IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys understand that they’re preparing for possibly the best defensive line that they’ve faced this season. Tony Romo and Jason Witten both made that point after Thursday’s practice.
Behind a struggling offensive line, Romo has been sacked 28 times, eighth most in the NFL. Basically, the veteran quarterback is being protected by a group that isn’t expected to keep Cincinnati’s disruptive front four in check throughout Sunday’s game.
“This is one that there’s no question the emphasis is on protecting,” Witten said. “You see what Tony does when he has time, especially off the edge when they bring those linebackers and safeties. We’re going to have to solidify with all guys; tight ends, backs and, of course, the line.”
The Bengals lead the NFL in sacks with 39 and 30.5 of those have come from defensive linemen Geno Atkins (9.5), Michael Johnson (8.0), Wallace Gilberry (4.0), Carlos Dunlap (4.0), Robert Geathers (3.0) and Domata Peko (2.0).
From studying film this week, Witten says Cincy’s defense excels at deceiving their opponents. One way to take advantage of that is to execute the short throws and find success in the running game.
“They do a good job of pressure, pressure, pressure and then bail everybody out of there,” Witten said. “When they do bring that pressure, you got to be able to get the completions. Even though everybody talks about those holes in the field, we just need to settle down and get those five-six-yard competitions, and those five-six-yard runs really slow down that blitz.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Romo has fared well against teams that excel at sacking the quarterback. Of the Cowboys opponents this season, the Chicago Bears and New York Giants have been the most effective at rushing the passer. The Bears rank eighth in the NFL with 32 sacks and the Giants are ninth with 30. But in the three games against those teams, Romo was sacked a total of seven times, which is less than what those teams average.
A lot of that credit goes to Romo because of his elite ability to escape pass rushers and avoid sacks.
“We got to be able to protect him, especially with all of the different blitzes they bring,” Witten said. “I think just like we said last week, we got to be able to run the ball to slow them down a little bit.”
Fortunately for the Cowboys, DeMarco Murray, who had a season-high 23 carries on Sunday night after missing the previous six games with a sprained left foot, got healthy just in time to face the Bengals.