Monday, September 21, 2015

Man Down! Man Down! Without Romo what's next for the Cowboys...?

I'm going to interrupt the Big 12 series for a Cowboys post.

I was not really surprised when Romo got knocked out for 8-10 weeks with a broken collarbone yesterday.  The way it actually happened maybe, (...more on that in a minute...) but that it happened?  No. The odds of a 35 year old QB coming off two back surgeries making it through the season were not great.

The odds of him missing at least 4 games were much, much higher.  Did Dallas have a backup QB solution to handle an extended absence?  (More in a moment on that.)

One of my friends asked me two weeks ago what I thought Dallas would do this year.  I flippantly said, "There is a 25% chance they will win the super bowl and a 75% chance they will miss the playoff and maybe have a top 10 pick."

(Now they could finish in between, but this years' team appears built as a boom or bust team, with a Romo injury as the fuse.)

Dallas's front office has oddly stacked the odds against themselves.  Dallas dumping Demarco Murray (a chain moving, short yardage back) and rolling with a collection of 3rd down backs didn't improve those odds.  That suggested to me there would be more reliance on Romo to move the chains (and more opportunities for him to get hurt.)

Additionally the fact that Murray is an excellent pass protector and his replacements are generally weak in that area again increased the odds.

Dallas has numerous opportunities to pick up players on the cheap this offseason who could at least provide short yardage running. Mark Ingram, Zack Zenner, Zac Stacy, Chris Polk, Mikel Leshoure, and Daniel Thomas were all out there. Dallas passed on all of them.

Proven quality NFL backups Colt McCoy and Matt Moore were available in free agency as Romo insurance.  Johnny Manziel could likely have been had for a 4th or 5th round pick earlier this year, but although there were rumors of Dallas looking, they didn't go after him.  The Cowboy's leadership didn't go after any of those guys.

This scenario was an iceberg to their Super Bowl chances that any semi-intelligent fan could have seen coming.  I have no idea why the Cowboys' leadership could not.

The Actual play

The actual play where Romo was injured was a great defensive call vs. what I would deem a questionable offensive call given Romo is your QB.

Dallas was  running out of  a 5 receiver set, which is the big why to me.  No backs blocking for Romo? Really?

Is that a huge coaching mistake?  Is it a personnel mistake (ie. our back are much better receivers then blockers so the coaching staff  puts the back in the slot to try to scheme to force the opponent not to blitz)?

Watching the play unfold reads like a team that went to the well too often.  It seems like Dallas was trying to use a slot wr/rb(?) lined up between a WR and a TE to set a pick for a TE running a shallow out.  The TE is slow off the ball (and slow in general) and the setup and the pick are awkward forcing the TE to deviate his route.  By time he actually looks back, Romo has already been sacked.

Philly looped both linebackers in the box on a delayed blitz.  Center Travis Fredrick pushed the NT off to roll onto the first blitzing LB, but  (my read on this...maybe I am wrong to point th efinger here) the guard (#73 Mackenzie Bernadeau, cruelly labeled "the turnstile" by fans of his old team) didn't see the second guy (#58) , so both linemen stopped the first linebacker, leaving the second have a free run at Romo.

Either this was a blown read by the guard or something that the play calls for the QB  to beat that guy --- in which case it is not a play you should run with a 35 year old QB.

Now this normally would have been just a sack as Romo is always inclined to try to buy time rather than dump the ball out of bounds.  But Romo is a 35 year old undersized QB, so a guy falling on him broke his clavicle.

Managing this --- Dallas coaches must be prepared for the quick hook.

Dallas's personnel leadership has by its actions show a bewildering amount of faith in Brandon Weeden.  I don't get it.  No one gets it.

Weeden is what historically you would consider a #3 QB.   He has the physical talent to make throws and if you bring him in to a game in the 3rd or fourth quarter where there is not time for a defensive coordinator to reorganize his players, that talent allows him to play well for 20 plays or so.

The trouble is the next week.  This is why he isn't a quality backup.   The next week he is totally shut down when a defensive coordinator can take a week looking at his flaws and his tells. They know what he can do.  Then they come after him and he panics and gives the ball up.

I think Weeden is the worst #2 QB the team has had since the end of Bab Laughenberg's career when he was hearing footsteps and throwing everything off his back foot.  And we have had a lot of marginal backups since then.

He shouldn't be a #2 for an NFL team. The idea that he is Dallas's backup shows a combination of a real breakdown in the Cowboy's evaluation of QBs and the value they place on picking up a backup QB.

There is a real chance that this season is over for Dallas.  Weeden tends to surrender points.  With a moderate running game and a good defense, you can go 500 against good teams with a moderately effective QB.  You can't do it if that QB is missing open targets outside of his comfort zone and giving away 7-21 points a game.   That has been Weeden as a starter.

I think the hope for this season is that 1) either Weeden has a breakthrough year or 2) that the coaching staff has weeden on a short leash and if weeden can't deliver the next to weeks the team cuts bait (and weeden) and moves on.


