Tony Romo, not defense, the problem for Cowboys in season opener
All you heard about the Dallas Cowboys in the offseason was that their defense had a shot at being one of the worst in the history of the NFL, beset as it's been by a lethal combination of injuries, free agency losses, and Jerry Jones' draft failures. But in Dallas' 28-17 season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers, it wasn't the defense that was the real problem -- on that side of the ball, the 'Boys didn't look any worse than they did last season, though that wasn't very good at all. The problem was quarterback Tony Romo, who put forth one of his worst performances in a number of years.
Romo completed 23 of 37 passes for 281 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, all three of which were thrown in the first half. His abysmal start put the Cowboys in a 28-3 halftime hole, and there was little to be done after that. Romo threw for most of his yards in the second half, and his one touchdown -- a two-yarder to Terrance Williams -- came with less than two minutes left in the game. His longest pass of the day, a 58-yarder to receiver Dwayne Harris with 2:15 left in the third quarter, was actually a floater in the air that was misplayed by San Francisco's defense. Romo frequently threw into coverage situations he should not have, and though his receivers didn't always help him, it was on the quarterback to get it done, and he most decidedly did not.
"I was disappointed in the way I performed in the first half," Romo said after the game. "Obviously, I didn't ... it's not the way you want to play, and I thought our team played well enough to have a chance tonight. And any time you're going up against a good football team like that, you can't give them extra opportunities. The ball's the most important thing, and three plays can change the entire game, and that's what happened tonight."
It certainly did, because Dallas had opportunities that were taken away by those picks. 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis picked off one Romo pass in the end zone after Romo tried to throw on the run when he had been flushed out of the pocket and simply made a horrible decision. He threw one to safety Eric Reid that appeared to be a triple-coverage situation -- basically, half of the 49ers' back seven was converging around Romo's target, receiver Dez Bryant -- and Reid returned the ball to the Dallas one-yard line. And then, he threw a long bomb to Bryant that was easily picked off by cornerback Perrish Cox.
Put simply, a quarterback with Romo's experience level shouldn't be making those calls. You can blame game-planning, and there were some questionable decisions from the Cowboys' coaching staff. You can blame Romo's receivers, and there were certainly times when Romo's targets were way out of whack. On one play, Williams pushed off the defensive back covering him in the end zone, when doing so actually took him away from the ball. And having Bryant in and out with cramping issues certainly didn't help. But Romo, for better or worse, is a quarterback whose current contract is unmanageable and untradeable. The Cowboys have locked themselves into him for the foreseeable future, and as badly as their defense does project to play this season, Week 1 was also a stark reminder that as well as Romo can play at times, there are other times when he simply goes off the rails for no good reason.