Tony Romo's Historic Performance in San Francisco and Other Cowboys Week 2 Notes

Jonathan BalesAnalyst ISeptember 20, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys throws a pass against the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game at Candlestick Park on September 18, 2011 in San Francisco, California. The Cowboys won the game in overtime 27-24. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Unlike most media outlets, I try to refrain from loading headlines with extraordinary or misleading statements in an effort to simply attract visitors.  Thus, when I write “Legendary Romo Performance,” I mean it.  Tony Romo not only broke a rib in Sunday’s thrilling win over the San Francisco 49ers, but he also punctured a lung.  While the injury creates a bit more uncertainty regarding his status for the Cowboys’ Week 3 contest against Washington, the fact that Romo led Dallas back from a 10-point deficit, on the road, with just over seven minutes to play. . .AND did it all with a broken rib and punctured lung. . .has to sit well with his teammates.   The quarterback who many describe as lacking elite ability in clutch situations (despite a career fourth quarter passer rating of 100.0 entering the game–best of any quarterback in NFL history) showed he can and will do everything in his power to will his team to victory.  Incredibly gutty and impressive performance by Romo.

  • Can you imagine what Joe Cowboys Fan would have been saying had Romo not come back into the game but Jon Kitna led them to a win?   Make no mistake about it. . .Kitna is one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league, but the idea that he is in any way comparable to Romo is a joke.
  • Even before injuring his shoulder (which will put his status for Week 3 in doubt), Felix Jones did not look great.   He appeared slower than usual and tentative to hit the hole.   It was a really disappointing performance from Jones, but let’s hope he bounces back from his separated shoulder.   His value is greater than ever with Miles Austin out until perhaps after the Cowboys’ Week 5 bye.
  • And how about Austin?  Take a look at his numbers from the first five games of 2010 before Romo went down:  33 receptions for 486 yards–numbers which put him on pace for receptions for 106 receptions for 1,555 yards.   Even with Dez Bryant emerging as one of the top young pass-catchers in the league, Austin is the 1A of the 1A/1B designation between the two.   He’s so electric after the catch, and Jason Garrett’s willingness to put him in the backfield at times, despite receiving harsh criticism, is justified.
  • Did you notice Phillip Tanner saw some snaps?   The young back played some fullback, lead blocking quite well, in my opinion.   He didn’t give any knockout shots (which isn’t to be expected), but he used really intelligent body position to create running lanes for Jones.
  • Bill Nagy looked poor last week, and Derrick Dockery wasn’t much better this week.   He was okay in the run game, but struggled in pass protection and, as you probably noticed, picked up two bad false start penalties.   Left guard is obviously the week spot on the offensive line.
  • Phil Costa will be out a few weeks with a knee.   This is exactly why I thought it was a mistake to cut Andre Gurode.   I’ll take Gurode and his somewhat hefty salary over Kevin Kowalski all day.   With Kowalski and Dockery next to each other, Romo probably won’t see much of a pocket for awhile.
  • Jesse Holley, Jesse Holley, Jesse Holley.   We could all see he was improving as a receiver during the preseason, but who knew he would be the primary target on the biggest play of the game?   Hell of a play-call by Garrett to fool the 49ers, too.   He dialed up max protection and had Holley jog out as if he was going to block, then take off down the field.
  • Holley’s main contributions will still be on special teams–an area of the game to which Sean Lee should not contribute anymore.   I realize special teams is important and after you take out quarterbacks, star players, veterans, etc. there aren’t a ton of options left, but Lee is too important to the defense to risk injury covering kicks.   He’s doing an awesome job at it, but he’s doing an even “awesomer” job at linebacker.
  • Doug Free played poorly this week.   He was continuously beat in pass protection, displaying poor feet and losing his leverage.  He got Romo killed a bunch of times, including a few when the quarterback had no idea he was about to get hit.   Rookie Aldon Smith even abused Free at times.   Free should respond well, but the challenge won’t get any easier on Monday night versus Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
  • Jason Witten may win the award for Most-Awkward-Run-After-Catch-Player-Ever, but he sure is an incredible football player.   He’s one of the top blocking tight ends in the league and uses a combination of intelligence and positioning to overcome a lack of elite athleticism as a pass-catcher.   He’s the prototype for why you select great football players over great athletes (assuming the two are exclusive properties).
  • As in Week 1, DeMarcus Ware was DeMarcus Ware.
  • Jason Hatcher really ramped up his play this week.   In addition to getting to Alex Smith, Hatcher was a force against the run.   Rob Ryan’s scheme is undoubtedly a big part of Hatcher’s success thus far, but Hatcher also looks quicker and more aggressive.
  • I haven’t seen the sort of progress from Victor Butler for which I was hoping.   He hasn’t received a great deal of snaps, but his name hasn’t been called much.  Anthony Spencer is playing extremely well against the run right now, so Butler will really need to step it up to push for snaps.   I think it’s just a matter of time before the youngster makes a play.
  • Despite recording an interception, Alan Ball was horrendous.   He got picked on incessantly in the first half, yielding completion after completion on critical third downs.   He eventually got replaced by recently-signed Frank Walker, but Ball was atrocious on Sunday.   The Cowboys desperately need Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick to return.
  • After missing from 21 yards, Dan Bailey redeemed himself with a long game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime, plus the eventual game-winner.   We’ll have to see how this one plays out.   David Buehler, on the other hand, is making a case that he should be released.   He shanked two kickoffs on Sunday.   He’s a kickoff specialist, and he has one job: put the ball through the end zone.   If that doesn’t happen regularly, he needs to go.
  • In my preview of the game, I argued the Cowboys should focus on limiting big plays from Frank Gore and Braylon Edwards.  Edwards got injured early and the ‘Boys did a really impressive job of limiting Gore on the ground.  He ran the ball 20 times for just 47 yards.
  • It was obvious Garrett and Romo made a big effort to make sure the ball got snapped with more time left on the play clock.  It didn’t hinder the Niners’ pass rush too much, but it will be important for the offense to continue that trend as the season progresses.
  • If you have time, check out this analysis from Advanced NFL Stats regarding Jim Harbaugh’s decision to decline a 15-yard penalty on the Cowboys on a 4th-and-1 field goal attempt (in favor of retaining the three points from the successful field goal).  The penalty would have given the 49ers a first down at the Cowboys’ 22-yard line and, given the score and game situation, a 91% chance of winning the game.  Declining the penalty provided the Niners with a 90% chance of winning, so the call was really a toss up.
  • Of course, the real mistake from Harbaugh came when he decided to attempt a 55-yard field goal in the first place.  Let’s do some math.  The chance of a kicker converting on a 55-yard field goal attempt is 50%. . .to be conservative, let’s say David Akers, as an above average kicker, has a 60% chance of converting.  The expected points of such a scenario is 1.8 (3 x 0.6).  Meanwhile, the expected points for an average offense who has a first down at the opponent’s 22-yard line is 4.61.  Let’s say the 49ers’ actual EP from that area is only 4.0 (since they have a below average offense).  The chance of converting on the 4th-and-1 play is historically 75%, but we’ll assume it is only 65% for San Fran (again, a very conservative estimate).  Even using those numbers, the overall expected points in the ‘go-for-it’ scenario is 2.6 (4 x 0.65).  At best, the Niners “lost” 0.8 points by attempting a 55-yard field goal on 4th-and-1.

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