NFC East: Cowboys-Broncos 100409

What was Romo thinking on final two throws?

October, 5, 2009
10/05/09
12:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- In the aftermath of the Cowboys' 17-10 loss to the Broncos on Sunday, everyone wanted to know why in the world Tony Romo was throwing to Sam Hurd on the final two plays from the 2-yard line. Hurd was covered by All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey on both plays.

You can bet that Roy Williams would have been an option on a fade route, but he was on the sideline with bruised ribs. Tight end Jason Witten is Romo's favorite target, but the Cowboys kept him in to block along with running back Tashard Choice.

Romo told a couple of us after the game that he saw Hurd cross Bailey's face and knew that he was open. He's not sure how Bailey deflected the pass without interfering, but Hurd said he didn't think it was interference.

After watching both plays several times, it looks like Miles Austin flashed open in the back of the end zone. Of course, Romo was simply trying to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible.

The play that really hurt was when the clock didn't stop when Romo hit Hurd for a 5-yard pass at the 8-yard line. Hurd was pushed out of bounds, but by NFL rule, the clock kept ticking. The Cowboys were forced to take their final timeout, which took away the threat of a running play.

OK my plane is taking off from Denver. We'll catch up later.

Cowboys lower expectations with Mile High loss

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
11:07
PM ET
 
  Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE
 Quarterback Tony Romo and the Dallas offense had no answer for the Broncos defense Sunday night.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- If you looked at the schedule in April and chalked up Sunday as a win for the Cowboys, at least you have company. But this team took a 17-10 loss to the Broncos in stride, perhaps because no one in charge expected anything more.

Maybe it's time we forget about the immense potential that the '07 team displayed and realize that the current Cowboys were fortunate to even stay on the field with the 4-0 Broncos. That's right, Josh McDaniels has put his team in the playoff conversation the old-fashioned way: by alienating and then trading his bonus-baby quarterback for a bus-driver with a prominent neckbeard.

Week 4 Coverage
Walker: Mendenhall mends fences in victory
Mosley: Cowboys adjust expectations
Williamson: Putting the 'D' in Denver
Graham: Brady is back
Kuharsky: Garcon, Collie producing
Seifert: Bears build swagger
Sando: Rams looking for answers
Wojciechowski: Bears give Chicago a break
Reiss: Patriots-Ravens game a classic
Watkins: Cowboys offense sputters
Clayton: Colts running away with division
Pasquarelli: Embattled Zorn adjusts
• NFL Nation: Reactions | Wrap-ups | Live

• MNF: Packers, Favre can bury the hatchet
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a man who naively believed that his players would perform to the level of a $1.2 billion stadium, went completely soft after the game. To listen to him, you'd think the Cowboys ran into John Elway and the Orange Crush circa 1984.

"There's a reason they're 4-0," Jones kept repeating as he sucked on an orange. "The Broncos are better than what anybody would have thought."

Jones didn't seem one bit surprised the Cowboys would surrender a fourth-quarter lead and lose to a team from the AFC West. Judging by his reaction, the Cowboys would've uncorked champagne at Invesco Field had they been able to escape with a win. As it stands, the Cowboys are a 2-2 team in search of an identity.

In their previous two games, the Cowboys appeared to have one of the most dominant running games in the league. And on Sunday, they fed off the energy of Marion Barber, who was returning from a left quad injury. He delivered blows to Broncos defenders in the first half and then did forward rolls in celebration. Barber had 10 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown in the first half, helping the Cowboys take a 10-7 lead and wearing down the Broncos' front seven.

Then in one half, the Cowboys' offense pretended it was December (it was brisk) and pretty much fell all over itself. After touching the ball 12 times in the first half, Barber only had one carry the rest of the way. Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett indicated that Barber's injury was a concern, but the head coach and owner acted as if that was news to them.

The Cowboys only ran the ball seven times in the second half, with limited success. Through 14 quarters, Garrett had been remarkably balanced with his play calling, then for no apparent reason he abandoned the running game. It wasn't as if the Broncos were putting eight players in the box to stop the run. They brought their fair share of blitzes, but they also stayed back in coverage for most of the game in an effort to take away the deep ball.

The Broncos sacked Romo five times, but at least three of those were coverage sacks. He was 14-of-18 for 134 yards in the first half because he was simply dumping off the ball to his running backs. He made a good throw to Roy Williams on the sideline to set up the Cowboys' only touchdown, but that was the longest throw he made.

