Never has success or failure of any athletic endeavor been determined more by the ability of teammates to synergistically cooperate and execute their given tasks than in the great game of football.
Or to paraphrase into less dorky vernacular, football is the ultimate team sport.
The success of any football team, whether on offense, defense, or special teams, demands perfect simultaneous execution on any given play by all 11 players on the field.
It doesn't matter if the quarterback receives a perfect snap and awesome pass protection from his O-line and backs if one receiver runs the wrong route andbrings extra defenders into the passing lane, thereby taking himself out of the play and alleviating a great deal of pressure on the defense.
It doesn't matter if 10 out of 11 men on defense are executing a perfect cover 2 man to man defensive cover scheme if one corner or safety gets confused and drops into a zone, thereby allowing an uncontested 80 yard streak up the sideline.
Undeniably, success or failure on the gridiron depends almost fully on the effectiveness of the other 10 men on the field with you, because, to oversimplify, one man's perfect execution is really only 1/11th of the total defensive or offensive effort.
With all that in mind, it is almost patently absurd how much credit and how much blame the quarterback of any team gets for the relative success or failure of his aggregation of gridiron warriors.
Is the quarterback's ability to throw the ball to a receiver really that much more important than an offensive tackle's ability to read a blitz scheme and pick up the correct defender?
Does the casual fan have a basic understanding of what a great quarterback looks like compared to Drew Bledsoe or Quincy freaking Carter while being relatively clueless about the intricacies andminutiae of offensive line play?
Here are 4 reasons why:
1. The "Usual Suspects" Have Hurdles to Climb in 2009
In starting this argument, I believe addressing the unique hurdles top quarterbacks will be presented with in 2009 is the most appropriate starting place, as it will be shown that Tony Romo has a lot less to "overcome" than those who have led the league at this position over the last 5-6 years.
One can't think of "quarterback in the NFL" without thinking Tom Brady. He is the epitome of a competitor, the epitome of a winner, and the epitome of what an NFL quarterback should be.
However, he suffered a catastrophic knee injury last year, as well as complications after surgery that further delayed his rehabilitation.
No amount of Brady's vast resources of competitive drive or Bill Belicheck's wealth of X's and O's can overcome a broken body part. and the track record of quarterbacks who suffered a similar injury is far less than sterling the year after the injury (see: Carson Palmer, Donovan McNabb).
I'm not saying there is no chance Brady will be successful next year, but he will have to show over a few games that there are no lingering effects from the injury in 2009 before anybody should expect a return to his super star form.
Ben Roethlisberger is about Tony Romo's age, but has already won two Superbowls, while Romo has yet to win a playoff game. Yet if Romo plays to his potential, he will outperform Roethlisberger based on offensive systems alone.
While I can't knock Roethlisberger's amazing propensity to pull out a victory in the clutch, his numbersas a passer in 2008 were less than impressive:
24th overall in Passer Rating; 21st overall in completion percentage; 14th overall in passing yards; 15th overall in passing touchdowns; And 28th overall in total interceptions.
He is a winner, but as a passer in that system his numbers are average to below average at best, numbers that Tony Romo should have no problem eclipsing last year.
Carson Palmer and Donovan McNabb both have receiver issues.
Carson Palmer lost his No. 1 target in T.J. Houshmanzadeh and is forced to deal with a Chad Johnson who seems to be losing his mind quicker than his receiving ability, while McNabb will be throwing to a second year receiver and a rookie wide receiver as his first two options in DeSean Jackson and Jeremey Maclin.
(Quick side note: is anybody else wishing Chad Ocho Cinco gets traded to a team where the No. 85 is retired, people can start buying No. 81 Ocho Cinco jerseys?)
Romo has a plethora of weapons to exploit that dwarf those in the arsenals of McNabb and Palmer, and should find himself ahead of those two.
Drew Brees will be another ridiculously strong contender, but Marques Colston has yet to prove he is more than just an awesome rookie year, and Reggie Bush won't have Duece McCallister to pick up blitz's and take the crushing between the tackles.
Between Bush, Colston, and tight end Jeremy Shockey (who has never played in all 16 in a season in his entire career), there are substantial injury concerns to 3 key components of that passing attack, and, while Brees dealt with these injuries last year with much success, I can't see him repeating that performance if all three players go down again.
Peyton Manning probably has the strongest chance to contended with Romo for the best quarterback in 2009. He has lost his favorite target for good in Marvin Harrison, and that could prove crucial.
It's true that Reggie Wayne has unquestionably become the most potent receiver on that team, and that Peyton pretty much stuck to his career averages of around 4,000 passing yards and 28 touchdowns last year without Harrison for a majority of the season, but we'll see if defenses learn to adjust better to the Colts' attack without Marvin Harrison in the line-up for an entire season.
