Cowboys Mailbag: The return of T.O.?

Cowboys Mailbag: The return of T.O.?

Published Jun. 15, 2012 12:09 p.m. ET
Hey Bob

I really enjoyed your post about the crushing fourth-quarter interception against the Jets in week one last season. It's particularly gutting when you've stayed up to 5am over here on the other side of the pond to hopefully see the Cowboys pull off a victory. Mind you, you pay's your money and take your choice. Watching Nick Folk's rekicked gamewinner against Buffalo in the wee hours a couple of seasons ago was the upside of this fiendish late night coin.

That was a great breakdown of the INT as I'd originally put equal blame on Dez Bryant. If you watch really closely he is trying to come back to his qb late in that play but stubs I think it was his right foot into the turf, loses his balance and can't push off. It's probably a pick anyway but that misstep ruined any chance Dez had of breaking up the play.

But the real kicker for me on your review was when I saw that although the Jets were threatening to rush six, they only rushed three and Dallas had gone max-protect with seven blockers. Yet Romo inexplicably takes off like a cat on a hot tin roof, rolling out to his right (as cats prefer to do :) ) thereby effectively giving himself only one receiver in his progression -- namely Dez -- who is also in double coverage. Brain lock move by Romo so most of the blame goes on him.

He leaves me speechless in both a good and bad way at times so I understand why opinion is so polarised about him. But the highs are just so tantalising and sweet that I'm firmly on the Romo bandwagon. That crystallised when a good friend asked me during the Peyton Manning sweepstakes if I would swap Romo for the former Colt. Of course I would, that's a no-brainer. But when he posed the same question about Eli I just couldn't give the same answer. I didn't know why for a while because on paper Eli is clearly the better quarterback on recent form, working wonders last season behind a disintegrating offensive line. And he's so clutch.

Also Eli is less injury prone than Romo who unfortunately is a bit fragile. But I eventually realised I've got too much emotionally invested in Romo to swap him for Eli and really want him to succeed. You can't put a price on the kind of highs he will give you like last season's performance against Miami where particularly I think on the drive you broke down recently, I still hadn't picked my chin up from the floor after one amazing play, when there was another and another. It was a stunning matchwinning peformance. Besides, Greg Cosell's recent analysis confirms Romo is a top 10 qb which is where I've always had him - I'd say he's top eight - definitely above Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.

Somehow that game was not Romo's best of the season according to Pro Football Focus. I tried to find out if it was rated his second best after the Buffalo game or rated somewhere else, but did not get a reply. Perhaps you would be good enough to clear this up for me, Bob.

Anyway, getting back to the present day and your recent posts about RG3 and how the offense all fits together did rather pose a question that perhaps you would like to investigate. I followed your link to TC Fleming's stuff on the Texans offense and how it mirrored the Elway Broncos, and was struck by the idea that Denver's play calls would be determined by whether the defense was cheating rush or pass. Presumably if it was cheating rush then you pass and vice versa, the offense's goal being to get the defense to treat both equally although I'm not convinced getting to that point is better than having the defense cheat one way and then ramming the opposite down their throats, as long as the offense is equally proficient at running and passing -- unlike Dallas.

This brings me to your analysis of the Patriots and Cardinals games last season where both teams were clearly cheating pass the longer each game went on and Dallas's running efforts sank slowly but terminally into the mud. But to do that well, these defenses must surely be able to play the run on the way to the passer or the offense would surely catch them out with timely run calls.

So let's assume that's the case, but what I can't fathom out is where was Dallas's screen game. If the defense's focus is on pass rushing then football 101 says a screen can make them pay. From what I can remember of last season is that Dallas are not a big screen team and haven't been over the last couple of years. If the numbers support this contention, I wonder why that is. Perhaps in the case of the Patriots and Cardinals they were getting pressure with their base defense but a screen should still work even in those circumstances.

Just because an offense goes one-dimensional it doesn't mean it cannot get the job done, but under Garrett - who I like, is clearly changing the culture for the better and like all coaches is human and makes errors (see Arizona timeout gaffe last season) - that seems to be the case.

Come on Jason let's see some screens on the big screen in Arlington and more particularly on the road.

Steve Hawdon, Andover

Thanks, Steve. Is that Andover in England? Not far from Southampton? Very nice.

Well, a few things. First, ProFootballFocus rated Tony Romo's 3 finest performances last year as the following: #1 Buffalo, #2 at Tampa Bay, and #3 at San Francisco. His 3 worst were: #1 at New York, #2 Washington, and #3 At Philadelphia.

