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Monday, October 13, 2008
Scouts Inc.: Johnson will be fine if he gets help


Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Tag Ribary

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo will be out four weeks with a fractured pinkie finger on his throwing hand and that means 17-year veteran Brad Johnson will now lead the offense. The fact that the 40-year-old Johnson hasn't started a regular-season game since December 2006 might worry some, but his experience is a huge plus. The Cowboys' only other option is third-string QB Brooks Bollinger, who wasn't acquired until early September. He likely isn't up to speed with the playbook yet and hasn't received enough reps in practice with the first team offense.

Johnson is known for his smarts and accuracy. The 6-foot-5 Johnson can read the field quickly from the pocket and make efficient, accurate throws. Because he is older and less mobile than Romo, expect to see Dallas keep Johnson in the shotgun more than under center to give him the extra time needed to read the field in passing situations. Johnson obviously knows the offense and can make quick decisions with the football. He still has adequate arm strength and a proven ability to read defenses.

However, this is a young man's game and his lack of mobility will be a focal point of opposing defenses. Johnson's lacks speed, athletic ability on the move and isn't known for making plays with his legs. He is more of a traditional pocket passer who can stand tall in the pocket and his strengths are his accuracy, vision and decision making. He can be very effective when he sets his feet, so the protection will need to be sound to give him time to read the field.

Johnson does a good job of taking what the defense gives him and he gives his receivers a chance to make plays by getting them the ball coming out of their breaks with good timing. By being selective about taking chances downfield he can still put pressure on a defense. But it won't take long for opponents to tighten their coverage if the Cowboys don't take some deep shots. Dallas shouldn't completely abandon the vertical element of its passing game, but it might incorporate shorter depth on a lot of the routes.

Also look for Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to turn to the running game with Marion Barber and the Cowboys' massive O-line to take some pressure off the passing game. Romo's recovery time isn't extensive, so Johnson just needs to do what he does best -- be smart, efficient and manage the game well. Nothing is ever written in stone with older players. They can be good one week, but struggle the next. Yes, Johnson completed 65 percent of his passes in the preseason, but he'll need some help now for Dallas to succeed. If the O-line and running game can help take some pressure off him, the Cowboys could be fine for a month without Romo.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.