Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

The Big D Blame Game

It’s a familiar narrative: Romo wilted under pressure, throwing two picks in the final three minutes as the Cowboys blew a 23-point lead on Sunday. But the truth is more complicated—and the bigger finger points to the men calling the shots

By
Greg A. Bedard
· More from Greg·

After blowing a 23-point halftime lead and losing 37-36 to the Packers at home in a game with major playoff implications, it was a CYA postgame in Dallas on Sunday: cover your ass. For Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, not the players. While the latter either told the truth or protected teammates, Garrett wore quarterback Tony Romo like a bulletproof vest as he faced the media in full view of owner Jerry Jones.

Romo threw two interceptions in the final 2:58. That’s what Garrett wants the headlines to be. Here’s another one he wouldn’t mind: Romo changed the play that set the course for the loss. All of that, however, deflects blame from the two biggest factors that ultimately cost the Cowboys: the refusal of Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to run the ball with a huge lead, and the Cowboys’ joke of a defense.

No, no, no. Acknowledging that truth would bring too much heat on Garrett, who is now 26-26 as a full-time head coach, with zero playoff berths in nearly three seasons. (He was 5-3 as interim coach in 2010). I feel a Bill Parcells quote coming on. Oh yes, this one: “You are what your record says you are.”

But I digress.

If you want to blame Romo—and he’s not blameless—say this: He made a bad throw with the game on the line. Clinging to a five-point lead, he dropped back on 2nd-and-6 from Dallas’s own 35 and threw behind Miles Austin. Sam Shields made the interception, and Green Bay scored the go-ahead touchdown eight plays later.

You might think bad things always seem to happen to Romo in critical situations. That’s certainly valid, but don’t say Romo threw a bad pass to Cole Beasley with 1:24 remaining. “That was on me,” Beasley said to reporters of Romo’s second interception, which aborted the Cowboys’ comeback on the second play of their final drive. “That’s all it was. … I stopped when I should have kept going. I don’t have the option to do that on my play. That was my fault.”

Romo did the classy thing, only saying that he and Beasley weren’t on the same page. Garrett handled himself with much less tact. Regarding Romo’s first interception, the coach made the point of saying, “It was a run call, though, that he threw the ball on … I think he’d be the first one to tell you right now that he probably should have run the ball in that situation.”

Gee, after he made a bad throw that cost the Cowboys the lead? Tell us something we don’t know! But here’s the thing: It’s disingenuous to say Romo should have handed the ball off in that situation. That’s just using hindsight to CYA. Romo did exactly as he was instructed to do, and the coaching failed him.

Let’s go through the play:

The Packers, trailing 36-31, called their second timeout with 2:58 to play. Roughly 40 seconds of real time passed between the timeout and when the Cowboys broke the huddle for Garrett, Callahan and Romo to be crystal clear about what they were going to do. Was a straight running play called? No—the coaches called for a run with a pass option tacked onto it.

It’s a rudimentary example of the packaged-play concept that’s sweeping the league. Teams such as the Eagles and Bears can have three to five options built into a single play design. What the Cowboys decided on has been around for several years, at least as far back as 2007 with Brett Favre and the Packers. The call is a running play, unless the defense stacks the box against the run. Then the quarterback—without even calling an audible—throws a quick pass. The receiver and the QB are the only ones executing the pass; everyone else is proceeding with the run because they don’t know the ball is being thrown.

The goal is to aid the No. 1 objective of any NFL offense: stay out of bad plays. In other words, if the play has little chance of succeeding against a particular defensive look, don’t run it.

“Tony threw a pass—we call it a smoke or a flash [play], something we have accompanying some runs if he gets a bad look, and that’s what happened on the interception,” Garrett conceded.

What’s mystifying is why the Cowboys hardly ran the ball in the second half.

So Romo breaks the huddle and sees eight Packers defenders in the box, and nine in the vicinity of the line of scrimmage. There are no deep safeties. The entire left half of the field is open if Austin beats his man. Everything Romo has been coached to do tells him to throw the pass. Austin knows the pass is viable: He doesn’t run-block on the play; he clubs Shields to the outside and runs a slant.

