Democratic Cowboys Offense Realizing Potential Of "No T.O. Show"

Mike CarleyCorrespondent INovember 4, 2009

The surging Dallas Cowboys present an intriguing enigma for any writer wishing to chronicle their exploits during the month of November.

Any article tinged with optimism will be berated by a chorus of "Let's wait and see until December because Romo automatically implodes every year," which I think is a ridiculously premature statement to make given how early it is in Romo's career. But that's a conversation for another time.

Conversely, how can you not write an optimistic article about the Dallas Cowboys given their sterling, top-to-bottom breakout performances against the Falcons and the Seahawks?

Stumbling into a bye week a penalty-infused and undisciplined mess, Miles Austin, Tony Romo, and Wade Phillips have seemed to place this season firmly back on the tracks again. That's something I was sure would never happen as the overtime coin toss was going up four weeks ago in Kansas City.

There are many things to note over the last few games.

The defense is finally living up to the billing, giving up only 19 points per game over the last three and generating the sacks and turnovers most were expecting right out of the gate.

Patrick Crayton has just become the first Cowboy to return punts for touchdowns in back-to-back games since the Jurassic Period.

Flozell Adams has cut down on his penalties by 600 percent (leaving him at only 20 flags per game), and his increased focus is absolutely indicative of the overall increased sense of discipline that this team has shown since coming off its bye week.

However, one of the most notable stats that I'm sure anybody who has been within 30 miles of a T.V. showing NFL Live has heard is that Tony Romo, over the past three games, has thrown eight touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Not only is this three game stretch the longest Romo has gone in his career without throwing a pick, he's only thrown one interception in the last five games.

For the season, Romo has now thrown for 12 touchdowns vs. a paltry four interceptions. 

I'd also like to remind the audience that one of those interceptions was the off-Witten's-hand-and-heel-right-into-the-defender's-arms interception against the Giants in Week 2.  Take out that Ringling Brother's interception, and Romo has thrown four touchdowns for every one interception at the halfway point of the year.

Chalk a lot of that up to Romo's continued maturity, as his decision making and ball control have improved remarkably this year.

However, there is another, far more important factor that has the Cowboys offense finally humming like most thought it could.

Terrell Owens is no longer in a Cowboys uniform.

I was a huge T.O. fan in Dallas to the bitter end, but even I eventually came around to seeing the potential this offense could have without his pervasive bitterness constantly surrounding every aspect of the team.

Regardless of how talented T.O. is, he has by his own past behavior become a self-perpetuating media you-know-what-storm.

What I mean by that is that what T.O. actually says or does no longer matters to the mainstream media or the public due to all the negative karma he has built up for himself in the past.

Due to all that negative karma, the public will initially believe anything that ESPN or whoever chooses to report on him regardless of the actual truth.

Given the persistent and unrelenting demands of the 24/7 news media cycle, a story that will create a flurry of activity during a slow afternoon is all a major news website needs to bridge the gap between last night's events and the following night's competitions.

The fact that the public will initially believe any headline they read about T.O. has turned Owens into the ultimate media scapegoat (entirely his fault of course) that any reporter can take any fact or anonymous tip and twist it into a sensationalist story that may or may not be "cleared up" two to three hours later.

In the eyes of the media and public, T.O. is generally guilty until proven innocent, which will make any headline, no matter how far-fetched, eye-catching and interesting.

Does anybody know whether T.O. really spearheaded a secret meeting with Jason Garrett behind Romo and Witten's backs? No. Did everybody (including myself) blindly believe that was exactly what happened for two or three hours after the story broke? Absolutely. 

Did the veracity of the story have any bearing on the 3,000 questions per day every single member of the Cowboys had to answer on a daily basis regarding that "secret meeting?"  Absolutely not.

T.O., whether he does anything or not, will always create groundbreaking news because he has completely lost the benefit of the doubt in the eyes of the media and the public.

How does this rather obvious character flaw of Terrell Owens affect MacGyver Romo in 2009?  Because whether T.O. was actually demanding the ball behind the scenes or not, the only thing any Dallas Cowboy would be asked about in any game where T.O. didn't score six touchdowns was be "What do you need to do to get T.O. the ball more?"

This leads to one of two scenarios (or a combination of the two is more likely).

