For the third time in just six seasons, the Dallas Cowboys find themselves in a familiar situation. With yet another average season under head coach Jason Garrett close to complete, Dallas can still say that the playoffs are a possibility.
But possibilities in Garrett’s hip pocket often end up falling to the ground anyway—must be a hole in there or something.
No, the Cowboys haven’t played their best football in recent “win and you’re in” scenarios against both the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008 and the New York Giants a year ago.
So, third time is a charm in Washington, right?
Not so fast.
This might be the most even matchup for Dallas in these recent do-or-die situations on the final weekend of the regular season. But injuries have really pasted a defense that has playoff-caliber talent and this trend just continues.
Seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has battled injuries for much of this season while posting 11.5 sacks. Good numbers, but not the stuff he normally delivers in terms of sacks.
And now it looks as though Ware, injured last week during the New Orleans loss, might even need offseason surgery for a hyper-extended elbow and he’ll be playing Sunday night with a strained right shoulder as well.
Add Ware to the losses of inside linebackers Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and others and it’s becoming obvious that the Dallas offense had better come to DC prepared to put up points—not yards, but points.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has already shown Dallas what he’s capable of. Not that this game will see the same 28 point explosion for the rookie quarterback in a single quarter, but clearly Washington will be able to do some things against a Dallas defense that is even more banged up than it was on Thanksgiving.
The only way to avoid another season-ending catastrophe with Garrett calling plays is for quarterback Tony Romo and his offense to play a near-flawless game.
Well, don’t look now, but snow is in the forecast for Washington DC on Saturday evening.
Snow or no, it’s going to be cold and extremely loud at FedEx Field. This means that Garrett, in a dramatic departure from last week’s awful play calling, has to come up with rushing yards and some time of possession.
He failed as bad as he ever has last week in these areas and only another circus comeback late in the game is why the contest even needed overtime time to resolve.
It’s been easy in years passed for many to simply drop the blame on Romo for Garrett’s near-complete disregard for a running game.
This is a team sport and that team includes coaches.
There is a lot that Romo can do to change the fragmented reputation he’s garnered as a quarterback "who just can’t win the big one." Although anybody with a slight measure of football IQ knows that Romo is among the top passers in the NFL, it’s still true that Dallas has missed the playoffs for two-straight seasons and missed again two years prior in 2008.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones stated this week that even he wasn’t certain that Garrett has "changed the culture" at Valley Ranch. My only surprise is that Jones wasn’t sure beyond any shadow of a doubt.
But Romo changed the culture of the quarterback position years ago and all he lacks is a championship to end up on television analyzing games following his retirement.
But Romo has to play his best football and this certainly goes for his teammates.
Most importantly, the guy calling plays has to put his weapons in position to succeed based on both the opponent and the playing conditions.
If Romo ends up throwing the ball fewer than 40 times, the Cowboys could definitely win this game. Remember, despite the 28-point Washington explosion last month, Dallas crossed 30 points and ended up losing by only seven.
But if Romo passes 40-45 times, then all bets are off and don’t hold your breath for a Dallas win.
And if this ends up being one of those arena-league showcases that sees Romo toss it up 50-60 times, then you already know how this game will turn out.
We keep hearing the phrase "Romo Friendly" from time to time.
Well, throwing the ball all day long is "Romo Unfriendly" and the numbers just don't lie about that.
With Ware and the defense struggling, the time is now for Garrett to be a little friendlier to his quarterback. Jones brought Garrett in with somewhat surprising urgency even before hiring former head coach Wade Phillips almost five years ago. Offensive coordinator was the first official position Garrett occupied as a Dallas assistant—and he's still there.
If Jones isn't sure Garrett has changed the culture of his team, then he needs to get that way.