The easy part of Sunday's Cowboys vs. Titans watching experience was identifying what looked good. The run game, the blocking that led to that run game, the commitment to run even when that’s what the defense that shut down Jamaal Charles was expecting, and the defense spoiling the Titans offensive 3rd down conversion ratio – to name a few – were hard to miss and harder still to not get overly giddy about.
The hard part is stepping away for a moment from the bliss of victory and being honest and objective about where this team is still a work-in-progress.
For instance, Romo still doesn’t seem to be the Romo of old. His release seems slower. His balls don’t have the same zip. He threw several under thrown deep balls in-game one against the 49ers and the Cowboys didn't look deep at all in Sunday’s game against the Titans.
We would be remiss in our fan-ship not to recognize the Romo Houdini act may have made its final disappearance alla abra two back surgeries cadabra. You have to wonder – how much of the running game Sunday had to do with the game plan and how much it was to disguise Romo’s limitations going forward as the Quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys?
Granted, I think all can agree that was the game plan to go with, regardless of Romo’s health – the proof is in the pudding – but given this team’s tendency to ignore conventional wisdom throughout the last several years, it does make one wonder if there is more to this change in philosophy than what meets the eye.
If there is more to it than sound game planning, then opposing defenses will game plan to take our new-found adored run game away. It could simply be rust Romo needs to knock off, but nevertheless it is something worth watching. The Rams, armed with two games of film, will likely be the first to jump on that potential grenade and if they do, it will be crucial for Romo to blow up on them by connecting deep and as often as they test him. If he doesn’t, it’s going to be a long season for our beloved Cowboys.
The Titans offense helped the Cowboys win as much as they possibly could with dropped passes, penalties, lack of execution, missed opportunities and what looked to be a poor job at times of play calling and game management. Were the helmet on the other head, so-to-speak, the local/national media, blogs and fans abroad would be calling for Garrett’s immediate termination. Fortunately, for one week Garrett has a reprieve in that regard.
But he won’t be resting on his laurels either. The film does not lie, as they say, and prepared with that knowledge, Garrett will have several issues to address on a day where many players might be expecting a vacation in the film room, compared to last weeks comedy of errors.
The Titans failed miserably in capitalizing on the Cowboys issues/mistakes and ultimately succumbed to what the Cowboys collectively did well. Teams such as the Saints, Seahawks and Bears will not be nearly as forgiving and cleaning up the following issues will be critical to their future success:
- Pass protection – Beyond the question of whether Romo suffers from a long-term issue or just rust, several players upfront struggled to keep the pocket clean Sunday. Keeping Romo healthy is the most important thing to this organization – not just for this season, but for contractual reasons that extend well beyond this year. If Romo cannot continue to be an effective Romo, and Romo stubbornly refuses to say goodbye to that sweet good night, the Cowboys are on a serious cap-hook that will have far-reaching negative effects for years to come.
- Tight End coverage – Both Church and Wilcox struggle in coverage, especially against big Tight Ends. I honestly don’t see a fix to this given it is their size difference as compared to the giants they have faced that makes them a mismatch; nevertheless, much of the Cowboy’s success this year hinges on their ability to remove that option from the reliable list.
- Front four pressure – The overall defensive pressure was okay. But the defensive line needed a lot of help from their linebackers and secondary to help turn up that pressure. Otherwise, the Titans offensive line was stonewalling the Cowboys front four and giving Jake Locker too much time in the pocket. The Cowboys absolutely have to have the ability to send four and get pressure; the better QBs will pick the Cowboys secondary apart if the Cowboys blitz on every down. The blitz must remain a mystery, not a given; otherwise it will become useless the more film the Cowboys opposition has to study.
- Zone coverage – Fortunately, the Cowboys were not as apt to play zone against the Titans because Jake Locker is not the threat that Kaepernick can be to run. Having said that, the road to the Championship game will likely be guarded by QBs that can run and therefore, if the Cowboys have any post-season and beyond aspirations, they must correct their collective deficiency in zone coverage.
- Spread the wealth – There are only so many balls, I understand. Nevertheless, it is critical in the interest of tape teams will study in their preparations for the Cowboys that Romo not get locked on feeding Bryant, Murray and Witten. A concerted effort has to be made every week to ensure the ball touches every set of hands possible and, furthermore, that those hands get the most out of their prospective opportunities. The Cowboys need Lance Dunbar to realize his potential and stop being tentative in his cuts and decision-making.
These are just a few of the many issues Garrett and his staff will be working on correcting as the season progresses. Supplemented with game tape, Garrett will have a much longer list that includes specifics on technique for each player to work on and address.
Hopefully, youth will serve and the majority of the team will make adjustments accordingly. Nevertheless, as Jones so poignantly pointed out prior to the season beginning, these Cowboys have an uphill climb, made all the more steep if the aforementioned issues cannot be fixed quick, fast and in a hurry.