Big Trouble in Big D? Are the Cowboys’ struggles exaggerated?

Four weeks into the 2011 NFL season and the Dallas Cowboys have blown two double-digit fourth quarter leads. Quarterback Tony Romo has faltered under pressure, something he’s been known to do in the past and has thrown four critical interceptions in games against the Jets and Lions to derail his teams chances at winning. For Cowboys fans, it’s more of the same as Romo has garnered a reputation for wilting under pressure and despite his impressive statistics and many broken franchise records, most fans are saying it’s time to move on from the inconsistent QB.

The problem though, is that it isn’t time. Not even close.

The Dallas Cowboys currently boast a 2-2 record, a record that by all means should be 4-0. But the reason that they should be 4-0 is the same exact reason they’re at .500, Tony Romo. When Romo is on point, it’s hard to argue that he is among the best gunslingers in the league. Since taking over the Cowboys in 2006, he’s led them to two division titles in the ultra-competitive NFC East and led the Cowboys to their first playoff victory since 1996 in the 2009 playoffs. Romo holds the single season franchise record for Cowboys QB’s in touchdown passes (36), passing yards (4,483), and completions (347).

However many, including Cowboys fans themselves, consider him to be a subpar competitor that chokes late in the season and lacks the mentality to lead his team to post-season success. In fact, I’d go as far as to call Tony Romo the most criticised franchise quarterback in the history of the NFL. It didn’t help matters last season when Romo led his team to 1-4 start before being lost for the entire season during a Monday night game with the division rival New York Giants.

Backup Jon Kitna took Romo’s place and lost his first two starts, including a humiliating beatdown at the hands of eventual Super Bowl Champion’s the Green Bay Packers before the Cowboys made the move to replace Head Coach Wade Phillips with Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett. Kitna would improve his play dramatically, leading the new head coach to a 5-3 record with all three losses by three points or less. This led to some ridiculous calls for Kitna, a 13-year veteran to replace Romo as the starting quarterback.

Heading into this season, Jason Garrett made sure to establish that Romo would remain the starting quarterback. Four weeks into the season and Romo has thrown for 1,200+ yards, 7 touchdowns, and 5 costly interceptions. Sloppy wins against the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins have been sandwiched in-between meltdown losses to the Jets, and the Detroit Lions just this past Sunday. Although Romo has received all the blame for the Lions loss, I’m not so sure Jason Garrett should be let off the hook that easily.

Romo, who was playing with serious rib injuries, played about as good a half of football as you’ll ever see to open the game and lead the Cowboys to a 27-3 lead over the undefeated upstart Lions. The thing that doesn’t make sense, is that they kept passing the ball for.. no reason at all really. Despite having three quality running backs in Felix Jones, Tashard Choice, and DeMarco Murry at his disposal, Jason Garrett continuously called passing plays and Romo ended the day with 47 passes. 47 passes, after having a 24 point lead is an absurd number. Especially since the running game was working, Felix Jones was averaging 3.6 yards per carry and Tashard Choise 6.5!

Romo eventually threw 3 interceptions, 2 that went for touchdowns and the Lions pulled off a shocking second half comeback to give Dallas their second heart-breaking loss of the season. Things like this lead people to forget how good a team actually is, but with the Cowboys that shouldn’t be the case. The fact is, the Cowboys have played 3 bad quarters of football this season, only 3. There are a lot of coaches in the league who wish they only had 3 bad quarters so far this year, and this Cowboys team is as talented as they come.

The Cowboys defense limited the dynamic Lions offense to just 3 first half points, until turnovers forced them back onto the field constantly against the dynamic tandem of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson – something no defense in the league can stop as much as the Cowboys defense was asked too. You also have to remember that Romo is playing with broken ribs, broken ribs! Romo has made several bonehead mistakes that have cost the Cowboys, several this season already but he’s also put them in position to win every game they have played, he’s just struggled to consistently perform through 4 quarters each game. Remember, this is a guy who missed half of the season last year, and has been playing hurt for three weeks already this season.

And there’s another reason the Cowboys aren’t in trouble too. The NFC East, really isn’t that good.

I know the Redskins and Giants are 3-1, but neither team has exactly lit the world on fire. The Eagles dream team hype is but a distant memory, as they coughed up a big lead of their own in San Francisco to fall to 1-3. The Redskins offense, despite being better than expected with Rex Grossman, Tim Hightower, and Ryan Torain surprising most with their production still is not a threat to the better teams in the league – teams like Dallas. Although they play excellent defense, until they figure out the quarterback situation I don’t believe the Redskins are a contender in the NFC East. The Giants on the other hand have the opposite issue, they have been dynamic on offense so far this year with Eli Manning playing some of the best football of his career. If the Giants defense didn’t have somebody else dropping every other day, they would probably be a contender but they are far too banged up to consistently beat the better teams in the league. It took them a late comeback to beat the below-average Cardinals just this past Sunday.

And then the dream team, probably the most ill-fated nickname in NFL history barring a dramatic change in fortunes. Michael Vick and co. are getting beat up, Vick has been injured twice already and they are suffering just as many mental miscues as the Cowboys. While it’s hard to write them off just yet with so many games left to be played, with the poor protection/decisions of Michael Vick it’s hard to imagine him leading them to many wins this year.

And then there are the Cowboys. America’s team, led by the most criticised, polarizing quarterback in the league today. The Cowboys’ offense is nothing short of dynamic, albeit banged up as well. They lead the league in completions of 40 or more yards with 5, but Romo’s ribs are still hurting, Felix Jones has been beat up most of the year, Dez Bryant has struggled to stay in practice, and Miles Austin is currently out with a hamstring injury. They also have probably the best tight end in the game today, with Antonio Gates struggling with injuries, Jason Witten. We’ve seen how explosive and dynamic the Cowboys offense can be, it’s just a matter of them staying on the field and putting it together.

The defense, spear-headed by the explosive DeMarcus Ware, currently 3rd in the league with 5 sacks, which has quietly opened up as the fourth ranked defense in the league, and the best against the run. The Cowboys will enter this week on a well-timed bye, getting a chance to rest up some of their banged up starters and prepare for a huge showdown in Foxborough against the Patriots.

Tony Romo and the Cowboys are down at the moment, but a manageable schedule coupled with a struggling division could be just what the doctor ordered for America’s Team.

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