The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2008 season with enough talent that made them pretty formidable on Xbox and PlayStation, but their real life counterparts were anything but.
Entangled in a PR nightmare of a season that nearly ripped the team apart, Dallas limped away from their season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles a shell of the squad that was the popular Super Bowl pick for most sports writers.
In-house bickering, rumors, and silly antics reminded fans more of an episode on the popular soap opera Dallas than the more prestigious NFL franchise that fans had come to recognize and respect.
While coaches receive their share of the blame during times of struggle, players usually take the brunt as the more recognizable faces of the team.
Terrell Owens, Adam “Pacman” Jones, Tony Romo and Wade Phillips were usually at the forefront of the blame for 2008, but only one name on that list has been associated with much of the blame over the last three years of the Cowboys failures: Tony Romo.
Since his inauguration as the quarterback of “America’s Team” in the middle of the 2006 season, Romo has typically been isolated and bound in front of firing squads packed full of hungry Cowboy crucifiers.
Utilizing every ounce of blame from his private life to his playing life, critics have tried every possible angle that they can obtain, just to take a shot at the signal caller. Seems like if Romo even checks his mailbox, critics will argue he should be in his house studying game film while his assistant retrieves and sorts his parcel.
Recognizing the situation, the Cowboys have been doing their best to cut off some of the more accessible angles of blame since the end of last year’s campaign and lighten the load off of Romo’s psyche.
Romo has also been doing his own share of spring cleaning this offseason. After the team dumped his favorite (or least favorite, depending on the context) receiver in March, Romo dumped his favorite (or now least favorite) gal pal Jessica Simpson a couple of weeks ago, and appears to be distraction free walking into the 2009 campaign.
For all of Romo’s difficulties the past couple of seasons, the media has made it an objective to link the pro bowler’s struggles directly to Owens and/or Jessica Simpson by any means necessary, instead of placing the blame where it squarely belongs: the coaching staff.
In years past, the Cowboys have continued to make the mistake of trying to place the team solely on Romo’s shoulders instead of in the hands of a could be, would be and should be punishing ground game.
Not that Romo isn’t one of the upper echelon quarterbacks in the league, but trying to introduce a guy who just completed his second season as a full-time starter this past year as the focal point of the offense is just foolish on so many levels.
Especially considering the strongest facets of the Cowboys offense over the past few years have been a mammoth offensive line which excels at run blocking, and one of the most punishing backs in the league in Marion Barber who excels at running the ball.
But the offense was catered around the explosive Owens and the uber-talented Jason Witten, which is completely understandable, but not suitable for a very young quarterback in terms of starting experience.
With Owens making reality shows off in Buffalo and the promise of rising stars Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, Dallas is expected to relinquish some of Romo’s extensive duties this season and return to the winning formula of over a decade ago.
For all of the accolades that orbit around Cowboy greats Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, any lifelong Cowboy fan will tell you the last few Dallas Super Bowl teams were at their best when they enforced Emmitt Smith and a grind-it-out run game.
In the three seasons that culminated in Super Bowl victories for the Cowboys in the '92, '93, and '95 campaigns, the Cowboys passed for over 300 yards in only two games as a team, as opposed to the 14 times the ‘Boys have accomplished the feat since Romo’s insertion as a starter in the middle of the '06 season.
Although the ‘Boys have gone 12-2 in those games, the team hasn’t passed for over 300 yards in the month of December during that three-year stretch, even with Romo’s passing attempts remaining in the 30’s and 40’s. Which leads me to believe the coaches in Irving aren’t adjusting the game plans accordingly.
With the release of Owens and emergence of Jones and Choice, Dallas could be in line for a return to the pound-then-pass approach of the early 90’s.
The strategy certainly worked for division rival Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger’s first Super Bowl wins and even one of the most prolific passers in the league, Peyton Manning, saw his team run for 191 yards in the biggest game of his career.
So, while Fantasy Football owners and Romo might miss the gobs of touchdowns he’s thrown to Owens over the last few seasons, if Dallas really wants to get back to the promise land, maybe a little bit less is a little bit more.