For no apparent reason, Garrett basically put the game in Romo's hands in the second half. And despite a brilliant throw to Sam Hurd for a 53-yard gain on fourth-and-3 with 1:16 left, it should've never come to that. The Cowboys had the ball at the Broncos' 17-yard line early in the second half when Romo threw a pass to the sideline that was picked off by Champ Bailey. Several people in the locker room told me that Miles Austin turned the wrong direction on the route and that it wasn't Romo's fault, but it was still a huge play.

Romo was 11-of-24 in the second half and he kept hanging his receivers out to dry. Just ask Roy Williams, who took what he called the hardest hit of his life from Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams. He returned to make a clutch catch on the Cowboys' final drive, but he was on the sideline when Romo fired two passes into the end zone from the 2-yard line. Williams would've been a nice option on a fade route. Instead, Romo threw two passes to Hurd, who was blanketed by Bailey.

The Cowboys are obviously more explosive with Felix Jones (left knee) in the lineup, but I'm not convinced Garrett would've had him in the game. We somehow deluded ourselves into thinking that the Cowboys have a lot of weapons on offense. They appear to have three talented running backs and an excellent pair of tight ends. But there's no one at wide receiver who poses a consistent threat. Nothing against Hurd, but is he really the best option on consecutive plays from the 2-yard line?

The Cowboys' defense performed admirably for most of the afternoon, but it cratered at the worst possible moment. And if you're pinning your playoff hopes on the defense holding the opponent to seven points each week, you're dreaming. After putting 31 points on the board against the Giants, the Cowboys' offense has managed a combined 24 points against the Panthers and Broncos. It was a pitiful game plan in the second half -- and the execution wasn't any better.

"We had limited opportunities [in the second half]," Garrett told me after the game. "But you have to take advantage of those opportunities."

It did look like Garrett was ready to commit to the running game early in the fourth quarter, but a holding penalty on Martellus Bennett wiped out a 17-yard run by Choice. The Cowboys would've had the ball first-and-10 at the Broncos' 44. Instead, they were forced to punt and the Broncos tied the score on their next possession.

As he loaded up on Vitamin C, Jones kept repeating the Broncos' record as if that should explain everything. I guess we should've known that the Broncos' wins over the Bengals, Browns and Raiders had placed them among the NFL's elite. Jones even attempted to attribute the loss to the Cowboys' change in philosophy.

"That's part of the plan," he said. "There's more running and less depending on the pass."

And how's that working out for you, Jerry?

Does anyone want to win this game?

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
6:50
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- The Cowboys just got the benefit of a huge pass interference penalty on Broncos cornerback Andre' Goodman. But of course they followed that up with an awful holding penalty on Martellus Bennett. The Cowboys only have six penalties, but it seems like all of them have come at horrible times. Bennett's penalty wiped out what would've been a big gain by Tashard Choice.

And if Tony Romo keeps hanging out his wide receivers, the Cowboys aren't going to have anyone left to throw to. Roy Williams barely made it off the field after taking a huge hit from D.J. Williams.

The play of the game -- so far

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
6:33
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- Broncos coach Josh McDaniels could have tied up the game with a 48-yard field goal, but he decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Cowboys' 30-yard line. Running back Knowshon Moreno tried to slash through the left side of the line, but he was met in the hole by linebacker Keith Brooking.

Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears made the stop on third-and-1 and then Brooking completed what may end up being the biggest play of the game. Brooking still has a lot of power and he filled the hole before anyone could lay a hand on him. Just a huge effort play on his part. Then he head-butted two assistant coaches.

Cowboys-Broncos: The Halftime Report

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
6:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- Here are some quick observations of the first half.
  • The Cowboys have 13 first downs, the Broncos five. The Cowboys have outgained the Broncos, 183-104. They only lead by three points, though, because of the Tony Romo fumble deep inside Cowboys territory.
  • Marion Barber looked really strong early in this game. The Cowboys are monitoring him closely and they seemed to back off him late in the first half. Tashard Choice has eight carries for 16 yards but he's caught three passes for 34 yards. Barber has 10 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown. A pretty heroic effort given Barber's injury situation.
  • Knowshon Moreno just did what you absolutely can't do to start a half: He fumbled the ball, giving the Cowboys great field position at the Broncos' 27-yard line. Great job by DeMarcus Ware getting the strip.
  • Kyle Orton is 9-of-15 for 87 yards and a touchdown but he's actually played worse than those numbers indicate. He's just not sharp at all.
  • It's been really interesting watching Barber lobby to get back in the game every time he's on the sideline. You can tell that running backs coach Skip Peete is really torn about how much time to give him. Now it looks like Choice is banged up, so the Cowboys may have to ride Barber. Looks like Choice is trying to walk it off right now. From here, it looks like Choice is favoring his left ankle.
  • Bradie James and Keith Brooking combined to make seven tackles in the first half. They're doing a good job at the point of attack -- especially James.
  • Another huge turnover by Romo. Not sure whose fault that was. Looks like Romo's the one who made the poor decision.