Hopefully most of you readers were able to get through this entire section before immediately scrolling down to leave death threats in the comments section, and, if so, it should be apparent that the cream of the quarterback crop in the NFL all have some hurdle to deal with, hurdles that could finally propel Tony Romo to the top of the metaphorical mountain to become the NFL's best quarterback.
Now that we have examined factors going on with the rest of the league's signal callers, let's move on to examine the forces within the Dallas Cowboys organization that could easily propel Tony Romo to the top of his NFL game in 2009.
2. A Full Offseason with Roy Williams
The importance of timing between in a quarterback and a wide receiver, used a buzz word on many a pre-game show by countless individuals, really cannot be overlooked.
I have analyzed in more depth the importance of timing routes in the previous Cowboys' articles I've written (links at the bottom of the page), so feel free to check those out for a more in depth analysis of this factor.
However, the issue of timing between a quarterback and a wide receiver all boils down to two main issues: being on the same page on option routes, andunderstanding a receiver's tendencies.
Oftentimes, a wide receiver is given multiple routes to run on a given play, and will have only fractions of a second to read the defensive rotation mid-play as he is running the stem of his route to decide which of the 2 or 3 route options he has to run.
The more time a quarterback and a receiver spend together, the more likely it is that they will get into a groove and will make the same reads on any given defense, drastically reducing the chance that the quarterback thinks and throws as if the receiver is going to run one route, and the receiver ends up running the other.
Also, the more time a quarterback spends with a wide out, the more the quarterback will become familiar with the subtle preferences the receiver has as far as ball location and body position.
For example, I had the privilege of playing 7 years of football at both the high school and collegiate levels as a primarily pass catching tight end. I loved catching balls that were thrown high above my head, especially high and to the left on routes like curls.
On routes like drags or crossing patterns, it was easier for me to catch balls at helmet level out in front of my body as opposed to face level or balls thrown slightly behind me where I had to turn my hands in the opposite direction.
On routes up the middle of the field, I was much more comfortable catching balls over my left shoulder than my right shoulder.
My high school quarterback had played with me since 7th grade, and knew all of the places I liked the ball to be thrown (defense allowing of course), and all the ball locations that were less than ideal.
This mutual understanding led to more completions and drastically increased our effectiveness on the field.
The same can be said for Tony Romo and Roy Williams.
The NFL regular season moves at 1000 mph, and after pre-season camp most teams don't have the luxury of working out things as subtle as ball position preference because they are too busy studying film of the opponent's game plan and wondering how they are going to attack it in practice and on game day.
The offseason, in contrast, will afford Romo and Williams (who have reportedly been working for a month or two already running routes) the luxury of time to gain such understandings between one another, time that was frankly unavailable during the regular season last year.
An entire mini camp and pre-season camp together will greatly increase Romo's and Williams' mutual understanding of what each sees in a rotating defense when option routes are called, and should lead to many more completions as Roy Williams should be where Romo expects him much more often than last season (see: Philadelphia 44 Cowboys 6).
This increased understanding of each other's game should greatly mitigate the loss of Terrell Owens in the passing game, and should lead to another big passing year from the gangly Cowboys' QB.
3. A Healthy Backfield Will Create a "Pick Your Poison" Scenario for Most Defenses
The Dallas Cowboys arguably have the most stacked offensive backfield in the entire league.
Not only do defenses have to worry about dropping back to cover Roy Williams, Jason Witten, Patrick Crayton, and wild card speedster Miles Austin in the passing game, they haveto also account for three game breaking running backs in their defensive gameplan.
Marion Barber is a Pro Bowl running back, and one of the most ferocious runners the league has seen since the days of Earl Campbell.
Inside the 10 yard line, he is somehow able to channel an even more intense gear, and has an unparalleled knack for the end zone.
Barber's underrated proficiency as a receiver will also be a huge asset to Romo's success this year.
Second year phenom Felix Jones has the ability to go yard any time he gets his hands on the ball. He won't be the guy for the job between the guards in a third and short situation by any means, but his amazing speed and agility make him a deadly potential weapon.
His skill set will be especially appreciated on the 2nd and long or 3rd and long draw plays out of the 3 WR 1 TE 1 RB shotgun formation the Cowboys like to run so much when the defense begins to devote too much attention to the passing game.
TashardChoice is a game breaker in his own right, withmore speed than Marion to get aroundthe corner, but with more size that Felix, allowing him to put his head down and gain 2-3 yards after contact that Felix can't.
These three backs compliment each other perfectly, and, given the relative black hole of talent at the full back position (no offense to the perennially injured Deion Anderson, the only one on the roster), it is not out of the question to see many offensive formations with two of these three backs on the field at the same time.
If defenses decide to devote so much of their energy to stopping Romo, Williams, and the rest of the passing attack like they did last year with T.O., the Cowboys have the talent and depth at running back to chew up both yards and the game clock to inevitably force their opponents to bring more big defenders back into the box.
Any offensive coordinator will tell you that an established running game will make any victory that much easier to attain because the clock keeps running and gives any effective running team a huge advantage in time of possession.
