field?
JM -- If the Eagles keep on losing Foles will have to get on the field at some point. If they lose the next two and fall to 3-7, it might be time to play the rookie. If they hang around and win a few more over the next month and are, say, 5-8, with three to go, you might see Foles at that point. Reid would have an obligation to show the organization what Foles could do as a starter and whether he was a legitimate option next season.
TA -- It's been a rough start for Todd Bowles, the former Dallas assistant. He's been a 3-4 guy in the past, now he's running this defense. Any long-term hopes for him?
JM -- Bowles was thrown into a difficult situation replacing Juan Castillo two weeks ago. He has never been a coordinator in the NFL before, was taking over a defense in disarray and had to face Matt Ryan and Drew Brees in his first two games. Andy Reid has touted Bowles as a head coaching candidate, but it's hard to see him being a candidate for the Eagles' job -- or any job for that matter -- if the defense continues to look this sloppy.
TA -- We'll keep it light on the last one. Mat McBriar is the Cowboys' best punter, great guy. How's he doing up there?
JM -- He's been OK as a punter. He's still got enough leg, but he's booted a few too many into the end zone and a few too many line drives. As for McBriar the person, we've already found out he's a fine bloke. He's living downtown, so I've tried to give him some dining -- and drinking -- options when he's hungry or looking to have a Foster's.
IRVING, Texas – Following Sunday’s game at Atlanta, I wrote that it is time for Jason Garrett to cede some control of the offense to Tony Romo, especially given how well the Cowboys operated on their lone touchdown drive of the game.
On Monday, Garrett was asked if the Cowboys will incorporate more hurry-up in the future.
“That’s an interesting question,” Garrett said. “I think there are some game situations that have come into play in the last couple of weeks. We’ve been down. In the case of (Sunday) night’s game, we were down two scores with seven minutes to go. So we have to plan a little more of a hurry-up mode, whether we’re in the huddle, huddling quickly or getting to the line of scrimmage and just throwing the football more than we had throughout the rest of the ball game. We’ve been able to throw the ball fairly well around here, and when we get in that mode and we throw it a lot we’ve been able to move it. We do have to factor in the fact that the defenses are playing a little bit differently based on what the score is and what the game situation is. To say we’re going to start the game like that, it’s unrealistic to think the defense would play the same way.”
The Cowboys went to their hurry-up offense on their eighth drive of the game and Romo completed six straight passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons brought four-man pressure on every snap. That was the predominant pass rush used by the Falcons throughout the game. They used four-man pressures on 19 pass plays. They brought five guys six times, six guys twice and seven defenders once.
They didn’t play wildly softer with a two-score lead than they had earlier in the game. Only once in the second half did coordinator Mike Nolan bring five guys. On the final drive Nolan used a three-man rush on every play, staying back in coverage to prevent any chances of a long throw.
Quite simply, the Cowboys are at their best when they use 11 personnel and spread the field.
** Remember that press coverage that worked so well against Eli Manning and the New York Giants two weeks ago? The Cowboys evidently didn’t.
They played across-the-board press coverage on 10 snaps against Atlanta after doing it 25 times against the Giants. They played off 38 times and half-press 14 times. The Cowboys used more zone against the Falcons, and Roddy White killed them. The Cowboys chose not to flip the corners when the Falcons lined their wideouts up on the same field. It gave White a free release and he was able to work the middle of the field with ease.
Rob Ryan did not employ much pressure either. He brought five pass-rushers three times in the game and a sixth once. The three sacks were a result of four-man pressure. Four times the Cowboys rushed three (in one case that was a late rush from Anthony Spencer, who was sprinting on the field as the ball was snapped). They gave up two first downs on those plays.
The only time Ryan brought six players came on the Falcons’ final drive with Danny McCray on a delayed blitz. Ryan’s pass was incomplete, but Orlando Scandrick was correctly called for holding to give Atlanta a first down.
** Big plays killed the defense.
On Julio Jones’ 48-yard grab, rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne jammed him at the line with a five-man pass rush that didn’t get to Matt Ryan. Jones was able to create separation with Claiborne inside and made the catch.
Claiborne made a bad gamble on a crossing route to White that ended up in a big run after catch. He swiped at Ryan’s pass and missed with his left hand. Had he used his right hand maybe he gets his hand on it. Even if he didn’t, he could’ve attempted to trip up White with his left hand.
