The Morning After: Romo is still Romo
This has clearly been a preseason where there has been a number of annoying news stories. Nothing that so far has threatened to destroy the season or anything, but certainly the Cowboys have had their share of regulars tweak hamstrings and miss weeks of valuable camp time. The lacerated spleen of Jason Witten is the leader in the clubhouse for most serious injury to a significant piece of the team, and at this juncture, the medical staff is leading us to believe that this is something that will not linger all year. If he doesn't rush his comeback for Week 1, the premise being offered is that he will be at full strength the remaining 15 weeks of the season most likely.
Beyond that, the injury demons have claimed a portion of the rookie class, as we may not know in 2012 what Matt Johnson or Danny Coale can do, and Kyle Wilbur has not had much luck, either. Caleb McSurdy will have to wait a year if he is ever to have his name known as well. So, what once was a promising draft class is now potentially down to the 1st, 3rd, and 6th rounders before the train even leaves the depot. That means that impact will be minimized, but the contributions of Mo Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford, and James Hanna all appear to be something that one can be excited about. Hanna in particular looks far more useful than even predicted, but time will tell on that front.
There are still massive concerns about the offensive line, including the center position that looks extremely uncertain. Either you have the player who has never played in a regular season game and never performed a center/QB exchange in his football career starting at Giants Stadium in 9 days or you have a player who struggled last season returning to action for the first time since the Cowboys were defeated soundly at Giants Stadium last January 1st. Either way, the Giants are certainly rubbing their hands together with anticipation for whoever the Cowboys line up with in front of Tony Romo.
Add to that the premise that the strike force of skill position targets that we once thought would be Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten could morph at least partially in New York into Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, and John Phillips.
But, one thing that seems to be clear as we head into 2012 should reassure most Cowboys fans that optimism is allowed and recommended as you hit the new year; You have one of the better quarterbacks in the league. And in a league that is more and more about your level of quarterback play, Romo gives Dallas a fighting chance to turn some heads this season.
Now, some are ready to respond with the tired debates about playoff wins and choking in December, and that crowd reminds one in this election year to the pointless debates between Democrats and Republicans where the dialogue is never heard by the other side. Both sides are convinced that they are right and the other-side is insane. To that group, the group that ignores personal performance in a team game to simply shout that the Cowboys would be better if they had a better quarterback, well then you can either read my entire essay on the topic or go post on a message board your plans for getting Vince Young in here to save the day.
To the rest of you - perhaps those who have watched carefully at how his performance since his injured 2010 has been nothing short of fantastic - it should be reassuring to see how good Romo looked against the Rams and the idea that he appears to be sharp as a tack and more determined than ever to push the Cowboys as far as they can go.
He became far more efficient in 2011, to a point where he had very few meltdown moments. Now, those 2 that jump right off the page - the Revis Interception and the Bobby Carpenter Pick 6 - were devastating, but if you can find a QB that didn't make a bad throw in 2011, you are better at watching football than I am.
Sure, there are a few among the top group of QBs that you might rate higher, but the Cowboys are getting premium play from a premium position, and as they enter a much more difficult schedule in 2012, I am pretty comfortable with the man they have firing the ball around the yard.
There are plenty of "ifs" to this equation. If he really has the best RB of his career behind him....If his offensive line can minimize the number of times he gets his clock cleaned...If he gets healthy seasons from a few of his skill position weapons...
You know the drill. It is a league that is pushed together with a large pack in the middle with the 10-6/6-10 peloton. A great season from a QB can overcome a lot of issues. Perhaps, with a defense that has a far greater ability to make a play that could make a difference, a similar QB season from Romo could help this team find its way to the top of the NFC East.
The biggest argument against this happening in 2012 is that Romo likely played his best season ever last year and this team won only 8 games with hardly a quality win the entire year. The best win was in Week 2 at San Francisco, and that was a game that when it was played, nobody thought the 49ers were on their way to hosting the NFC Championship Game.
But, as you see Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne at the other corner on Saturday night, with a defensive line that looks improved in the pass rush department, and then a healthy DeMarco Murray added to Romo's dynamite performance, you can squint and see the best-case scenario being a year where the Cowboys survive the difficult 4 out of 5 on the road stretch from October 14th to November 11th. At that point, through 9 games, the Cowboys will have 6 of their 8 road games behind them. If they can get out of that stretch at 5-4, then 10 or 11 wins is within reach.
With Romo, this is possible. And, if they lose Romo for a few weeks, you would like to believe they now have a QB in Kyle Orton who can get them a 2-2 record during a month as the starter.
Trust me, I still have many, many concerns. This team has a lot to stress about. There are many places where an injury can cause everything to unravel.
But, you are solid at the most pivotal position on the field. The Cowboys have an elite QB. I measure that not in career playoff wins, but in the way he is playing at this point of his career compared to the competition in the league. Over the last 12 months, he is playing the position incredibly well. You can delude yourself into thinking that the Cowboys win 13 games last year if Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers was the QB in Dallas, but I don't buy that. This team was 8-8 last year for a number of reasons. And since Brees doesn't play corner and Rodgers doesn't block Jason Pierre Paul, I will not subscribe to the lunacy that the QB held them back.
Again, to some of you this is the worst thing that I have written. To the rest of you, you already agree with this premise. So, we might ask what the point was?
It is simply to discuss the lead story of the third preseason game. Romo is still Romo.
In summary, in the preseason dress rehearsal, Romo again proved that he is sharp and prepared. Locked in and ready to lead. Is he on his way to finally being recognized for what he is - a top player at the most important position?
The story will begin to unfold in about a week. And that 1st game will require Romo to be on his best form for Dallas to have a chance in what could be their most difficult game of the year. And even then, as we saw last year, it still might not be enough.