Dallas signed former Boise State Starter Kellen Moore to its practice squad a few weeks ago.  Sight unseen as an NFL regular season player, I am much more confident with him than Weeden.  Moore is the anti-Weeden.  He is a heady player and a winner who does not have NFL starting QB talent. I think of what he brings to the table and I equate it to what Case Keenan does --- just a guy who knows how to play.  I could see him having a Matt McGloin-type run --- pretty good until people have regular season film on him.

You could do a quick hook on Weeden, profit from playing Moore a few weeks while no one in the NFL has film on him and then look at backing him up with (maybe) your next long term backup who has more talent and might come in when other teams have film on Moore.

Guys who might be available who fit that cheap/talented bill:

I was preparing to make a list of players, but it turned out to be a list of one guy as EJ Manuel isn't available. Tim Tebow.  Tebow is not what most NFL teams want, but if you divorce yourself from emotion and conventional wisdom, he is by far...the best option for Dallas to pick up given their needs.

He has been playing on an NFL roster up until the end of preseason so the amount of rust is not that high.

Why does he fit Dallas so well?  To start, because he is big, physical, and still relatively young.  He is unlikely to get knocked out of a game by a missed blocking assignment.  He plays a physical style but has had so few snaps and is comparatively young so his body should be good for 8-10 ten games of taking hits.

What isn't being said is that Dallas has an small OL problem right now that shows in pass protection.   They downgraded their OL coach over the off-season and when you do so, that normally shows itself as missed assignments.   They are still the best run blocking NFL team by quite a margin, but the very reliable Ron Leary may be injuring out on what is likely his last season as a Cowboy,  Bernedeau makes mistakes, and prized rookie La'el Collins is a collegiate tackle who's transition to guard is slow going.  He makes mistakes too. Dallas's QBs are going to get hit for the next 8 weeks.  Having a QB who can take a hit without getting injured or fumbling is of great value.

Additionally, Tebow is a short yardage threat who can run the read option.   This kind of QB would be a strong compliment to the backs we have on this roster, who do not have that skillset, and an exceptional run blocking line.

Why not run the ball and play great defense for the next 8-10 weeks?  Tebow wins in the NFL with that formula.  He doesn't turn the ball over, he doesn't throw interceptions, and he can pick up short yardage and move the chains.  He is a prototypical QB for a team playing the "defense and field position game".   He has a very good understanding of the game and just enough passing talent to make a 4th quarter comeback in a close game. 

In games where you need a little additional scoring you could platoon Moore with a little more pass heavy palate of plays.  (In general, platooning QBs is a bad idea, but in this situation both QBs recognize they are marginal to make NFL rosters and have their heads on right anyway.  It is usually a problem because a QB feels they should be starting and it splits the team.  No chance of that here. )

Any QB you bring in will have a tough time learning all of the plays.  That is why the most likely course is the Cowboys not bringing someone in and instead trying to roll with Weeden and Moore. 

That's the beauty of adding Tebow.  Teams do not trust him as a passer, so they will limit the offense when he is in there.  Tebow is a smart guy and a disciplined worker when it comes to football.  He can pick up a "Tebow package" in a week and execute it on the weekend.

I think Tebow could take this Dallas team to .500 ball, so Romo and Dez return to a 7-5 team in week 13.  This is nearing the end of the Romo window and Jerry is no spring chicken himself, so saving this season makes this kind of gamble very worthwhile.

Tebow is out of football because of a bad decision to go to the NY Jets rather than Jacksonville, not really due to his play on the field. Everyone knew who Tebow was as a player after his run in Denver.  Limited QB who manages his team to wins.  If he gone to Jacksonville he would have started and put up similar numbers ---but not as many wins --- and he'd be on an NFL roster today. If he had said he was willing to be an outright backup after Denver...He'd be playing in the NFL today.

The NFL is a group think league.  Playing for the Jets made it easy for NFL GMs to discount what he brings to the table.  He is out of football for an off-season decision.

The other options are bad.

Matt Flynn is horrible. Christian Ponder is an undersized guy who used to compete, but now it looks like the NFL has beaten the fight out of him. Josh Freeman has lost any semblance of whatever he had.  Was that a drug situation?  Who knows, don't care. Not fit here.

There are some guys who are developmental prospects floating out there, but guys who can lead a good team to a .500 record for 8 to 10 weeks?  I don't see any more of those guys out there.

But I don't expect the Cowboys to do this.  Adding Tebow opens NFL teams to the potential of ridicule, so teams that really could use him don't sign him.

I expect to see the Cowboys stick with Weeden too long...Say 1-5. Then maybe win 2 in a row with Moore, then the NFL figures him out.  If Dallas is better than 5-7 when Romo returns it will be a hell of a coaching job with this QB talent.

As a fan, I can only take solace in the fact this is (another too long to come) produce or get cut moment for Weeden (like Stephen McGee had a few years back).

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