Then things get hairy. Instead of crashing to his left against the run, Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews goes right at Romo. (Because the Packers run smoke so much with Aaron Rodgers, who would have thrown the ball too, Matthews likely knew the defense was inviting the pass). But Romo made a great play to avoid Matthews.

And then the play fell apart.

Romo’s error was in failing to set his feet and step into the throw. He didn’t lead Austin, who had two steps on Shields. Romo’s feet were parallel to the line of scrimmage, so he couldn’t get much on the pass. If he was going to miss, he should have missed long. That’s what Romo is kicking himself about, that or not tucking the ball away and running it to keep the clock moving.

“They overloaded the side we were going to run the ball to, and I ended up throwing to the man who was one-on-one,” Romo said. “The defense did a really good job of coming in on me instead of following the tackle down. It was my fault to, obviously, put the ball in a position where the defense could make a play … I have to do better than that.”

murray-run-800
DeMarco Murray had 83 yards on 11 carries in the first half, but got just seven more touches despite the Cowboys’ having a 23-point lead at halftime. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Regardless of the headlines or the blathering on talk shows today, Romo did not make a mistake throwing instead of running there. If Romo had made a slightly better pass, that’s a game-sealing touchdown and the narrative would be how gutsy Garrett and Callahan are for staying aggressive so they didn’t have to rely on their sieve-like defense. (In the second half the Cowboys’ D gave up five touchdowns on five drives, and 340 yards on 38 plays.) If Garrett was indeed dead set on running the ball, he had plenty of time during the timeout to make that clear. Or he could have called a run-only play.

It’s mystifying why the Cowboys hardly ran the ball in the second half. After DeMarco Murray carried 11 times for 83 yards in the first half, he got just seven more touches despite the big halftime lead. The Packers’ defense had given up at least 5.2 yards per rushing attempt in four of their past six games; the only outliers were the porous offensive lines belonging to the Giants and Falcons. The Eagles, Vikings, Bears and Lions each pounded the ball down the Packers’ throats with the game in the balance. The Cowboys, despite averaging 7.4 yards a carry, didn’t. That’s a failure in coaching, not quarterbacking.

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48 comments
TristinMountNI
TristinMountNI

Well at this point all that matters is beating the Redskins and the Eagles. If that happens, this game or any before it means absolutely nothing. 

a57se
a57se

Miles could have done a better job on the play as well.......Garrett is a joke as he is the only guy in the NFL who will put up with Jerry Jones and that is why he is the HC.


MickHayes
MickHayes

Whoever wins the NFC East should send Jerry a game ball.  Jones has turned mediocrity into an art form.

dholiday232
dholiday232

But,but, Lil' Jason looks soooooooo cute preening on dem sidelines.

coachknowitall
coachknowitall

Here is a little food for thought. 1st - as long as Jerry Jones is the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, they will NEVER win a Super Bowl. 2nd - We don't really know who is calling the plays for the Dallas Cowboys. Hell, I don't think they do either. The issue is not that Tony Romo threw an interception at the end of the game. The issue is that the Cowboys have not recognized that their run game is better than their passing game. Running the ball slows down the tempo of the game. They should have continued running the ball and killing time off the clock. Besides, what happened to the adage that the run sets up the pass? The Cowboys pass no matter what. 1st and goal at the 5 and they will pass it 3 times before they run it, every game. The Cowboys lose when they HAVE to pass the ball. The defense is always on the field and subsequently sucks more than they already do. Why is nobody talking about Demarco Murray? He has been the only consistent part of the Dallas offense. You never hear the media talking about him. It's always all about Tony Romo. You can look at all the stats you want but the one glaring stat is that Tony Rome cant win the big games. Why? The answer is simple. He is not a leader. The problems of the Dallas cowboys start at the top. The owner is too involved, The head coach is a nice guy who is over managed and the QB is not the right man for the job. i wonder what would have been if the cowboys leaned on Murray and the run game a little more. I bet their record would be a hell of a lot better. Just my two cents.

