Cowboys Gameplan: A Retro-Romo Win
Long before our Dallas Cowboys buses rolled up to The Linc only to be greeted by Philly fans pelting us with beer bottles and eggs — and doing so with such long-distance accuracy as to assure Donovan McNabb was not among them — I developed a central FishTip for the Dallas-at-Eagles NFC East showdown:
The 2014 run-first Cowboys would not run first.
This was no insult to the accomplishments of DeMarco Murray. Consider: He entered Sunday night needing to average 131.3 yards over the final three games of the season to get to the golden 2,000-yard mark. And he needed only 168 yards to set the franchise record for a single season, surpassing Emmitt Smith’s 1995 mark of 1,773 yards.
But, I reasoned — and, in truth, I knew the Cowboys coaching staff reasoned — if those numbers piled up against the Eagles, it would happen as a sidebar to a change-up, a misdirection, a Retro-Romo gameplan.
Pass-first. Pass to set up the run. Break the predictability of the first-down run. It would, I noted, take Garrett Guts to do this, because it would've been the easiest second-guess ever if the head coach opted for this change and it backfired. Garrett Guts, too, because national reports notwithstanding, we did not enter the weekend with Jason guaranteed to get an extension and remain at the Cowboys helm into glorious eternity. The Joneses want that. But no one is guaranteed that, especially depending on if/how a fourth-straight season-ending collapse goes down.
For the record, Dallas 38, Philly 27 inches us all closer to lots of rewards, including Garrett, of whom owner Jerry Jones said after the game: "It's very obvious he's doing very well, and I'm very proud that his hard work is paying off. ... It is beyond my expectation when we started the year that we’re sitting here with the (10) wins.”
But here we sit, in large part because Garrett would need to trust his instincts ... and his instincts would be justified in being very trusting of a Tony Romo-based plan here.
Going into Sunday the well-rested and road-tested QB has, away from home this year, 15 TDs and just one interception and a QB rating of 125.0 - by far football’s best. On the season, he entered with a chance to become the first player in NFL history with six-plus games with a 135.0-plus QB rating in a year.
Romo was also on pace to have 15 games with a completion percentage over 60.0 this season, which would tie the NFL record and make him just the sixth quarterback in NFL history to accomplish that feat. And if you reflect back on this season, Dallas being quarterbacked for a full game by a healthy, rested Romo was 9-0.
That’s a lot of reasons to ride Romo.
Add to that the fact that 1) Philly’s front seven has become stout against the run, that 2) the Eagles would be expecting that run, that 3) their greatest vulnerability is in the secondary, that 4) the Eagles give up 20-yard completions like no other good team, that 5) Dallas’ O-line’s gifts translate nicely as pass-blockers and not just run-blockers and 6) that Dez Bryant was especially inspired by this month’s birth of his first daughter, Isabella Rose … Yes, "inspired'' even before the game started ...
And the Cowboys had every justification to attack the Eagles via the air. ... as this franchise did habitually in recent years when it arguably asked Romo to do too much.
But they did it here and it wasn't too much. Play-action on the very first snap. A 50-percent run/pass ratio on the initial six first-down plays of the game on the way to a 21-0 lead. Five different Dallas receivers with catches of 11 yards or more, featuring the savvy Jason Witten's seven grabs and the burning-with-desire Dez snaring TD catches of 4, 26 and 25 yards.
There are few things in football sweeter than the drawing up of a gameplan, followed by the execution of it, followed by a win because of it. It happened here in the biggest game of the season, and maybe the biggest win of the Garrett Era.
"Every game that you play, that’s the next game that is the biggest game,'' Romo said, smiling. "But when you’re playing for something like we were (Sunday) and knowing what the situation is, you try not to think about it, you just go play.''
Murray was not unimportant here; he carried 31 times and has two short-yardage TDs. But he totaled just 81 yards and just 2.6 yards per carry because, predictably, Philly stacked up to stop him. The Cowboys saw this coming ... and unleashed Romo for a 22-of-31 passing day, with 265 yards and the three scores with no picks. ... the engineering of a pass-first offense that still somehow dominated the Eagles on the clock with a 41:55-to-18:05 time-of-possession edge.
His road totals now: 18 TDs and one interception. Oh, and seven victories in seven tries. Is he turning it on late, as we turn into December, the month that has so often been the stage for Cowboys collapses? Yes; in Romo's last three road games, he's got 10 TDs, zero interceptions, a 73.5-percent completion number and a QB rating of 136.8. It's easy to argue that Romo is the NFL's best player on the road and its now inarguable that he joins DeMarco as a league MVP consideration.
"You win and (then) this team feels like we should win,'' Romo said of the club's surprising achievement, as the 10-4 Dallas Cowboys are still in the running for the top seed in the NFC. "That’s part of growth and part of just experience and having success. When we get in these games we feel really comfortable because you have multiple people that you can rely on to do their job consistently play in and play out. When you have that you have a chance to do good things.”
Multiple people. Multiple options. Good things. Retro things.