Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Monday, November 18, 2013
Updated: November 19, 2:40 PM ET
Coaxing more out of his quarterback

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

IRVING -- The Dallas Cowboys' offense, the unit where Jerry Jones has allocated the bulk of his resources, has had its best players all season.

Tony Romo has started every game. So has Jason Witten. Dez Bryant, too.

So we should expect the offense to carry the Cowboys this season.

It must.

It's not fair. We know that.

Too bad.

In a perfect world, both sides of the ball would be equally strong. But this is the NFL, not Utopia.

Cowboys
The Cowboys need Tony Romo to be great, and coach Jason Garrett is directing his efforts toward making that happen.

Guess what? Jason Garrett knows this.

It's why the Dallas head coach spent more time than usual with the offense during the portion of practice open to the media last week. It continued Monday.

During individual passing drills, Garrett held a play sheet and directed the proceedings as quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson watched.

Normally, Garrett moves seamlessly from offense to defense throughout the portion of practice the media sees. Lately, he's giving more direction to the offense in individual and team periods.

During the bye week, Garrett said he and his staff discussed several ways to improve the offense -- on the field and off -- but declined to go into detail.

As you would expect, Garrett downplayed the significance of his increased time with the offense. It's not like he's going to publicly slam offensive coordinator Bill Callahan for the play selection.

That's not Garrett's style. And it would be unproductive. Besides, the owner gave Callahan play-calling duties after last season and Garrett doesn't need to accidentally pick a fight with the owner.

Although Garrett has insisted he's not going to take over the play calling, he is getting more involved with the offense.

"I was down there a little bit more the last couple of days," Garrett said. "I typically move all over the practice field and just dive in and coach, help out, do what I can do to make our team better."

The Cowboys rank fifth in the NFL in scoring with 27.4 points per game.

Don't get seduced by those numbers. If you've watched the games, then you know this offense hasn't been right after it put up 48 points and 522 yards against the Denver Broncos in Week 5.

Since then, the Cowboys have not gained more than 400 yards in a game. Three times, they've been held under 300.

That's pathetic in today's NFL.

Romo had nine completions of 20 yards or more against Denver. He's had 10 in the five games since then.

The Cowboys had 18 trips inside their opponents' 20 in the first five games; they've had 11 in their five tilts since.

 

The defense's ability to generate turnovers -- the only thing it does consistently well -- and the superb special-teams play have hidden many of the Cowboys' offensive flaws.

The Cowboys scored 31 points against the Washington Redskins, but gained only 213 yards. Dwayne Harris returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown and set up another with a 90-yard kickoff return, while the defense recovered a fumble at the Washington 3.

Dallas scored 30 points against the Detroit Lions, but punted on six of its first nine possessions. And when the defense provides four turnovers, as it did on the road in Week 8, a good offensive turns the game into a blowout, not a loss.

Any offensive improvement starts with Romo.

Some of you don't want to hear that, because of you've sworn allegiance to No. 9.

But the game is about more than numbers.

Romo has 21 touchdowns and six interceptions, which is fine if we're playing fantasy football. But talk to enough folks at the team's Valley Ranch training complex and they'll tell you he hasn't played well since the Denver game.

He's been OK, but the Cowboys need him to be better. Good isn't good enough. Not for this team. Not at this time.

Too many times he's been a tick late on a throw. Or he's missed an open receiver. Or he's felt a rush that wasn't really there.

Romo remains among the NFL's best quarterbacks; he's just not playing like it.

The defense is so bad, this team needs Romo to be great. It's part of the responsibility that comes with the $108 million contract extension he signed in the offseason.

He's paid like an elite quarterback who should consistently makes those around him better.

We've seen him do it before. We just need to see him do it again.

That's why Garrett has been more involved with the offense. The Cowboys are playing the New York Giants on Sunday in a game that will define their season.

And the coach needs his quarterback to play his best football.