Why the Cowboys' Tashard Choice Had Success Against the Steelers

Chad HensleyCorrespondent IDecember 11, 2008

Last Sunday, Dallas Cowboys rookie Tashard Choice rushed for 88 yards on 23 carries and caught five passes for another 78 yards.  The 88 yards were the most given up this year by the top-rated Pittsburgh Steelers defense. Also, the 166 total yards is just 75 yards short of their average total yards allowed through week 15.

How did a rookie, making his first start, do this against the nasty Steelers defense at their house? 

Some say it was because the Steelers didn't have "tape" on Choice.  Are you kidding?

Others say it was because the Cowboys' offensive line was just better than Pittsburgh's front seven.  Again, that's just ridiculous.

The real answer?

Tony Romo.

Now how can a guy who threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in that same game also be the guy that had such a significant impact on Choice's night?

As much as rival fans lambast Romo week in and week out, there is a reason for it.  The guy is good.  The fans know it, and Dick LeBeau knows it.

LeBeau has 36 years of experience as a coach at some capacity in the NFL and has been a defensive coordinator since 1995, except for a short stint in which he was head coach for the Cincinnati Bengals.  In short, the guy knows what he is doing.

In Sunday's game, he decided to let Choice be the guy that beat him (for the record, I don't think it would have been any different with Barber).  Romo is the heart and soul of the Cowboys, and his aerial assault would have to be stopped if the Steelers were going to win the game. 

LeBeau dropped his elite linebackers a little more than usual and relied on his front four to get pressure. He wanted to see what the rookie Choice could do.  

In the first half it seemed to work.  Choice slipped numerous times on the rigid, slick surface of Heinz Field.  Romo threw two interceptions.

But if you watched closely, Dallas' offensive line was getting a slight push up front, without the normal constant help of their linebackers.  Tashard got at least two yards on most carries, rarely losing yardage—a little strange for a team with Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, who usually set up camp in their opponent's backfield (when Polamalu isn't back catching interceptions).

In the second half, LeBeau didn't make any adjustments.  That is when the Cowboys' offensive line began wearing on the Steelers' defensive line.  Choice made a few big runs, and all of a sudden Romo hit a few passes as the Steelers began to respect Choice. The holes became bigger with the balance of the offense, and the Steelers became softer. Choice was on his way to a career night, even if it was just his first game.

LeBeau's plan almost backfired until he was given a gift by Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.  With nine minutes to go in the fourth, Dallas had a 13-3 lead and momentum.  On 3rd-and-6, Garrett called a draw to Choice, and the rookie was taken down for a yard loss. 

The conservative call changed the dynamic of the game, as the resulting punt was returned to the Dallas 25-yard line. The Steelers cut the score to 13-6 with a field goal.

LeBeau smelled blood with Garrett's weak call.  He knew Garrett would let the defense dictate the play calling.  Choice was pounded at the line with a little more pressure up front on the next drive, and Garrett abandoned the run for Romo.  With a sack, an incompletion, and a punt, the Steelers had the ball again.

Steelers fans still coo their kids to sleep with this miracle finish.  Dallas fans still have nightmares.  But there are some positives for Dallas fans.

The one thing Dallas can be thankful for is they know they have a decent backup running back in Choice.  Regardless of why Choice was successful against the Steelers, the fact is he was successful. 

Defensive coordinators will now need to game plan for Choice, as opposed to "letting him beat them."  This should bode well for Romo, because a good running tandem between Barber and Choice may set up some big, play-action passes.  

Hopefully offensive coordinator Jason Garrett won't misuse this new weapon.