Jazzaloha
Jazzaloha

I agree that play calling is the problem, but I disagree that Garrett is to blame--or at least I don't think it's that simple. Did Garrett hire Callahan? Did he decide to let Callahan call the plays? What about the decision to call in the plays to Romo? And, I'm wondering how much latitude Romo has in changing plays (not just that one specific play, which wasn't changed)? Is Garrett solely responsible for this? 


It seems apparent that Garrett doesn't have a lot of authority/autonomy, so blaming him for all the play calling problems doesn't seem appropriate or fair. If he did, that would be great news for Cowboy fans, because then you just fire the coach. Problem solved. The more depressing thought is if the problem comes from the owner, the way he has set up the lines of authority and the extent to which he involves himself in the decision making. 


As Eric Walker mentioned, this is very reminiscent of Al Davis and the Raiders. Never thought I'd feel sorry for Cowboy fans. 

CraigWilliams
CraigWilliams

It was the right play, just poorly executed. A better throw TD.

Eric Walker AFC Operations
Eric Walker AFC Operations

As long as Jerry draws breath, the Cowboys will continue to follow the path of the Raiders.   As Al Davis slipped into dementia, trying to recreate the 70's glory days, so to shall the Cowboys, as old Leatherface continues to try and show that he, and not Jimmy Johnson, was the architect of the 90's Cowboys!!   You poor Cowboy fans!!   And yet you still watch, and line up like lemmings to watch this drek!!

CMFJ
CMFJ

I don't think Romo made a mistake checking to the pass play, he made the mistake of throwing a risky pass after spinning out of a sack.  That was the decision making problem of consequence - he either had to throw a low percentage pass and, if that was not there, run with the ball, even if it ends up in a sack.  So, I agree that Romo again made a bad play in crunch time and deserves blame with Garrett.


That said, I have yet to read or hear any NFL pundit saying much of anything about the epic defensive collapse of the Cowboys.  The Packers scored TDs on 5 consecutive drives, three of 80 yes, and hardly any mention of that is made.  


Deciding whether Garrett or Romo should get more blame for the play in question really is a consequence of the media perception of Romo blinding them to the bigger picture.  I also think Garrett probably gets more blame for the defensive play than Romo.  

sunalsorises
sunalsorises

Jerry Jones wants Romo to be more like Peyton Manning and change plays at the line.  Jerry wants Garrett to coach, not call plays, but oversee calls.  The OC calls plays, the HC may or may not change it when relaying it to the QB who may or may not change it based on what is seen at the line.  This undermines pretty much everybody and there is nobody ultimately left responsible, except Jerry Jones.  

moxie160
moxie160

I watched this game and have read a number of stories all with the same theme as this one. Do the Packers get any credit for a great come-back win? How about Sam Shields making a great play on a ball that most cornerbacks wouldn't have touched? Yes, the Cowboys made several tactical and physical errors in the second half, but GB sucked it up and went on long drives and made plays to win a game that no rational person would have thought possible at half time. Give the Pack some credit. 


JohnEpp
JohnEpp

 I think there are some things that are being missed here.  


1. Romo did the right thing with that 1st intercepted pass.  Just look at the pictures clearly open, for a sec.  This is the NFL and these guys playing are exceptional athletes. Shields made a heck of a play.  Sometimes everything can be perfect and a player makes a great play.  Shields made a great play.  Why do we have to always blame instead of congratulate.


2.The Cowboy Defense completely fell apart.  They looked the same as the Green Bay defense in the first half.  Did they just change jersey's at the half?   It's clear that's what happened here, just no effort by Dallas in the second half, and Green Bay grew a pair and were sick of being kicked around. Have a little Pride gentlemen.  


3. Romo is a good quarterback.  Put him in the right scheme with the right coaching and a good set of players and he will do well.  But with the Head Coach having issues with the Offensive Coordinator, and the Owner - GM why do you think anything else would run better?  His best receiver is a diva, and the one they just payed millions to can't seem to fight for a ball.  Fix the dysfunction and the Cowboys will finally be a team to really watch. 

alberg87
alberg87

Getting rid of Romo would be a terrible decision (which is why they won't). Does nobody remember the offense when the likes of Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson, Drew Henson were the QB? Just have to play to the strengths and weaknesses of the QB. When a defense consistently is allowing over 35 pts then the problem with the team is obviously the defense. Romo is having a career year and the defense is the worst in the NFL. Dallas should draft like Carolina (defense, defense, oline) because starting over with a new QB would be beyond stupid.