Now, on to the screens. According to my extensive data base, of the 1,019 snaps the Cowboys took last season, I listed 28 of them to be some variation of a screen pass. I narrowed it down even further to list that 4 of those were TE Screens, 11 were WR screens, and the remaining 13 the traditional screen pass to a Running back. None of the 28 were particularly successful, but DeMarco Murray had 3 over 10 yards and shorter than 15, Tashard Choice, Dez Bryant, and John Phillips (of all people) also had one screen for a first down. Otherwise, many were incomplete or for less than 6 yards and thought of as relatively ordinary or unproductive plays.

The reasons do go back, in my opinion, to the drastic upheaval in the offensive line. At first, it was just something that this offense did not emphasize. Then, it seemed that perhaps it was more of a case that they did not want to ask too much of the offensive line because the basic things were proving to be an issue. Then, there was a massive overhaul in October with the types of play calls that seemed to work and the zone plays of September started to fade away and the man blocking calls started re-emerging -- not coincidentally with the big Montrae Holland called in from his couch.

I expect that in 2012, this is thought of as an objective when they find some continuity to their offensive line on the interior, since most proper screens do utilize the guards in space. So, priority #1 is to figure out which guards will be at the top of the depth chart and hopefully, Livings and Bernadeau are better in space than the options from last season. Livings doesn't look to strong in space to me, but I am willing to offer a fresh start after his post-Bengals career.

Regardless, this is hypothetically a way to back off the defensive attack. In fact, in a study that I think some people might find interesting, the Cowboys are experts on the powers of screen passes because the opponents loved to run variations of this strategy to back of Rob Ryan and his blitz packages.

At least 6 different times in 2011, the Cowboys had a screen pass right into the teeth of their blitz go for an explosive (a play that totals 20 or more yards). The Jets, Dolphins, Patriots, Eagles, Rams, and Lions all sprung this trap on the Cowboys to back off the blitzing tactics. There is nothing more demoralizing than sending 6 or 7 rushers and then having a QB dink a short pass right behind your men and they run free for 30 yards down the field.

Here is a link to all 64 of the explosives Rob Ryan's defense allowed and you can see how many times the screen was stuck on them. Keep in mind, the Cowboys did not generate a single explosive off the screen in 2011 offensively.

Could we see T.O. back with the Cowboys.

P1 Jason

NO. No. No. No. No. No.

It won't happen and it can't happen. Terrell Owens has many fans in this city and he also could easily be the 3rd best WR on this roster, but when you talk about the damage that was done in the 2008 season in particular, the primary figures on the other side of the Owens drama were, in any order: Tony Romo, Jason Witten, and Jason Garrett. Now, with the exception of Jerry Jones, are there 3 more powerful people at Valley Ranch than those 3? That should answer your question.

I think, like in 2011, the Cowboys will proceed to camp with the idea that they will seek an internal solution to their 3rd and 4th WR issues. If, like in 2011, they are not satisfied with what they have found, then they will have to act quickly and examine what is available.

Personally, I would recommend a minimal deal before camp with Patrick Crayton. I think Crayton was a good teammate (if not occasionally outspoken), generally dependable (save for the 2007 playoff game against the Giants), and had a strong chemistry with Tony Romo (not unlike Laurent Robinson in 2011) for knowing where to go when Tony starts his improv show. He also knows the system, enjoys the slot, and understands the organization and is a veteran who might help sort that 3rd spot.

I would argue that the 3rd WR spot is a headache, as is the 2nd TE spot. Both are vital to the Jason Garrett offense. Danny Coale, Andre Holmes, and James Hanna will all be given chances for a few weeks to show what they have in Oxnard. But, then, the clock will be ticking and the scouts will go to work on finding a dependable veteran. At that point, Crayton and veteran TE Visanthe Shiancoe will have likely found jobs elsewhere, but for now, both appear to be waiting for their phone to ring.

Hey Bob, what are the odds something gets done long-term with Anthony Spencer?


I believe the deadline for that activity is now a month away (July 16) and the odds seem rather remote. Given their ability to maneuver around the cap without freeing up Spencer's huge number of $8.8m, they don't have urgency to give him even more guaranteed money to lock him down. I talked with his agent Jordan Woy this week, and they seem to expect the Cowboys will be happy to roll with this arrangement in 2012, and Spencer's side seems fine with that salary of well over $500k per game and the chance to hit the jackpot next spring if he has a big year.

In looking back at Spencer's 2011, I see where both sides are coming from. It wasn't like Spencer was poor. He had some phenomenal moments and was asked to drop into coverage plenty which reduce his opportunities to hit huge sack totals. But, the Cowboys also counter with the idea that he simply has to be better at the little things -- assignments, in particular -- and be a smarter player when the bullets are flying.

But, unlike Mike Jenkins, there is no question that Spencer is going to get the snaps. They really don't seem to have much at all behind him and unless 4th round pick Kyle Wilber steals the show in the preseason, Spencer has nobody looking over his shoulder for the 1st and 2nd down spots. Victor Butler remains interesting, but still seems to be a primary pass rusher in nickel situations.