What Patriots must do to rattle Romo

BY foxsports • October 11, 2011

Each week, John Lynch breaks down a dynamic NFL offensive playmaker, devises a game plan and discusses a strategy for success. This week, Lynch examines how he would defend against Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

Being the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, in many ways, is like being the President of the United States.

Hear me out for a second, for those of you that think I’ve lost it. I know you’ve seen the before and after pictures of when a President takes office … and when he leaves … and the toll that it takes. They are constantly under the microscope.

It’s no different for Tony Romo. It’s the nature of playing that position for America’s Team. Those are the professional hazards – and all that come with them – in both jobs. It comes with the territory.

Last week, former quarterback Joe Theismann said on an NFL.com podcast that Romo was an average quarterback who continues to hurt his football team. He said Romo doesn’t understand how to play the position and that he was doing things that Pop Warner kids would be benched for.

Interesting, perhaps, but we’ll get to that in a second – because this is my assignment this week: game plan for the New England defense vs. Tony Romo and the Dallas offense.

Looking at film, I don’t see it the same way Theismann does. He’s reacting off Romo’s last performance: the combination of losing the 20-point lead and the three-interception fiasco that came at home in a Week 4 loss to the Lions. I think a lot of people were culpable for that.

Why is Dallas throwing so much? Romo thinks he can make every throw, he’s a little like Brett Favre in that regard. He’s a gunslinger and that sometimes gets him in trouble. A friend of mine who used to play with Romo said this about him: “With Tony, it’s like playing a par 5 in golf. Instead of going for the safe par, he’s going to go for the eagle every time.”

It’s a strength … and also a weakness.

Right now, everyone is raving about Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and rightly so. He can throw accurately, has great arm strength and the location of where he puts the ball is terrific. Well, I think Tony Romo is the closest thing in the NFL as far as a skillset goes. He needs a "governor," and that’ s where the coaches come in. Somebody has to tell him, “now’s a good time to take that chance” or “now is not the time.” That might be the only thing I agree on with Theismann, because sometimes Romo misfires on the decision making. He’s got to have a filter.

But it’s not all Tony’s fault. In Week 3 on the Monday night game against the Redskins, Romo was literally having to coach the receivers out of the huddle because their regulars were so banged up. You could see those guys had no idea what the routes were and Romo was coaching them up at the line of scrimmage. Again, not all his fault. It’s about putting him in the right situations to succeed.

Speaking of banged up, the Cowboys are coming off a bye week, so they’ve had the chance to get healthy and that could create some problems for the Patriots defense. First, the Cowboys have had to live with that embarrassing defeat for the past two weeks. Second, receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant will both be back on the field this week, together for the first time since Week 1. To me, Miles Austin is extremely critical to the Cowboys success. He is very explosive and Romo trusts him to be where he's supposed to be, when he's supposed to be there. Romo’s go-to guy has always been his tight end Jason Witten, who leads the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns.

Austin and Bryant are two explosive receivers, and you couple that with Witten, and that will be a formidable task for that Patriots defense. But the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick have traditionally done a great job defending tight ends. They give up the pass rush to get somebody hitting the tight end at the line of scrimmage so he doesn’t get a free release. And Witten’s always been Romo’s security blanket when the blitz comes. The synergy between those two is amazing – Witten knows where to be and Romo knows where to get it to him. That’s why you start with trying to take Witten out of the mix.

The Patriots will need to throw multiple looks at Romo, and another key will be tackling. What makes Austin so dangerous is his yards after the catch. Austin is going to make catches, but the Patriots better get him on the ground because he kills teams with his yards after the catch.

The Cowboys have had trouble in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on just five of 15 possessions. Things get tough in the red zone, you see it throughout the league. Real estate shrinks, the window tightens and for offenses to be successful – and, I know it’s a passing league now – I still think they have to be able to run the football. The Cowboys have a relatively young offensive line and this is one area the Patriots defense will try to exploit. Because if the Cowboys are able to run the ball, the Patriots will be forced to use 1-on-1 coverage on those dangerous receivers on the outside and that’s not good.

People talked about all the moves the supposed "dream team" Eagles made in the offseason, but the Patriots made several moves of their own this offseason to address the upfront defensive problems they had. They brought in guys like Andre Carter, Albert Haynesworth and Mark Anderson. Going into Week 5, the Patriots defense had been giving up a league-worst 477 yards a game. But they held the Jets to 255 yards total in their 30-21 win Sunday. I think part of that is because the Pats defense is finally getting healthy. I know I saw them during the preseason, and I thought they were going to perform much better than they have so far.

I’m a huge believer in that you win and lose football games up front and if I’m on the Patriots’ coaching staff, I tell those guys who we brought in, that we need them this week. If New England is going to win the game, they have to win the battle up front and it starts with those guys.

If they do, "President" Romo will continue to age right before our eyes.

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