Romo's Injury Puts Spotlight on Backfield's Two-Headed Monster

Devon JeffreysContributor IOctober 13, 2008

For Dallas Cowboys fans, it was painful enough to watch as a triumphant comeback was deflated quickly in overtime. So quickly in fact there wasn't much time to think before it all came unraveled.

In Dallas, Monday morning is, as much as it is in any other place, a time for Monday Morning Quarterbacking, analyzing a loss and how to change things for the week ahead. But before most of the criticizers even got a chance to snooze their alarm clocks, Sunday's biggest loss was no longer a 30-24 upset at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals.

And suddenly the only Monday morning quarterback in Dallas is Brad Johnson.

There's no painting a beautiful picture here. Brad Johnson is no Tony Romo. And he's also not the same quarterback that led the Bucs to a Super Bowl Championship.

What Johnson is, at the age of 40, is a ball control quarterback. Don't expect Miles Austin sprinting down the sideline for an 80-yard touchdown toss…unless of course Austin is doing much of the running with the ball in his hands.

What can be expected are many more dump-offs to Marion Barber, something he proved late Sunday that he could turn into a big play. Barber caught 11 balls on Sunday for 128 yards, and they were mostly on check downs. Now, Barber will become a primary target on every down.

Barber is going to be crucial to the Dallas success or failure over the next four weeks. The pressure is on for Barber who didn't have much big play success against Arizona before breaking a check down pass for 70 yards. Now the onus is on Barber to do what he's famous for, making something out of nothing.

Previously all the Cowboys needed out of their running attack was a complement to their potent air attack. Anything more was gravy. But now, Johnson will be feeling heavy pressure and without a Romo caliber arm to bail him out.

Not only will the running game be relied on to make big plays. They'll also be relied on to cloud opposing defensive judgments so that Johnson isn't feeling constant blitz pressure.

It remains to be seen who will join Barber in the backfield this week after Felix Jones missed the fourth quarter of the loss with a strained hamstring. If it is Jones, then the screen pass will quickly become the Cowboys' soup du jour. If Jones can't play against St. Louis then the duty will fall to fourth round pick Tashard Choice who did a lot of impressing in training camp. What he can do in a real game with such big implications remains to be seen.

It seems probable that the Cowboys can handle the Rams. St. Louis has allowed eight rushing touchdowns in five games and allowed Cowboys castoff Julius Jones to run all over them for 140 yards just a few weeks back. But Jim Haslett has the Rams drinking some kind of Kool-Aid, so the win is far from a sure thing.

Following their trip to St. Louis, the Cowboys return home to host a defensively stacked Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that is ranked tenth in the league in rush defense. The Bucs game looked like a grind it out game from the get-go, but without Romo, Dallas will be forced to rely on their ground gainers to try to slash through a tough Bucs' D.

If he's back, this game may be Felix Jones' time to shine. The Bucs can be expected to plan for Barber, but Jones is a wild-card and defenses haven't gotten a good enough look at him. His play will make or break that game.

As for the Giants game. I won't believe Romo misses that game until game time. He's undefeated at Giants Stadium and the game will have serious implications for the rest of Dallas's season.

Until Romo makes it back, though, it's on Barber and, to a lesser extent, Jones to keep Big D from going under.