1.) Romo felt compelled to force the ball to T.O. for an inappropriate majority of the game so that he didn't have to deal with T.O. blowing up on the sidelines


2.) Romo felt compelled to force the ball to T.O. for an inappropriate majority of the game so that he could avoid the maelstrom of questions about T.O.'s attitude, T.O.'s productivity, and how they plan to get T.O. more involved in the next week.

These guys are all professionals who have worked mercilessly their entire lives to perfect their athletic craft and rise to become part of the top 0.5 percent of football players in the world. You can't tell me spending an entire season answering questions about a teammate won't eventually get grating.

For example, how did Pro Bowler Bradie James feel when he went out there, recorded 12 tackles and a sack, and the first (and maybe only) thing he would get asked about after the game would be the T.O. debacle?  Your telling me that lack of recognition on behalf of the media wouldn't eventually drive a pro mad, regardless of how T.O. was actually behaving?

With T.O. in Buffalo, where they have reverted to physically handing him the ball in order to get him in the end zone, this is the first season Romo has had to (gasp) take his drop and take what the defense gives him, and that fact alone has the Dallas offense humming.

Last week against Seattle, he completed a pass to 10 different receivers, and all three of his touchdown tosses were to different people.

The previous week against a tough Atlanta team, he completed a pass to eight different receivers.

Since the bye week, Romo and the Cowboys' offense have adopted a new, democratic style of play that was frankly impossible to implement with Terrell Owens hanging around. And the proof in how well that is working can be witnessed on the field the past two weeks.

Romo has no problem hitting the checkdowns if the defense is playing deep.  He has no problem taking a shot down field if the safeties are going to crowd the line against the run.

He has no reservations checking to a run play if that's what the defensive front dictates.


Because now, the only concern on Romo's mind is the quickest, most efficient way to get the ball from point A to point B, instead of worrying about the exact method with which the ball travelled there.

Football is truly like a game of chess, in that the only truly successful strategy is one that is tailored specifically to that of your opponents and specifically, your opponent's weaknesses.

The best strategy to accomplish that is one that is truly fluid, and not bound by any constraints like "Ok, we will take what the defense gives us, but only as long as the ball goes to Player X 45-50 percent of the time." 

Strategies that have aspects that coaches are unwilling to change will be figured out and stopped in a league like the NFL 10 times out of 10, which is why recognizing and making in-game adjustments are a trademark of the NFL's most prolific offenses and defenses.

Remember when Randy Moss was in his super-human Minnesota Viking days, and Mike Tice (I think it was Tice but feel free to correct me) implemented the "Randy Ratio," which was some ridiculous statement that at a minimum Randy Moss would touch the ball on 45  percent of the team's plays.

Randy Moss was literally unstoppable as a Viking (not saying he isn't now still, but a young Randy Moss was ridiculous).  If the talent of an individual player was more important than the strength and flexibility of a given game plan, then a strategy as gimmicky as "regardless of the circumstances we are forcing the ball to Randy Moss one-out-of-two plays" would have resulted in a 3,000 yard, 37 touchdown season from Moss.

Guess what?  It didn't.

The emergence of Miles Austin, the return of an entirely healthy backfield, and Demarcus Ware returning from his vacation the first four weeks of this season have helped return the Cowboys to form immensely as well.

But the fact remains that Tony Romo (and Jason Garrett) are now free to do what Romo has never been able to do before this season: take what the defense gives them.

I will absolutely admit that I am awaiting December with as much anticipation as any avid Cowboy hater, because, founded or not, the "Chokes in December" tag is one Romo needs to shake off with his play before it will ever go away.

However, one cannot ignore the radical efficiency that this offensive group (and frankly, the entire team) has been executing with since the bye week.

Now the Cowboys could all collectively lose their focus for a game or two again, which has been the Achilles Heel of the team for the past few years. And by no means am I eliminating that possibility.

But with a huge redemption match coming up against the Eagles on Sunday Night Football, it will quickly become apparent if the Cowboys have just had a nice little stretch of games, or if they are actually a contender that is here to stay.

My personal opinion?  Romo finally feels comfortable as the unquestioned head honcho of the offense and his new found ability to simply take what the defense gives him will allow him to ultimately demonstrate that he belongs as an elite quarterback in this league. 

But, hey, I'll absolutely wait and see.

Don't want to force it, ya know?


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