Romo Roundtable: What will it take for Cowboys to reach next level?
Now that we've gotten our gratuitous shot at T.O. and his chemistry-killing karma out of the way, let's delve into the question of whether Romo is just a successful conditioning program away from taking the Cowboys to the next level, as Garrett seemed to suggest recently. (Our working title: "Was Romo rebuilt in a day?'')
While the idea of a lighter Romo automatically translating into a better Romo late in the season sounds like a winning formula, my gut tells me that's over-simplifying the problem of Dallas's near-annual December swoons. To be sure, Romo's play has suffered late in each of his three seasons as the Cowboys' starter, but that's not the whole story of why Dallas is still seeking its first playoff win since the opening round of the 1996 postseason.
In the NFL, you're generally only as good as your starting quarterback. But to lay all the blame for the Cowboys' recent disintegrations on Romo's shoulders is to overlook quite a bit of team-wide failure.
Dallas' defense has melted down at key times -- see last season's galling 44-6 Week 17 loss at Philadelphia, which kept the Cowboys out of the playoffs and put in the Eagles. And the performance of Dallas coaches has been less than stellar, too, as the likes of
Improved conditioning might well help Romo end the season stronger than he has the past three years. But learning how to win in the clutch hasn't been solely the problem of the Cowboys' quarterback of late. It's a team game, and from owner
As for Garrett, he should look in the mirror if he wants to find one of the culprits in the Cowboys' late-season struggles. Some staff members have complained for years that his playcalling is too predictable in December and January. Don't know if that's true, but the fact that colleagues would make such a statement is reason for concern. Garrett's suggestion that Romo's problem is that he's "bottom-heavy" sounds a lot like a coach who is unprepared to consider more plausible explanations for the team's problems: that the QB appears to be psychologically fragile and the play-caller might be professionally stubborn.
Garrett observing that Romo appears a little "bottom heavy" says more about Garrett than Romo. A core component of coaches' guiding principles is to put their players in the best positions to succeed. How Garrett figures that adding to public pressure and scrutiny to a linchpin player, who's had too much of both already in his short career, puts Romo in an improved position for success is beyond mysterious. All he has done is load a round into the chambers of critics who already have more than sufficient ammunition primed for Romo.
Romo, in three seasons as the Dallas starter, has never posted a passer rating lower than 91 or been sacked more than 24 times, meaning he has pocket savvy and knows what to do with the extra time his innate athleticism buys him. And of the two, pocket presence is more important than mobility; see also:
Two other thoughts: First, an ignored issue in general for NFL athletes is whether or not many are in fact too well conditioned for too much of the year. It is one thing to keep a Stradivarius tuned up to concert pitch year round; it is quite another to keep muscles in that state of tension. So any elite athlete in recovery mode is not necessarily a bad thing.
And second, coaches are fond of reminding fans and media that this is April/May/June (pick a month) when minimizing an OTA nick, strain or sprain. If there is a conditioning issue, Garrett should stop reading a playbook and read a calendar.
Dallas' success will involve Romo intimately, but the tipping point for 2009 is not Romo, who has been a relative constant every season. No, the pivotal figure will be
Romo's biggest problem at this point is the perception, real or otherwise, that he does not take his craft as seriously or care as deeply about winning as the elite quarterbacks in the league like
It sounds simplistic, but the only way Romo is going to get the Cowboys to the next level is by actually doing it. He needs to play well in a tough spot in December or January and give Dallas the breakthrough win it has been craving. Many star players in the NFL and other professional leagues have had a tough time getting that career-altering victory. If he is able to claim his first meaningful late-season or postseason win, more should follow.
Romo's December meltdown last season had to do more with the schedule (at Pittsburgh, Giants, Baltimore, at Philadelphia) than his physical condition. And even during that murderous stretch, Romo had some good moments -- he led the Cowboys to a win over New York and mounted a furious comeback against Baltimore.
As always, the quarterback gets too much credit for victories and too much blame for losses. The Cowboys' inability to tackle in the final two weeks of the regular season was far more embarrassing than anything Romo did. And if the defense doesn't get back on track this season, nothing Romo does will make a difference.
Romo certainly has flaws -- he throws too many Favre-style passes off his back foot and doesn't hold on to the ball securely. He needs to get better in both areas. But he's still among the top seven quarterbacks in the NFL. Brady and Manning are the only two QBs definitely in a class above Romo. I'd give
Everyone is focusing too much on Romo as the man who has to lead Dallas to postseason success. This team needs more consistency and effort throughout the whole roster. That has to start with the coaching staff, which faces the real challenge this year -- making the talented Cowboys play up to their potential.