Tony Romo’s escapade of proving that he can play in the cold went completely awry against Pittsburgh. Boasting no sleeves, he threw three interceptions, including the one brought back for a touchdown that was the difference in a 20-13 game.
But Romo won’t have to worry about that for another two weeks, as he’ll be playing in the comfort of Texas’s more tolerable weather until a week 17 trip into Philadelphia.
What he will have to worry about is the pressures of a playoff race and the pressure of Steve Spagnuola’s blitzing scheme as they simultaneously converge on him come Sunday night.
While I don’t live in the Texas area, the astounding amount of national games the Cowboys participated in this season has allowed fans everywhere to gauge the team; specifically the quarterback.
Even before his pinky injury, he wasn’t the same guy as the quarterback who shredded through the NFL. After the loss to Washington, there was a sense of desperation in his play. Gone were the frequent smiles and bombs that fell into the hands of Terrell Owens. In reality, Romo and the Cowboys were starting to fall apart before Romo was injured.
But he came back, and his smile came back with him. He played well enough to win against the Redskins in a crucial road match up, and posted 670 yards and six touchdowns in back-to-back wins against San Francisco and Seattle, respectively. Then he ran into Pittsburgh, and struggled mightily.
Despite missing three games with that injury, Romo still has racked 2700 yards and is tied for fifth in touchdown passes with 22. There’s no doubt he possesses the athletic ability to win games, but if the Giants defense plays him the right away I expect Big Blue to come away with an early Christmas present.
How do the Giants dictate Tony Romo as opposed to letting him take over the game? It all starts up front. In the first half of the 21-17 Giants victory over Dallas in the playoffs, they played fearful of Romo. They had a banged up secondary, and feared getting beat by the long ball. So they allowed him to methodically drive down the field, and he did so with success. With two extensive drives, Romo put 14 points on the scoreboard.
The Giants continued to play a conservative defense and Romo obliged at nickel-and-diming his way into the end zone. But on a third and long, Romo overshot a wide-open Owens. The result of the drive was a field goal; their last three points of the season.
So what did the Giants do differently in the fourth quarter that shut down a quarterback who was carving the Giants up? Nothing. Schematically that is. Their front four finally broke through The Great Wall Of Dallas and began to get in Romo’s face.
In a close game, with the season on the line, Romo became flustered. He began to hold on to the ball too long and take sacks. He was charged with an intentional grounding penalty. He started yelling at officials, his offensive linemen. It was clear the Giants had taken him out of his game with a four-man front.
Despite the fact it is mid-December and not mid-January, the magnitude of the game for Dallas is the same. If Romo is in a similar spot late in the game, who’s to say he wouldn’t get flustered like that again?
The problem is, the Giants don’t possess that four-man front. Mathias Kiwanuka is showing signs of wearing down in his first full season playing with one hand in the ground. Justin Tuck is playing injured. He’s shown up on the injury report twice in the last four weeks with a mysterious lower leg injury.
I’ve seen him get up slowly numerous times after plays since October, sometimes even stopping the game. He’s been sensational this season, but it’s clear he is wearing down.
Meanwhile on the interior, Fred Robbins is playing with two broken hands and a hurt shoulder. He will have a tough time busting through with those injuries. In a more favorable twist, the Cowboys appear to be down to their third-string guard.
The Giants have to surround Romo. They can’t just pressure him from the outside as he has the ability to slip out of a linemen’s grasp and launch a ball down the field. There has to be someone waiting for him when he steps up. If the interior linemen aren’t generating a rush, perhaps the Giants should commit to him by using a spy.
If the spy senses that Romo will be getting pressure from the outside, he will run right up the middle and finish the job.
Despite already clinching the division, every game is still important for the Giants. No one in that locker room wants to see Dallas in the post-season and the Hard Knocks cockiness from August is still fresh in many of the Giants’ players’ minds. If they want to wipe those smug grins off for good, they will do whatever it takes on Sunday night. And it all starts with stopping No. 9.