A passing attack can be just as, if not more, deadly, but at least with primarily passing teams the clock stops after incompletions andleaves the opponent with much more time to catch up to any lead amassed by the Cowboys.
Therefore, when forced to deal with an effective passing and running game, defensive coordinators will be slightly inclined to give away certain things through the air in order to make sure his defense doesn't get run off the field and exhausted by a relentless and productive running attack.
These will be openings Romo can exploit with his accuracy, and his phenomenal pocket presense and abilities to bend andtwist his ways out of sacks against blitzing defenders will be yet another factor leading to a huge 2009 season from Tony Romo.
Which brings me to my final, and maybe most important point:
4. No T.O.!
I am a T.O. fan. I was initially mad to see him go, because as Cris Carter and other NFL analysts constantly contend, you can't just find anybody to replace a guaranteed 10 touchdowns and 1,000 receiving yards a year.
However, upon further inspection, this factor alone could be the single most important factor in Tony Romo's success in the upcoming years.
Like all NFL receivers, T.O. wants the ball.
T.O.'s track record with the 49ers and Eagles suggested that when T.O. doesn't get said ball enough, he explodes and craters his team's season.
This leads to the propensity, whether conscious or unconscious, to look his way more often, and for longer, than any quarterback or offensive coordinator would ordinarily.
In his three years in Dallas, T.O. was either near the top of the league or led the league in targets by a wide margin.
Conversely, he was also near the top of the league or led the league in dropped passes as well.
As much as I hate to say it, I believe both Tony Romo and Jason Garrett succumbed to the desire to get T.O. the ball as much as possible to try to mitigate the amount of distractions he caused, and he ended up putting an unacceptable amount of those targets on the turf.
This propensity to get T.O. the ball is also fueled by the media, who have now made T.O. a whipping-boy of sorts, and look to create stories about T.O. by constantly asking players on the roster leading questions about him, and grasping at threads and conjectures just to get out another "T.O. is crazy because now he's doing this" story.
To make a long rambling short, because of the media's desire for negative T.O.-driven stories, T.O. is a constant distraction to his teammates whether he tries to be or not.
There is a headline on ESPN.com right now on the front page that reads "(Terrence) McGee Hurts Arm In Practice While Covering T.O."
The spin on that story is ridiculous.
Apparently the two went up for a jump ball, fell to the ground and T.O. landed "partially" on top of McGee, who layed on the turf for awhile before leaving the field and not returning.
McGee is a corner. I would posit that in a vast majority of cases, when a cornerback gets injured, he is covering a wide receiver.
But that article title alone would suggest that T.O. shankedhim in the shoulder with an ice pick he was hiding in his pads as he sprinted past him on a streak, or that he pulled out a gun and starting unloading like that running back in the opening scene of "The Last Boyscout."
Whether T.O. likes it or not, the media-driven negative press has become a self-perpetuating entity that nothing short of him delivering a baby on the sidewalk for a collapsed woman while simultaneously taking a bullet for Barack Obama could alleviate.
Regrettably, it is a storm his teammates can't help but get swept away in.
Romo no longer has that cloud over him.
He has the ability to sit back and read the field freely to look for the open man without a subconscious desire to glance at T.O. first, or for a little longer, causing him to either get sacked, force a ball into coverage for a turnover, or miss another open, less disputatious receiver.
He will be able to take the field with a clear head, and make reads free of the bias or stress T.O. inevitably brings, which will undeniably lead to a more balanced and free flowing offense than we have seen from the underachieving Cowboys teams of the past two seasons.
There are undoubtedly many cases out there to be made for many other quarterbacks to contend for the title of "Best Quarterback in the League."
However, given the considerable obstacles most, if not all, of the usual suspects of the NFL's elite group of quarterbacks face this year, Romo might have the easiest route to the top of this choice group.
Not only that, but his increased timing and flow with Roy Williams, his stacked backfield which should keep defenders in the box and out of coverage, and the removal of one of the biggest psychological obstacles to Romo's success in Terrell Owens should lead to one of the greatest seasons we've seen from a Cowboys quarterback in the venerable history of this franchise.
True Romo hasn't won a playoff game yet, but I would draw your attention to the rambling but hopefully poignant discussion that began this epic dissertation regarding how it takes 11 men working simultaneously to win in the NFL.
Romo could have played better true, but Flozell Adams could also choose to remember the #$%*! snapcount once in awhile, because one would think that after like 37 years in the NFL one would come up for a system for such a mentally hefty undertaking.
The fact is, Romo needs his entire team to win a playoff game (or less slippery fingers but that's an entirely different discussion).
To be the best quarterback in the league, however, Romo needs his natural skills, as well as the factors mentioned abovethat all should result in an MVP-caliber season for the Wisconsin native.
So here's to 2009 Tony Romo. Time to bring the Cowboys back to the promised land.