Claiborne nearly came up with a huge interception on a throw from Ryan to White on the Falcons' final drive. White could have been flagged for interference on the play because he tugged the rookie’s arm as the ball was coming to him. Claiborne used great technique on that long fade down the sideline.
** Michael Turner’s 43-yard run was the longest allowed by the Cowboys this season. How did it happen?
Rob Ryan took the blame for a poor call that had DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher playing a game that took Ware inside. That helped the Falcons seal the edge with Hatcher unable to get outside. White smothered safety Gerald Sensabaugh off the slot to give Turner the room to break the long one. Ernie Sims was late getting outside and McCray missed Turner at the Dallas 45.
Against Carolina, Ryan had Ware and Spencer play a similar game and it allowed quarterback Cam Newton to break a long run to the outside.
** Little things matter.
Over the years teams have tried to run weak-side tosses against the Cowboys and have done so with little success because of Ware. Jones, however, got by Ware Sunday on that final drive. Ware did a great job reading the play with Jones lined up in the backfield, but the receiver made a hard fake to the inside to get Ware off balance for an instant to gain the corner.
How does Josh Brent not recover the fumble after a Ware sack of Ryan? Instead of first down at the Dallas 48 they take over a few plays later at their 3 because of a punt.
How does Phillip Tanner not get a first down on that drive? The play was blocked well enough to get a yard, but Tanner ran into the back of fullback Lawrence Vickers. Jason Witten, John Phillips and Doug Free all won to a good enough degree on their blocks for Tanner to get a yard. Poor vision on the play by the back.
Prior to that play, however, I think the Cowboys might have missed an opportunity for a replay challenge. Cole Beasley’s catch was good for eight yards, but it looked like the officials robbed him of a ninth, which would’ve been a first down. He appeared to bounce on the 50.
Dan Bailey has missed two field goals this season, from 51 and 54 yards. Both have come from the left hash mark. The miss at Baltimore from 51 might have had some help from the wind. The miss Sunday from 54 obviously had no wind issue, but there can be a tendency to pull the ball on longer kicks.
For a few plays, the Cowboys looked like they had a legitimate running game. Felix Jones busted a 15-yard run on the first snap of the second half and followed it with a 6-yard gain. Lance Dunbar ripped off an 18-yard run the next snap. The Cowboys' other 15 carries gained a grand total of 26 yards. That's not nearly good enough. The Cowboys once again didn't get much push up front, with the interior offensive line particularly struggling. Phillip Tanner, who was jumped on the depth chart by Dunbar, was stuffed on fourth-and-short on his only carry. No wonder Jason Garrett lacks confidence in the running game.
Tony Romo put up some pretty statistics. He completed 25 of 35 passes for 321 yards without an interception. But the Cowboys' passing game didn't generate enough points, with Romo's 21-yard strike to Kevin Ogletree accounting for Dallas' lone touchdown. Dez Bryant was a nonfactor with only one catch for 15 yards. Ogletree was a pleasant surprise with three catches for 96 yards and a TD, but he had a drop that killed a drive. The most memorable play of the night for the Cowboys' passing game was a drop by a wide-open Miles Austin on third-and-long. If he catches that ball, the Falcons might not have caught him.
The Cowboys simply couldn't stop Michael Turner in the second half. Turner, the big Falcons back whose tires don't have a lot of tread left on them, rumbled through the Dallas defense for 83 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries after halftime. He finished with 20 carries for 102 yards, highlighted by a 43-yard run, the longest allowed by Dallas this season. Inside linebacker Sean Lee's absence was felt in the second half. So was the absence of nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who played only a handful of snaps after spraining his left ankle. Inside linebacker Bruce Carter (10 tackles, including two for losses) looked like a star in the making, but the Cowboys still allowed Turner to run for more than five yards per carry.
The Dallas pass defense tightened up in the red zone, not allowing any touchdown passes. But the Cowboys couldn't stop Matt Ryan and his electrifying receivers until the Falcons hit the red zone. Ryan had 342 yards on 24-of-34 passing despite the Cowboys getting pretty consistent pressure on him, with DeMarcus Ware registering half of their three sacks. Roddy White (seven catches, 118 yards) and Julio Jones (five catches, 129 yards) both had big games. And the Cowboys failed to generate a turnover, blowing a golden opportunity when nose tackle Josh Brent couldn't hold on to a loose ball after Ware forced a Ryan fumble.
