Cowboys Review, Game Grades: Offense

So easy, they could do it with their eyes closed. Tony Romo and the Cowboys got their 2014 December off to a strong start, dominating the Bears for the majority of the game.

Revenge is a dish best served cold…

Just not as cold as it was when the inspiration to seek said revenge was earned. Dallas returned to the scene of one of their more embarrassing losses in recent years, a 45-28 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field late last season. The temperatures were in the single digits, and the wind chill was below zero as Dallas was overmatched and thumped much worse than the final score indicated. On Thursday night, the Cowboys returned the favor, racing out to a 35-7 lead before the third quarter came to a close. The final score, 41-28, was due to a late rally by the Bears, but they never got to within one score.

Dallas improved to 9-4 on the season, and temporarily moved into fifth place in the NFC, pending the results of the weekend’s contests. (Fifth wouldn't hold up, of course. But as we sit here on Monday, destiny is still controlled by Dallas.) The Cowboys have secured their first above .500 season since 2009, guaranteeing they won’t finish with eight wins for the fourth consecutive season. The Bears dropped to 5-8.

To do so, they relied on the same formula that resulted in most of their previous eight wins; a bludgeoning running game weaved through massive holes created by the offensive line, and precise passing by the hands of Tony Romo. Romo finished the game with just 205 yards passing, but his three touchdowns and the team’s 194 rushing yards with another two scores meant that passing yards weren’t necessary to secure the victory.

In fact, Dallas didn’t pass for a single yard after a 9-yard dumpoff to Murray with 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter. They only attempted one more pass the entire game. Many fans on social media were clamoring for the Cowboys to rest both Romo and Murray after they built such a dominating lead, but sure enough the Cowboys defense proved why Head Coach Jason Garrett kept the first team in the game, even with going to a conservative approach.

Chicago was able to chop into the lead, and keep chopping, even without star wideout Brandon Marshall who left the game after a knee to the back by safety Barry Chuch. The Bears offense hummed along thanks to a career game from former Cowboy Martellus Bennett and budding superstar wideout Alshon Jeffery. Still, the Cowboys were able to leave Illinois with a double-digit road win, moving their traveling show to 6-0 on the season. For that, the Cowboys earn high marks on the season. Specifically for this game, here’s how the offensive phases of the game stack up.

Before Dallas flipped the kill switch on their passing offense, Romo was putting up Pro Bowl numbers. He completed 80.7 percent of his passes (21 of 26). He had a 138.0 passer rating on his way to three touchdown passes. He was only sacked once on the game, for only a two yard loss and didn’t throw an interception. He didn’t even throw any “should-have-been” interceptions that were dropped by the Bears.

Cole Beasley caught two scores on the night, while Gavin Escobar raised his touchdown percentage to a ridiculous 44% of his catches (4 TDs on 9 receptions). Dez Bryant sounded off about the lack of aggression down the stretch, but still turned in a 82-yard performance. Here’s Dallas' play-by-play on third down passing attempts:

QTRPlay
13-2-DAL 38 (13:41) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short left to D.Bryant to DAL 42 for 4 yards (K.Fuller)
13-4-DAL 37 (3:28) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass incomplete short middle to J.Witten
23-6-CHI 6 (11:40) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short left to C.Beasley to CHI 1 for 5 yards (C.Jones).
23-5-DAL 33 (4:49) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short left to D.Bryant to DAL 40 for 7 yards (K.Fuller).
23-3-DAL 47 (2:28) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short middle to D.Murray to CHI 48 for 5 yards (J.Bostic).
23-15-DAL 47 (1:14) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep middle to J.Witten to CHI 34 for 19 yards (C.Jones; J.Bostic)
23-2-CHI 26 (:35) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short right to J.Witten to CHI 19 for 7 yards (J.Bostic).
33-3-CHI 24 (12:41) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep right to C.Beasley for 24 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
33-3-CHI 6 (8:08) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short middle to G.Escobar for 6 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Nine opportunities, eight completions, seven conversions including two touchdowns and a third and 15 conversion. That’s dealing. All while dealing with his back issues and newly revealed broken rib situation.

So why not an A+ grade? Because Tony Romo can’t throw the ball deep. While Linehan called a masterful game within the limitations of this fact ... it’s not sustainable. The Bears defense is horrible, and a better defense will be able to press down against an offense that cannot complete a pass that threatens the top of the defense. The two biggest plays in the passing game were the 43 yard pass to Dez Bryant, and the 24 yard touchdown pass to Cole Beasley.

The Beasley touchdown was a lofted pass, high-arching that dropped perfectly into the waiting arms of the diminutive target. This is by no means a bad play, but it served as one of only two “deep” completions on a day where the Bears defense posed absolutely no threat.

On Bryant’s bomb, Dez had cleared CB Kyle Fuller by a full five yards at one point. The trajectory and under-throw on the ball brought Dez towards the middle of the field and into the waiting safety, so there was no yards after the catch and no touchdown. A leading pass and Bryant scores with ease. The lack of arm strength, or deep accuracy, was apparent, even on Romo’s biggest completion of the day.

Missing was Terrance Williams, who has been overlooked by Romo the past few weeks and received zero targets last night. It's been discussed whether Romo froze Williams out after giving no effort to break up a pass that turned into an interception. The problem was, there were more than a few plays where Romo didn't look at a ridiculously wide open Williams. That can't happen; if he's being thrown shade, don't put him on the field. It probably isn't likely to be as much as it can be made out to be. However, missed opportunities are just that and against a more game foe, could be costly. It’s probably nit-picking, but against a better defense, not being able to complete deep balls could be a serious issue for the offense that has to lead the way each week. Hopefully for the Cowboys, Romo’s injuries that are limiting him heal up over the 10-day reprieve from action in order to be full-go for the Philadelphia rematch.

While there was a smidge to be concerned about in the passing game, the same can’t be said for the running game. The offensive line recovered from their below-average performance against the Eagles to dominant the Bears defense, who seemed disinterested in “that work” as the game wore on. Dallas kept pounding the football with DeMarco Murray throughout the first half, gaining only 65 yards but doing so on 16 carries. Once the second half kicked off after the long break, the Bears D-Line was not ready to continue to be leaned on by the line and slammed into by Murray.

The holes that the were opened up for Murray were huge, and after a slightly rough start of stutter-stepping and east-west shifts, Murray reverted to one-cut and attack runs that turned into huge gains.

The Cowboys had runs of 40 yards, 27 yards, 26 yards and a 17-yard touchdown (by Joseph Randle), all in the second half. The team totaled 194 yards on the ground, and that was including a bone-headed decision by Murray that ended up costing Dallas 14 yards. The run game was everything Dallas could have asked for; even if they are shying away from including Randle and Lance Dunbar in their plans (for now).

The star on the O-line would have to be center Travis Frederick. 131 of the Cowboys yards came on A-gap runs, according to Pro Football Focus.

Coming up, CowboysHQ will be back with grades on the Cowboys defense, as well as the coaching and the special teams performances. We will also be live inside Valley Ranch as the team -- and our staff -- prepare for a trip to Philly ... for, hopefully, more revenge.


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