Wwhshornet72
Wwhshornet72

Tony just needs to give it up. He hasn't had a good season in how long now? Sorry Tony, it's time to retire, you are messing up a good team. I can understand why Dez gets upset all the time. 

DJones6959
DJones6959

Garrett did screw up...he trusted a mediocre QB that everyone thinks is elite.  You said it yourself, if Romo sets his feet (quarterbacking 101) and leads the receiver at all, everyone looks good.  Instead he Brian Sipe'd it and now everyone is pointing the finger at everyone else.  If Dallas had a backup in there they probably would have run it at all costs and punted and hoped the defense could actually stop them ONCE!  But with a seasoned QB the coaching staff did the right thing by putting their faith and confidence in him and he did what he unfortunately seems to do all too often.  Garrett could have made the easy coaching decision and gone by the book and then if things did not work out at least he would not be on the hook, but instead he trusted the franchise QB and this is his reward.

TomSmo
TomSmo

You missed the real culprit.  Jerry Jones needs to be fired.  17 years of mediocrity is not Garret's fault.

GoPSULions
GoPSULions

Yes Romo does seem to have bad Decembers, but having the 32nd ranked defense and not running the ball with a large lead is the real issue here.  Romo has 9 INTs for the season.  Comparing that the the INT count for the QBs of the division leaders it is  less than Brady (10), Dalton (16), Cuttler (10),  Brees (10), Newton (11), Manning (10), tied with Luck (9) and one more than Wilson (8).   So the INTs are not the issue as much as the poor D and terrible coaching moves.

rma101560
rma101560

"Romo Chokes Again" should be the headline.  "Bryant Acts Like Spoiled Child" could be a sidebar.

el-cid
el-cid

You know, the problem for the Cowboys and lots of teams isn't just who they have, it's a lack of alternatives.  Romo does some terrible things with the ball at some bad times but overall, he's better than most of what's out there.  What are you gonna do, hope someone like Cousins is the answer or draft for a QB?  Sell the farm for a veteran?  It's a crapshoot at best.

retro-grouch
retro-grouch

   Romo does seem to have a knack for worst case outcomes on plays in the fourth quarter but unlike most of his gaffe's this was a good read.  Austin was wide open but with the DB two steps behind him the ball needs to be thrown anywhere but behind the receiver.

   The unmentioned reason for Garrett to go run-heavy on the play calling is that Romo doesn't do nuanced passing.  With a top drawer QB and a smart receiver group a coach could ask for a prioritized passing game: 1) secure the ball. 2) Stay away from the sidelines.  3) Get low in contact and get on the ground.  Check down completions are gold in this situation.

     Romo has always had difficulty with avoiding marginal reads in possession critical situations.  He often chooses high risk/high gain throws over more "boring" easy completions for low yardage.  It's long past the time when Garrett should have total clarity on the decision making shortcomings of his QB.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

It sure seems as if there is a lot of blame to go around. Romo DOES choke, as he has proven regularly. But defensive lapses and other coaching errors are equally to blame, as the article points out. I've yet to hear the Dallas staff explain why they didn't run the ball more. The most casual fan know that's how a team kills the clock. It seems to be a lack of knowing even the basics of the game. But that is how Jerry Jones wants it. He runs the show and wants incompetents on his staff. That's why he keeps hiring them. The only team I root against more than Dallas is Washington, but it still annoys me to see the travesty that the Cowboys have become. It's offensive to all of football.

seamillguesthouse
seamillguesthouse

Romo is just a average quarterback. That's all he will ever be, an over paid [because he is a Dallas Cowboy] average quaterback

Perry E
Perry E

This is symptomatic of a the entire hierarchy of the Dallas Cowboys. You have an owner who "thinks" he knows what he is doing hiring a coach who "thinks" he knows what he is doing, who is standing behind a QB who was "hand picked" by the Owner who wants to be a GM. 

