X's and O's: Romo vs. Barber

BY Alex Marvez • September 20, 2012

Fresh off studying video of the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay free safety Ronde Barber noted the Tony Romo-led offense doesn't look much different than in prior seasons.

This doesn't bode well for the Buccaneers entering Sunday's game at Dallas (1 p.m. ET, FOX).

Romo shredded Tampa Bay's defense in three previous career matchups, the most recent coming last year. He has tossed 11 touchdown passes with no interceptions and finished each game with a quarterback rating of at least 130.0. Most importantly, the Cowboys were 3-0 in those meetings.

Barber told FOXSports.com that two of Romo's biggest strengths are his pocket mobility and a supporting cast that includes an all-star tight end (Jason Witten), two fleet wide receivers (Miles Austin and Dez Bryant) and emerging second-year running back DeMarco Murray.

“I believe quarterbacks are only as good as their options," Barber said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "His job is made more comfortable by the options he has."

Barber said Romo isn't the type of quarterback who, like Cam Newton or Michael Vick, will "get out and run for first downs, at least not on film." Barber, though, said Romo "is as elusive a guy as you're going to play against," which is something that Tampa Bay's coaches continue to emphasize.

"He spins and ducks under tacklers like the best in the game," Barber said. "It's amazing how he does it -- and he does it just about every week. He creates more time to find receivers down the field.”

The Bucs will be in trouble if their pass defense doesn't show improvement from last Sunday's 41-34 road loss to the New York Giants. Tampa Bay had three interceptions but surrendered 510 passing yards, which stemmed largely from cornerbacks being beaten off the line too frequently in press coverage and the inability to sack quarterback Eli Manning even once in 51 drop-backs.

Reading into media comments by Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan, the Bucs may change their approach against Dallas by integrating more zone coverages and reducing the number of pass-rushing stunts to more basic pressure attempts.

“We did a lot of good things, some really good things, on film," said Barber, whose team squandered a 14-point lead in the second half. "Obviously, Dallas watched that film and saw some of the one-on-ones we lost. There was some single-high (safety) stuff where (the Giants) went after us.

"It was you versus your man on seven of the last eight throws and Eli (Manning) and his receivers won. That's going to be a challenge this week."

Barber believes the Cowboys' offense will be "licking their chops" for a shot at the Bucs. Romo, though, agreed with Barber that the defense isn't nearly as bad as the Giants made them look in the second half.

"After seeing the yards and points, I was expecting to see a little something different on tape," Romo told Buccaneers media during a Wednesday conference call. "But when you watch them, this is a good defensive unit. It's skewed a little bit because the Giants got behind and threw a lot the last game."

Romo and Barber are no strangers to playing against each other, but the latter enters this matchup at a different position. After forging a likely Pro Football Hall of Fame career at cornerback for 15 years, the 37-year-old Barber has converted to free safety this season under new head coach Greg Schiano.

Barber's role has changed, but his ball-hawking skills remain the same. In the season-opening win against Carolina, Barber completed the rare defensive back exacta of registering an interception and sack in the same game. Barber then notched three passes defensed along with four tackles against the Giants.

“In the preseason I was a little unsure because I didn't have many snaps and only one good game of it against New England," Barber admitted. "But I think I'm firmly settled in now. I'm grasping everything I need to know, all the run fits and checks that safeties have to make. It's all becoming second nature."

"It's kind of funny. Once the games start going for real outside of the preseason, necessity makes everything so much easier."

Just like improved pass defense is a necessity if the Bucs are going to upset the Cowboys.