Joe DeCamillis' units made no killer mistakes and several plays. Dwayne Harris had a beautiful punt return on his only opportunity, going 37 yards to give the Cowboys great field position on their first possession, which resulted in a field goal. Punter Brian Moorman pinned the Falcons inside the 20 of three of his four kicks and had a net average of 44.0 yards. Lance Dunbar had a 39-yard kickoff return. They Cowboys held dangerous Falcons kickoff returner Jacquizz Rodgers in check. Dan Bailey missed a field goal, but it's hard to hold a 54-yard attempt against him.
X's and O's weren't the issue on most of the critical plays in the game, such as Miles Austin's drop and Orlando Scandrick's missed tackle. However, the Cowboys' poor efficiency in the red zone is a direct reflection on play-calling head coach Jason Garrett. Throughout his tenure, the Cowboys' point-to-yards ratio has been out of whack. That's one of the primary reasons they're 3-5 and a playoff long shot at the midway point of the season. The Cowboys' lone touchdown drive occurred when Tony Romo ran the hurry-up offense. Why doesn't Garrett give Romo that freedom more often?
Here are our first-half adjustments:
1. The Cowboys' running game is poor right now. After 30 minutes, the Cowboys have 29 rushing yards. You can blame the loss of DeMarco Murray (foot sprain) for the problems, but when you see Phillip Tanner run into fullback Lawrence Vickers on a third-and-1 from the 49, you begin to wonder: Is it the line or the running backs? Felix Jones, who is playing with a bruised knee and a neck problem, has 15 yards on six carries. It seems Lance Dunbar has been getting more time on offense over Tanner and in some cases Jones. The Cowboys need to get the run game going somehow. Jason Garrett might be pulling his red hair out over the lack of it in this first half. The Cowboys are not getting enough push up front or good runs between the tackles.
2. Keep the pressure on Matt Ryan. The Falcons quarterback gets rid of the ball quickly and has max protection but the Cowboys are getting hits on him, from DeMarcus Ware's strip sack to Jay Ratliff's hit on him. The Cowboys have to get on him. If the pressure continues maybe Ryan will make a mistake. Ratliff left late in the first half with a left leg injury. He limped to the locker room, and his status is unknown. In the meantime, a href="http://espn.go.com/nfl/player/_/id/13923/josh-brent">Josh Brent will be asked to do more inside at nose tackle. I do like how the Cowboys are using Ware. He's lined up at defensive end and then of course at outside linebacker. There was a nice alignment in which Bruce Carter and Ware were lined up on the same side. Rob Ryan is trying to keep the Falcons off balance by using different defenders to blitz.
3. Force a turnover. The Falcons are plus-10 in the NFL in turnover-ratio. The Cowboys have to get one. The Falcons don't make too many mistakes, especially at home. But if the Cowboys get pressure on Ryan, maybe the secondary can make a play. Morris Claiborne struggled in the first half, allowing a big pass play to Julio Jones. At some point, Brandon Carr, the $50.1 million cornerback, has to make a play on the ball.
They must stop the run without using an eighth defender near the the line of scrimmage.
Michael Turner is a thick-thighed, punishing runner capable of punishing a defense. He's having an average season with 415 yards and a 3.8 average per carry, but his threat is what persuades teams to use a safety in run defense.
Do that, and it opens to Matt Ryan's passing game with tight end Tony Gonzalez and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Ryan has had a 100-yard receiver or tight end in five of seven games.
The Cowboys rank 13th in NFL, yielding 104.7 yards per game, but they've done a solid job against the run for the most part.
Last week, they contained the Giants' running game without using Gerald Sensabaugh that much. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan needs a repeat of that.
This is a week for defensive ends Kenyon Coleman and Jason Hatcher and nose guards Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent to control the line of scrimmage.
Do that, and the Cowboys have a shot to win. Fail to control Turner without using eight and the Falcons' receivers will have big days.
Here's a preview.
The series: The Cowboys have won five of the past seven meetings against the Falcons, including their last meeting at the Georgia Dome in 2006 (38-28). That game is famous for former Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens spitting in the face of cornerback DeAngelo Hall. The Cowboys own a 16-8 mark against Atlanta, including two playoffs games, and 14 of the games have been decided by double digits.
Will Dez Bryant play? The Cowboys' talented wide receiver missed a week's worth of practices with a sore hip, suffered in the loss to the New York Giants, but he's listed as questionable for the game. It appears Bryant will play after he participated in the walk-through Saturday morning at Valley Ranch. The Cowboys will miss inside linebacker Dan Connor (neck). Connor will be replaced by Ernie Sims, but expect Orie Lemon to also get some snaps. The Falcons will miss starting outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who's out with an ankle injury. Veteran Mike Peterson will replace him.