Penalties killing the Cowboys

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
5:26
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- You get the feeling that the Cowboys could take this game over on the ground, but they keep shooting themselves in the foot with penalties. They would've had a first down midway through the second quarter on the inside handoff to Tashard Choice but Tony Romo was called for delay of game. He was trying to call an audible and took too long.

Right now, Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer is getting exposed by the Broncos. Josh McDaniels is doing a really nice job of creating mismatches. If Kyle Orton was even decent right now, the Broncos might be in the lead. He's been wildly inaccurate -- even when he has plenty of time. And as I say that, he's starting to get in a little rhythm.

Sensabaugh has gone to the locker room

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
5:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh has left the game with an injured right thumb. He's having x-rays taken as we speak and his status for the rest of the game is unknown.

Patrick Watkins has replaced Sensabaugh in the lineup.

Broncos giving Romo several looks

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
4:56
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- If you're watching this game on TV, you can see that the Broncos are trying to move their linebackers around quite a bit before the snap. The Cowboys have been using their two-tight end offense, "12," quite a bit in this game, and it looks like the Broncos are leaving Martellus Bennett open.

And finally, a catch by a Cowboys wide receiver not named Sam Hurd. Roy Williams made a nice catch at the 2-yard line, and unlike last week, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett called two consecutive running plays near the goal line. So far, Marion Barber looks pretty strong. The Cowboys are pretty much splitting carries between Tashard Choice and Barber.

It looks like Barber's left quad is holding up pretty well. I'm watching him stretch it right now on the sideline. If Kyle Orton can't start hitting moving targets, the Broncos are in for a long afternoon.

Josh McDaniels can't panic and abandon the run. He's not running the ball on first down -- and that's really hurting this offense.

Early analysis from Invesco

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
4:28
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- The Cowboys attempted to establish the running game on their first possession -- with limited success. Marion Barber had a tough run for a first down, but that was the only thing the Cowboys accomplished. Tony Romo was blown up on the play the Broncos were called for defensive holding.

Then Elvis Dumervil got Romo for his seventh sack of the season. Early on, Dumervil's sort of free-lancing. Keep your eye on Broncos linebacker Robert Ayers. He made Flozell Adams look really, really bad on an inside move. Adams didn't even have time to get his foot out to trip Ayers.

Report: Barber will start

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
3:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told ESPN's Ed Werder before today's game that running back Marion Barber will get the start. As I reported Saturday, I think the Cowboys would like to give Tashard Choice the majority of the carries against the Broncos. But if Choice struggles at all, the Cowboy may be forced to extend Barber and his injured left quad.

We'll keep a close eye on that situation for you. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels told Werder on Saturday that he's planning to constantly disguise his defense in an attempt to confuse Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. McDaniels said that he doesn't want to "show his cards" to Romo.

It's not a bad approach. Last December, Romo appeared very confused by what the Steelers and Ravens were doing to him.

Cowboys-Broncos: The inactives

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
3:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


DENVER -- Cowboys coaches and athletic trainers were gathered around running back Marion Barber (left quad) as he worked out a couple hours before the game. The Beast reported last night that Tashard Choice would get the majority of the carries. And unless Barber made some incredible progress, I expect that to hold up.

Here are the inactives for both teams:

Cowboys: QB Stephen McGee (emer.), RB Felix Jones, S Mike Hamlin, G Montrae Holland, C Duke Preston, T Pat McQuistan, WR Kevin Ogletree LB Curtis Johnson

Broncos: QB Tom Brandstater (emer.), CB Alphonso Smith, ILB/FB Spencer Larsen, G/C Ben Hamilton, DL Chris Baker, T Brandon Gorin, WR Brandon Lloyd, OLB/DE Jarvis Moss

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