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Romo, Garrett must reassess approach during bye

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Posted Oct. 03, 2011 @ 4:13 p.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

After a colossal loss such as the Cowboys' 24-point meltdown, there is a predictable chorus: Who is to blame? It's natural; our instinct is to pinpoint responsibility on one source, as if a football game is a unilateral process. It's not, and the Cowboys' problems Sunday were myriad. Certainly, it's easy to start with QB Tony Romo and his three second-half interceptions (which led immediately to 14 points via two pick-sixes). But instead of placing blame, the Cowboys need to assess how they draw up their game plans altogether in order to salvage the season.

The PFW Spin

The hardest teams to evaluate are those that are the most unpredictable. The Cowboys are 2-2 as they hit their bye week, but they easily could be 0-4 or 4-0. Their collapses against the Jets and Lions showed some first-half dominance just as their victories over the 49ers and Redskins displayed a team that appeared fragile and vulnerable in the first 30 minutes but gutsy and clutch late.

And therein lies one myth we must dispel: It's not that Romo isn't clutch; it's that he is just so wildly chaotic — incredibly good and head-shakingly bad — in late-game situations, that the Cowboys must readdress the way they draw up their game designs.

This falls on Jason Garrett, whose nature is to be aggressive. You have to like that in a youngish coach, as he wants to step on the neck of the opponent. It's a pressure league, and there is a place for being aggressive. Most cities' fans are crying for it every week.

But Garrett has to know when to put the ball in the hands of his defense and running game. With a young offensive line and a banged-up WR corps, asking the offense to continue throwing deep in the second half is questionable at best. Plus, as we've said, Romo is not trustworthy enough. Just because he's lights out in the first half does't mean he is going to continue being that way in the second, and (as the two victories have shown) the reverse is true.

The coaches have to manage this better. All they need do is look at the Bears last season. Their offensive coordinator, Mike Martz, was falling in love with throwing the ball. The Bears lost three of the four games heading into the bye week and were out of whack offensively. It took the bye to get head coach Lovie Smith to convince Martz that running the ball more was the right thing to do.

The Cowboys might not have a true four-minute-offense back, but they have a nice group of runners who can combine to carry the ball 20 times in a half. Felix Jones is improving as an all-around back, Tashard Choice can handle a few carries and rookie DeMarco Murray is just waiting for his chance. And this doesn't mean they have to scrap the pass; just run safer, smarter plays, your highest-percentage pass routes in the second half.

Sometimes getting Romo in a rhythm early artificially raises his confidence. So Garrett must be willing to tear up the script and play games more by ear and feel. If Romo is hot early, get as much out of him and then put it into cruise-control mode; if he struggles early, letting Romo work his way through his problems actually might lead to better results and give the Cowboys a chance to come back and win.

It's a bit backward of a way to think, but the Cowboys have to find an offensive solution that gives them a little more balance. They can't sustain these high highs and low lows every week or they will burn themselves out by November. Newsflash: The NFC East is down this season — it lacks an elite team — and the division very much can be theirs.

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