The Cowboys need a running game: The Cowboys have struggled with the running game, especially the past two weeks. With DeMarco Murray out for at least this game with a foot injury, the Cowboys will need a banged-up Felix Jones (knee and neck) to carry the run game. However, with Murray out, the Cowboys have rushed for 104 yards the past two weeks after gaining 227 yards in a loss at Baltimore. If Jones struggles with his health during the game, expect Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar to get more snaps.
Tony Romo vs. Matt Ryan: During this recent stretch of games, Romo is being asked to carry the offense against some talented quarterbacks. He's got another one to deal with in Ryan. Romo leads the NFL with 13 interceptions, but lots of factors have contributed, including Romo's receivers, who have struggled to make plays for him on contested catches. Ryan is third in passer rating at 103.0 and has led the Falcons to a 7-0 record.
Beating perfect teams: The Cowboys are 3-0 when playing teams that are at least 7-0. The last time the Cowboys defeated a undefeated team was at New Orleans in 2009. Why the Cowboys have succeeded against undefeated teams varies, but this is one game the Cowboys need given they have a road game next week at Philadelphia.
The Cowboys should be looking forward to the play of quarterback Tony Romo in November. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Romo has the best record in the month of November (19-2) among quarterbacks who have made at least 15 November starts.
Speaking of great records, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is 15-0 in games when he has at least three touchdown passes, including 4-0 in 2012. Ryan also won his 50th game in his 69th career start last week. Only Tom Brady, who reached 50 wins in 65 games, was faster among active quarterbacks.
Here are three other statistical areas to watch Sunday:
" Romo has thrown a league-high 13 interceptions this season and six of those interceptions have been when he is under duress this season. Romo had only thrown three interceptions under duress, which is defined as being forced to move or alter a throw due to pressure, the previous three seasons. Five of the 10 interceptions the Falcons have this season have come when they have put the opposing quarterback under duress. Since the start of the 2009 season, the Falcons have 20 interceptions when the quarterback is under duress, which is second in the league to only the Green Bay Packers.
" The Cowboys have sent five or more rushers 27.8 percent of the time this season, down from a 34.5 percent rate in 2011. The Cowboys might want to increase the rate, as they’ve posted the second-best Total QBR (11.7) when using such pressure and recorded a sack every 8.4 dropbacks.
" Downfield passing and passing in the final two minutes of each half have been two areas of high performance for Ryan this season. Ryan has the second-best completion percentage (58.0) in the NFL on throws more than 10 yards downfield. Ryan had finished 19th or worse in each of the last three seasons on such throws. Ryan has also completed 78.8 percent of his passes (26-of-33) in the last two minutes of the half this season, best in the NFL. Before 2012, Ryan completed 49.8 percent of his throws in those situations.
Most interceptions when under duress this season
Tony Romo 6*
Philip Rivers 4
Christian Ponder 4
Michael Vick 3
Russell Wilson 3
* 3 Int from 2009-2011
|ESPN NFL analyst Darren Woodson breaks down the Cowboys' Sunday night matchup against the Falcons, plays the Tony Romo blame game and more.
“Obviously, they’re two of the best receivers in football,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “They’re both really competitive and really fast and real productive. So every week it seems we play somebody great. This week is no exception. They’ve also got Tony Gonzalez, who has been a great tight end forever. Still is. And Burner Turner the back. They are loaded. Ryan, Matt no-relation Ryan is the quarterback. He’s pretty damn good. So we’re ready for them. Who are we kidding? We’re ready. We can’t wait to play these guys.”
Ryan isn’t sure the Cowboys’ defense is getting enough credit despite its No. 4 ranking in the league.
“You know me, I like credit,” Ryan said. “Our guys they deserve a ton of credit. Our players work their butts off. Our coaching staff, I’m fortunate and blessed to be around the best coaches. This is the best staff I’ve ever been on and it’s not close. So good things are going to happen to those that work hard. If we just keep working, we’re going to get better. Despite losing, we’ve lost some really good players, but our guys keep going. We’ve got a whole team in there, not just a few individuals. This is really coming together and I know we’re going to be special. I think we’re going to be special this week. I really do. I think we’re just starting to get that way and I believe we’re going to have a special game this week.”