State of the Dallas Cowboys: More Than a Tony Romo Problem

Rob MaccarielloCorrespondent IOctober 14, 2008

Honestly, Who Breaks Their Fifth Proximal Phalange?

As I opened my text message inbox, I saw the following line:

"Our season is finished."

For Patriots fans, the loss of reigning MVP and resident New England pretty boy, Tom Brady, was a crushing blow for a team that hoped to continue its streak of Super Bowl appearances (and usually wins) in the 2000s.

For the Dallas Cowboys, the individual impact of the loss of Tony Romo for up to four weeks—only three games due to the bye week—is not as devastating. After all, Tony Romo will come back this season.

The injury in question, a broken pinky finger, is one that should not chronically affect Romo down the road, unlike what Super Bowl quarterback, ESPN "analyst," and recent graduate of medical school Dr. Trent Dilfer says.

For the big picture, it's in the team's best interest for Romo to rest, rehab, and heal as best as he can, to return for a tough matchup at the Redskins in Week 11.

In the meantime, seasoned veteran and Super Bowl champion quarterback Brad Johnson takes over the starting role. How bad can it be?


From Touchdowns to Check Downs?

Ask the Minnesota Vikings. In 2005, Johnson took over the starting job after Daunte Culpepper tore every something-CL in his knee. While the team began the season 2-5, they finished 7-2 with Johnson at the helm and barely missed the playoffs.

Keep in mind this was done on a team that had less offensive weapons than the Iranian Basketball Team in the 2008 Olympics.

Johnson did have his share of deep plays, completing just as many deep ball plays over 40 yards as Peyton Manning—in seven fewer games—according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

But what did concern many Minnesota fans who were upset with Brad Childress' West Coast offense was the record-setting number of passes shorter than the first down marker on third down.

Johnson couldn't move the chains when he had to most, even against a relatively soft schedule, at the end of the 2005 season.

It's fair to say not many people expected a whole lot out of the 2005 Vikings after Culpepper went down. Especially in a division with Brett Favre when he was only 61 (as opposed to being 78 now) and the Bears were not far off from the Super Bowl.

For the Dallas Cowboys in recent years, the playoffs is a must, and a championship berth is always sexy.


Not Jessica Simpson's Fault

However, after losing two of the past three games, the injury to Romo may prove to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back. At least over the next three weeks.

Brad Johnson might provide a bit more stability to the Cowboys' offense over the next few weeks. Certainly the gameplan will include the running game more, which would add balance to the offensive attack, and provide dividends with Marion Barber and Felix Jones in the backfield.

Johnson is likely to protect the football better, as he has avoided Romo's recent experiment of washing his hands with Vaseline before each game.

But this protection of the football only extends as far as the offensive line can do their job, which as of this Sunday, quite frankly, was not at all.

Flozell Adams and company looked totally outmatched and were often beat by quick moves to the outside and blitzes by smaller, faster corners. Teams will undoubtedly dial up the blitz even more against a cold, backup quarterback, which only adds to the pressure this slumping O-line will see.

With Felix Jones now hurt due to a partially torn hamstring, Barber becomes the feature back. Teams can focus on the one-dimensional power running style of the Cowboys, without the versatile one-two punch of power and speed that Jones provides for his starting counterpart.

Barber is a Pro Bowl back in his own right, but he has never been asked to exclusively carry the load at any point in Dallas.

Terence Newman, easily the most overlooked player on the Cowboys roster, is out for an indefinite amount of time with a sports hernia. He is the Cowboys' best cover corner, punt returner, and playmaker on defense. 

Adam "Don't Call Me Pacman" Jones has speed and skill, but looked like he was playing against his big brother when trying to cover Larry Fitzgerald this past weekend. He has not returned punts as well as he has in the past, a problem that is made worse when Felix Jones, who also returns punts, is out. 

The Pacman might still also be suspended by Roger Goodell, or found in violation of his parole for his involvement in a scuffle with a security guard last week.

Reports are swirling that punter Mat McBriar broke his foot when attempting to punt Arizona special teamer Sean Morey in OT. Another Pro Bowler out for the Cowboys.

Even worse, the team seems to be craving some discipline and motivation from the coaching staff after some disparaging remarks from Patrick Crayton and veteran Greg Ellis. Wade Philips can dance for a big man, but disciplinarian he is not.


Silver Lining for the Silver and Blue?

With the increased pressure Brad Johnson will face, wide receivers may be left in single coverage. For Terrell Owens, this means money in the bank, and no feuding with Johnson. The success of this scenario, however, relies on the solid execution of the offense, which Dallas fans have not seen at 100 percent all season.

The good news for last Sunday was that all the NFC East teams lost, with the exception of the Eagles, who pulled to 3-3. The upcoming schedule isn't too appealing, with a divisional rival opponent on the horizon. The Cowboys play the St. Louis Rams, who surprised the Redskins this past week, the NFC South-leading Bucs, and the New York Giants, before finally arriving at a bye week.

By that time in Week 11, this team will have rallied around their first real obstacle in some time, or scared everyone off of their increasingly rickety bandwagon.


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