The Cowboys beat the Dolphins in Miami in Week 11 and are now just two games out of first in the NFC East despite losing Tony Romo for seven games. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are in the midst of yet another lost season that started out with so much promise. The two starting quarterbacks from this game are the subject of this week’s Fact or Fiction.
Fact: Tony Romo can lead you to a fantasy championship
All of the following statements are true: The Cowboys entered their matchup with the Dolphins at 2–7, riding a seven-game losing streak. The Cowboys were, and still are, alive in the NFC East race. The Cowboys, as currently constructed, are the most dangerous team in the NFC East. Romo, who made his first start since breaking his collarbone way back in Week 2, can lead this team on the run it needs to pull off an improbable division championship. He can do the same for his fantasy owners.
His numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, but the difference in the effectiveness of Dallas’s offense was apparent right from the opening kickoff. Romo ended up going 18 of 28 for 227 yards, 8.11 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He missed a few throws that he completes nine times out of 10, a sign that he was rusty after two months on the shelf. He also legitimized an offense that had been moribund and leaderless for more than half of the season.
The Cowboys ran 68 plays and held the ball for 38 minutes and 50 seconds in their first win since September. They ran more plays than that in just two of the games Romo missed (69 in Week 7 against the Giants, 71 in Week 9 against the Eagles), and they never reached that same time of possession with Romo on the sidelines. Darren McFadden ran for 129 yards on 29 carries, and the Cowboys netted 166 rushing yards. They had more net rushing yards just once without Romo.
What’s more, they got better and better as the game progressed. Their final three drives showed a mastery of late-game execution. With the game tied and about five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Romo led the Cowboys on an eight-play, 90-yard drive, capped off by a 16-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant. They converted a short field into three points to build a two-score lead, then milked five minutes and 25 seconds of clock on a 12-play, 54-yard drive. When they gave the ball back to the Dolphins with just 1:04 remaining in the game, the win was well in hand.
To reiterate, Romo was far from his best. It was clear that he was getting himself reacquainted with actually being on the field, and it showed in some of his throws. At the same time, he uncorked a few classic Romo plays, most notably on the two touchdowns. That’s the Romo who could end up being a fantasy star in the final six weeks of the season.
Let’s take a look at the first touchdown pass, a 31-yard strike to Terrance Williams. The play came exactly five throws after Romo’s first interception of the day. The Cowboys held a 7–0 lead at the time and faced a third-and-10, likely assured of getting at least three points thanks to the range and accuracy of kicker Dan Bailey. They came out in shotgun with three receivers to Romo’s right and one, Bryant, to his left. Here’s the look of the formation at the snap.
Romo holds the high safety to Bryant’s side by looking left the entire time. The Dolphins, and probably everyone watching the game, believed Romo would take a shot at Bryant. He was more than happy to play into that thought before turning his gaze to the right and firing a perfect pass to Williams, who did an impressive job of beating the other safety to the ball.
What makes this such a classic Romo play? While his line did a good job of giving him enough time to allow the routes to develop, the pocket that he had to step into was still relatively tight. He stepped right up and delivered the throw on time and on the money.
Romo’s second touchdown was also out of a shotgun formation with three receivers to the right. This time, however, Jason Witten was lined up as a traditional tight end to the left of the formation, and Bryant was in the slot, the receiver closest to the line.
This is another triumph for the line, giving Romo plenty of time to go through his progressions. His first read is Witten, who’s running an out about 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, but linebacker help underneath the route forced Romo to his second read. That’s where he saw Bryant streaking across the formation, having beat the double coverage the Dolphins sent his way. It still took a good throw from Romo to cash in on the opportunity. Bryant was running away from him, meaning he’d have to lead him to the corner of the end zone, dropping the ball in over the corner and in front of the safety. As we all know, this isn’t the first time Romo has had to make this throw.
It wasn’t all good for Romo on Sunday. He threw two picks, one of which was particularly terrible. Still, he made most of the throws you’d expect him to make in a normal game, let alone one that was his first start in two months. The Cowboys’ remaining schedule in the fantasy season, playoffs included, includes Carolina, Washington, Green Bay, the Jets and Buffalo. That isn’t necessarily the most pass-friendly schedule, but Romo doesn’t need any favors on the other side of the ball. He’s more than capable of being a QB1 for the remainder of the year.
Fiction: Ryan Tannehill can be trusted
While Tony Romo is trending in the right direction, his Week 11 counterpart Ryan Tannehill should find himself on most waiver wires with bye weeks now over. If 2014 was the season in which Tannehill laid the seeds that were supposed to sprout into a breakout, 2015 was supposed to be the harvest. Instead, he has regressed, losing ground in completion percentage, touchdown/interception ratio and quarterback rating. At this point, he can be cast aside in most one-QB formats.
Tannehill completed just more than 50% of his passes for 188 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the loss to the Cowboys in Week 11. He managed to rack up an impressive 7.83 YPA, but he left multiple plays on the field. This is the issue with Tannehill. It seems like every time he has taken a step forward this year, such as his four-touchdown game against the Texans last month, he takes two steps back: He threw a pair of interceptions and zero touchdowns over the next two games, both Dolphins losses.
Let’s watch one play where Tannehill could have done better and dramatically changed the outcome of the game, while also boosting the prospects of his fantasy owners. Miami moved the ball to midfield on its second possession of the game but faced a third-and-five at the 50. The game was still scoreless, but the Dolphins were one conversion away from getting back in striking range after advancing to the Dallas 44-yard line on their first drive. Tannehill set up in shotgun with three receivers bunched to the left and one on the right.
Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills switch right off the line, and that helps Landry beat Brandon Carr for what will be a walk-in touchdown if Tannehill delivers a good throw. Dallas gets a tiny bit of pressure right up the middle, but nothing that should really keep Tannehill from hitting Landry in stride. Unfortunately, Tannehill never sets his feet and throws the ball while fading ever so slightly toward his own end zone. As a result, the pass is short, and Carr is able to jar it loose from Landry’s grasp.
This should be a touchdown. At the very least, it should give the Dolphins a first down in, or just barely outside, the red zone, and Landry is somewhat culpable for failing to secure the ball all the way to the ground. Still, this is on Tannehill, and the Dolphins end up punting from midfield.
Compare that with the following throw later in the first half. It’s from a similar spot on the field and Tannehill is again in shotgun. This time, the Dolphins are trailing 14–0, and the backfield is completely empty with two receivers to the right and three to the left.
Keep your eye on the top of the screen, where Tannehill will end up going with this pass. It is again to Landry, and the results of this one are a whole lot better. It’s a much tighter window, but Tannehill drops it in perfectly. Byron Jones is right on Landry, so he’s able to take him down before he hits pay dirt, but not before the Dolphins have picked up 47 yards and entered the red zone.
What’s the point of showing this play? To illustrate that Tannehill clearly has the ability within him to challenge defenses down the field. He stays composed in the pocket and puts a beautiful ball right into Landry’s arms. Still, the fact remains that he has struggled far too often on deep passes. According to Pro Football Focus, Tannehill’s accuracy rate—completions plus drops divided by attempts—on passes that have traveled at least 20 yards downfield is 36.2%. That ranks 25th among the 32 quarterbacks who have been primary starters this season. League average is 40.7%, which makes Tannehill 11.1% worse than the average. Can he do better? Yes. Will he do enough that fantasy owners should trust him down the stretch? It’s doubtful.