Jerry Jones is the second coming of Al Davis, and Dallas is turning into the Oakland Raiders before our very eyes! Look for many more seasons of mediocrity and last minute let downs. The one good thing I will say about Jerry is he has a big wallet and is not afraid to blow money on decent players. Otherwise, Dallas might be 3-13 instead of what looks like an 8-8 season. 


On another note, you just married this QB long term with the fat contract you gave him earlier this year. Too bad...

rskins09
rskins09

Romo reminds me of Danny White ... Danny would self-destruct every time, especially if the game was on the line ...And , why did Dallas abandon the running game ? didn't make any sense ...   

sdoc23
sdoc23

Someone else to blame... Miles Austin. Yes that ball should've been thrown out further ahead but look at those screen caps. As a receiver you can't let that ball be picked off. He's got to fight for it and make it an incomplete pass. 

Herroldo
Herroldo

Same thing happened last week. I watched Murray run for 65 yards on a single drive, taking the ball inside the 10 yard line.  Next three plays?  All passes which were incomplete.   How in the world do you pass when your RB just shredded a D single handedly?  The only unsuccessful plays on that drive were the passes.


The last two Dallas losses are all on the play calling.  When you have a run game that is churning a D, stick with it.

Supernaut
Supernaut

Here's the problem for the Cowboys: Jerry Jones' ego. He keeps himself as GM, and the last fifteen years clearly show that he is not effective in the position. I would like to see Jerry step back and hire a GM and coach that can bring the wins back to America's team. Secondly, he has continued to back Jason Garrett, and now he's stuck in the position that firing the coach will make him sound wishy-washy.


If he would just step back and be a supportive owner (Kraft and Rooney come immediately to mind) and leave the running of the team to full time experts, the Cowboys could rise to the top again. I don't doubt that Jerry knows some football, but GM really needs to be a full time (non-owner) job.

SportPage
SportPage

Romo ... " I have to do better than that.”


I fault the coaches for abandoning the run game which clearly was a mistake given the big lead and success they had in the first half with it.


Romo, however, has said the same thing after a multitude of crushing mistakes at the end of big games, games at the end of the season with playoffs on the line, etc. 


He needs to DO better and stop TALKING about doing better, so he won't need to talk about it. Until that happens, he'll continue to look like a stray dog in the cold rain while he continually explains in post-game press conferences why he failed again.  

John64
John64

Get rid of Romo and fire Garrett.  Why not?  A moron is someone who repeats the same mistake over and over, expecting different results.  Quit being a moron, Jerry.

lawmank
lawmank

I agree that the Cowboys' defense (and all who help coach it) share much of the blame for yesterday's loss but there is one crucial piece of the puzzle that puts the bulls-eye square on Tony Romo for the failure.   The defensive coaching staff WAS NOT GIVEN A $108 MILLION DOLLAR CONTRACT FOR THE NEXT SIX YEARS!!!!


Truly the first head on the chopping block is the GM or coach who approved this deal.  If it came straight from Jerry Jones, then he deserves to reap what he sowed and can't start punting on the coaches when he's first in line.


Too, it's difficult to lay this all on the D when Romo runs a 3-and-out (with 3 passing plays that use almost no clock) and throws a pick to set up a short field.  If the play calls are truly a 'package' play, you can't argue that Romo avoided the bad play.  He threw poorly, as he tends to do in December, and the passes were missed or intercepted.   Frankly, with $108 Mil on the line, Tony and Tony alone should either be able to make better decisions or better passes.



Stevo1
Stevo1

The Cowboys D sucks so they fired the coach (last year).  The Dallas D still sucks, so Jerry fires whom? 

morejunk
morejunk

Several hundred words too many.  Keep it simple:

The Cowboy's D sucks, Garrett blows and Romo chokes.

mikeincombine
mikeincombine

Maybe, just maybe, Garrett is finally getting as sick of watching Romo choke game after game, as the rest of us are. Maybe he's just had enough. I used to say this team is never going anywhere as long as Jerrah is the GM. But it's pretty obvious it's not going anywhere with the KING of the CHOKE job as it's quarterback.

