Why the Dallas Cowboys Fail in December—But Won't This Year

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Why the Dallas Cowboys Fail in December—But Won't This Year
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As the first December games of 2009 are played this weekend in the NFL, the media machine is cranked up in Dallas, where the Cowboys are trying to fight the demons of Decembers past.

It is well documented that the Cowboys have played at their worst in month of December, going 18-31 since 1997.

So why have the Cowboys played so poorly in the last month of the regular season?

 

Who's most responsible for the woes in December?

Most everyone wants to point the finger at quarterback Tony Romo, due to his dismal 5-8 career record in December.

Ed Werder of ESPN wants to blame the offensive line of the Cowboys , as Romo has been sacked twice as often once December starts.

I don't agree with either of those assessments.  While Romo has been careless at times, and the offensive line does struggle against good defenses that blitz often, both could be remedied by one man—offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.

After 11 games, teams have 600-700 plays on tape of the Cowboys offense.  By that time in the season, Garrett's playcalling is as predictable as Old Faithful.

This is a huge advantage to defensive coordinators, especially aggressive blitzing defenses with great secondaries.   They know when to blitz, and the cornerbacks and safeties know exactly what routes to expect from the Cowboys receivers.

And when they blitz, Garrett doesn't have an answer for it.   His lack of protection schemes has been exposed for the last three years.  This makes it look like the offensive line isn't blocking well, but in truth the players have no chance.

The Cowboys receivers are always running longer routes, with Romo taking long drops with no extra protection against the blitzing linebackers and safeties. 

That's why Romo is sacked more often and makes poorer decisions in December.  At some point in time, a quarterback has to try and make a play to give his team a chance to win. 

Garrett needs to create a pass protection scheme similar to the one used against the Eagles, and Romo needs to be careful with the ball, and let his receivers make plays.

 

Why will this December be different?

The Cowboys have yet another nasty schedule in the month of December, facing the New York Giants on the road, at home against the San Diego Chargers, in New Orleans  versus the Saints, and finishing it out in D.C. against the Washington Redskins

But this December will be different. 

The Cowboys defense will win some games for them this month, as it has a couple times already this year.  

After being embarrassed in the games against the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles in 2008, the defense was retooled in the offseason with role players such as Keith Brooking and George Sensabaugh.  The new faces have had a tremendous impact.

The Cowboys are ranked first in the NFC in scoring defense (16.5),  giving the offense a chance to win every game.

And yes, the Cowboys offense will rely more on the running game this December. 

While it didn't seem great at the time, the putrid offensive performance against the Packers—in which the Cowboys ran 11 times—was a blessing in disguise.

Garrett got an early reminder that he needs to run the ball, both to protect his quarterback and ultimately win games.

The combination of the Cowboys' running attack and shutdown defense will have the Cowboys winning—for a change—in December.

 

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