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Thursday, October 6, 2011
Tony Romo must be managed better

By Tim MacMahon

IRVING, Texas – Jason Garrett presented Tony Romo an engraved baseball bat the week after the instant-classic comeback in San Francisco, the start of a new tradition at Valley Ranch.

The Grab-A-Bat award recognizes a player who displays extraordinary toughness and aggressiveness in a win. Those traits were epitomized by Romo leading a rally from a double-digit deficit despite a fracture rib and punctured lung.

"A lot of what our job is as players and coaches is to step into the batter's box and take a swing,” Garrett said Wednesday. “If you hit it over 410 [feet], put the bat away and then swing it again hard. If you strike out, put the bat away and grab it again and swing hard.

"I think it's an important thing for us to understand that at the level we play at you're going to be challenged every time you break the huddle, every time you put your hand down. You're going to win some and they're going to win some. You have to be willing to grab the bat, dig in, call timeouts, stare the guy down, swing hard when the ball comes down the pipe. So that's an emphasis for us.”

That’s certainly respectable, but a quarterback has to learn when to take a pitch, too.

"Absolutely, and I think everybody does," Garrett said. "That's where the juggling thing comes in, but when you swing, you have to swing hard.”

Whether Romo swings hard will never be a concern. The problem is he often swings for the fences no matter what the situation.

And his Pete Incaviglia-like tendencies have cost the Cowboys a couple of wins so far this season.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Romo to suddenly become a judicious decision-maker at this point of his career. The importance of protecting the ball has been hammered into his thick head since the second he was named the starter. Bill Parcells harped on the issue, and Jason Garrett has followed suit.

It’s part of Romo’s identity at this point.

Nobody wants Romo, who has put the Cowboys in position to win all four games this season, to become robotic. It does the Cowboys no good to take away the playmaking element that has made Romo a three-time Pro Bowler.

It’s all about time and place.

Garrett will keep stress the importance of protecting the ball. He’ll keep trying to teach Romo when to avoid risks.

But it’s painfully clear that Romo needs to be managed better. When the Cowboys are playing with a lead, especially late in games, the play-calling needs to be conservative to a fault.

If that means three runs and a punt, so be it. Better to trust the defense to protect a lead than watch Romo throw it away.

That goes against Garrett’s nature, too. The Princeton grad might come across conservatively off the field, but he throws caution to the wind too often as an offensive coordinator.

Just look at Romo’s third interception in Sunday’s historic collapse, a play that set up the Lions’ go-ahead score. Romo’s pair of pick-sixes was the primary reason a 24-point lead was down to a field goal with a little over four minutes remaining, Garrett decided to go for the throat anyway, dialing up a play to get Jason Witten the ball deep down the middle of the field.

Sure, Romo should have thrown a checkdown after pressure prevented him from setting his feet in the pocket. He should know better than to force the ball downfield off his back foot in that situation.

But Garrett should know his quarterback well enough to understand that he’s aggressive to a fault. He’s like a slugger who never saw a high fastball he didn’t think he could hit out of the park.

Sometimes the take sign needs to come from the dugout.