GrahamStuart
GrahamStuart

This is an interesting read. I have always been a Romo apologist, citing that he is not the sole cause of Dallas misfortune, and that for years he has kept this truly awful team in contention. On a day when NFC east rivals like NYG are being shut out all the web is atwitter with Romo choke statements. I blame Garrett and Callaghan, and Jones more so than Romo.

After 36years I might be done as a cowboy fan- FIRE GARRETT and the rest of the bums now.

Jazzaloha
Jazzaloha

@coachknowitall 


My current theory to explain the bad play calling (and this is just speculation): Jerry believes in Romo and wants him to be the centerpiece of the offense (like Brady, Peyton, etc.). And he also wants to support and nurture Romo's confidence. This means giving Romo the greenlight in throwing the ball, no matter what the circumstances. This might explain why Garrett and Callahan are not intervening. (Garrett has repeatedly said they need to run the ball more and have more balance in the press--which makes it sound like he has very little power to change the situation. And if he does have the power and isn't exercising it, he needs to go.) From what I know, Callahan is a more pass-first guy I'd be surprised if he would approve of the play calling. You can believe in aggressive passing, but what happened on Sunday was ridiculous. (And I bet even Mike Martz would agree.)

RolandSchaer
RolandSchaer

@Eric Walker AFC Operations I heard (from a friend at the game) that there were more and louder Packers fans than cowboys fans at the game. I think season ticket holders are bailing the only way they can.

alberg87
alberg87

@Wwhshornet72 I would consider 3,602 yds, 64 %, 29-9 TD-INT, 96.6 QBR a good season bro. Go take a look at Eli Manning, RG3, Joe Flacco, Colin Kaepernick's numbers. All have worse numbers than Romo. Kaepernick gets wins because he has a defense.

PKpwnage
PKpwnage

@retro-grouchIt is worth saying that Romo chooses those high-risk throws because he's one of very few QBs that can hit that throw. Because he is so talented (and to an extent playing lesser competition in college), Romo gets away with a lot of throws other QBs cannot even attempt. It's a huge reason why he makes incredible plays as well as gut-wrenching mistakes.

booboo
booboo

@Perry E Al Davis actually knew personnel back in the day and lost his touch. Jerry never had it. Re: JimmyJ leaving, the team took its downward spiral once Jerry decided all he needed was "yes" men.

Shooter McGavin 19711
Shooter McGavin 19711

@mikeincombine Clearly you didn't understand the article.  It illustrates how this isn't all on Romo.  Most of it is Garrett who NEVER takes responsibility for any of his errors.  He's cost Dallas at least one game every year (two this year, one last year, one the year before) with his failure to manage the clock and/or adjust his play calling to protect a large second half lead.  Yes, Romo makes mistakes, but given he put up 36 points yesterday, he wasn't the problem.  Again, you should learn to read and then comprehend what you're reading.  You come off looking as moronic as a Jerry Jones supporter...


Have a nice day.

fascistfb
fascistfb

speaking of clueless @Newmansass... Romo is Top 10 in Completion percentage of starting QBs with a meaningful amount of games this year; he is ahead of Cutler, Flynn, Shaub, Foles, Brady, Smith among others. Romo has thrown fewer interceptions than Eli Manning, Flacco, Palmer, Stafford, Dalton, Ryan, Tannehill, RGIII, Henne, Newton, Roethlisberger, Brady. Brees, Cutler, Peyrton Manning, Luck and Rivers among others.


The Cowboys are having a poor season relatively speaking, but to put that on Romo along is clearly ignorant of facts. Calling someone an idiot doesn't change facts.


Looking at this week's situation, Romo wasn't the only QB to throw a game-ending INT while trying to mount a comeback; at least Brady and Stafford did the same and nobody is giving them heat for it. A QB can't win games on his own and he rarely loses them on his own, and I don't see Romo single-handedly losing many games. Cowboys had a comfortable half-time lead and their defense gave up all the points in the second half to lose the game.

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