Thursday, August 18, 2011
Tony Romo holds key to success
By Jean-Jacques Taylor ESPNDallas.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The best running backs -- Arian Foster, Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson -- all watched the playoffs on the tube.
The game has changed. You win in today's NFL by throwing the ball.
Anyone older than 50 will consider that blasphemous. They'll talk about Vince Lombardi and George Halas rolling over in their graves.
Oh, well, it's the truth.
Tom Brady. Peyton Manning. Aaron Rodgers. Drew Brees. The game, these days, is about the quarterback.
Jason Garrett has leaned on the passing game, and this season should be no different with Tony Romo healthy.
Think about it. All the rules are designed to help the passing game, whether we're talking about how offensive linemen can use their hands or the way defensive backs can't.
Those best quarterbacks generate points with their arms. Big plays come in the passing game, then teams use the running game to punch in touchdowns. Or they use it to burn the clock in the fourth quarter.
Green Bay, a passing team with a sixth-round pick starting at running back, won last season's Super Bowl.
Two seasons ago, New Orleans beat Indianapolis in the Super Bowl. Both would be classified as passing teams. And the year before that, Arizona, the epitome of a passing team, would have won the Super Bowl if Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes hadn't made one of the great catches in Super Bowl history in the final minute.
Just so you know, the Cowboys have never thrown the ball less than 57 percent of the time since Jason Garrett became the offensive coordinator in 2007.
They threw it 59 percent of the time last season.
"To say that we want to be 51 percent passing to 49 percent running, that's not really the world we live in," Garrett said. "The world we live in is break the huddle and be good at a lot of different things.
"The best offenses have more than one thing that they do. If you're simply a running team, at some point defenses in this league can take away the run, and certainly if you're a throwing team, the same thing is true."
This team is built to pass.
The receiver-tight end triumvirate of Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten will be among the NFL's best. Felix Jones will get plenty of chances to make big plays on screen passes, and third-round pick DeMarco Murray was the best receiving back in the draft.
Garrett believes the Cowboys can keep Tony Romo healthy with Doug Free and first-round pick Tyron Smith at the tackle spots.
Conventional wisdom says that when a running back gains more than 100 yards, his team has a better chance to win. But that's not the case with the Cowboys.
In the past three seasons, Dallas is just 3-3 when it has a 100-yard rusher -- and it doesn't matter whether you blame it on Garrett's reluctance to call running plays or the Cowboys' lack of a marquee back.
Since 2007, Dallas is 18-5 when Romo passes for at least 300 yards.
Bottom line: The Cowboys are significantly better when Romo is the epicenter of the offense, and they use the running game to close out games or set up play-action passes.
We're talking about a quarterback who has 118 touchdown passes and 65 interceptions in the past four seasons. It's no coincidence that Romo's best individual seasons have coincided with the Cowboys' best seasons.
Dallas went 13-3 in 2007 and 11-5 in 2009.
Romo averaged more than 8 yards per attempt in each of those seasons, which is outstanding, and in the past four seasons, he has 72 touchdown passes and 25 interceptions in games Dallas has won and 27 touchdowns and 24 interceptions in its losses.
He's the biggest difference between whether the Cowboys win or lose.
Garrett, with his Ivy League education, is a bright guy who understands that the best way to make the Cowboys contenders again is by taking advantage of Romo's passing skills.
That will make some of you cringe. You're going to have to deal with it.
This defense is going to struggle while it learns the nuances of Rob Ryan's scheme.
The offense, led by Romo, is the Cowboys' best chance to win this season.
Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.