The ‘Romocoaster’ that is the 2011 season is proving too much to stomach for many Cowboys fans. We are well into the dreaded month of December, and Dallas currently sit outside the playoff places. But do not blame it on Tony Romo. Do not blame it on Dan Bailey. And definitely do not blame it on the bright lights of Cowboys Stadium, Miles Austin; you may as well be blaming it on the boogie. Instead, an analysis of the Cowboys inconsistencies should start with their defense.

Tony Romo attracts a great deal of focus and attention as he is the more compelling story. The 4th quarter of the loss to the Jets in Week 1 could be seen as a paradigm example of a Romo meltdown; a comfortable late lead was blown due to turnovers and accuracy paralysis. Critics will point out that these themes recur in other Cowboys losses this season, although admittedly to a less spectacular extent. The perception of Romo as a choker on the big stage is certainly a popular one, but it is unfair and unsubstantiated. As pointed out in the last edition of ‘Oggy’s Quick Slants’, Tony Romo has the best QB rating for 4th quarters and overtime in the league from 2006 onwards.

Tim Tebow is seen as the personification of clutch in the 4th quarter, but his successful late exploits are determined as much by his defense and his kicker than anything else; swap Matt Prater for Dan Bailey in the past few weeks and you may as well also alter their respective teams’ playoff prospects accordingly.

This is not to say that Dan Bailey is the problem either. In consecutive weeks, Bailey has missed crucial re-tried field goal attempts in damaging losses. However, the rookie has generally been a consistent and impressive kicker this season. Do not forget that he has already made three game winning field goals in 2011.

This article does not give any credence to the purported ‘December curse’ either. Granted, the demarcation between the Cowboys record in November and December from 2006 to the present day is startling. Under Romo, in November the Cowboys are 18-2 while their December record stands at 12-17, (including 0-2 so far this time around). But this arbitrary line in the sand is irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion. Just look at the Cowboys losses this season. Dallas are 7-6, and 5 of their 6 losses have involved blowing leads in the 4th quarter. The leads in 3 of these 5 games have been in excess of 12 points. Notably, the month has nothing to do with this trend. In October, the Cowboys were up by 24 points against the Lions. The Jets and Patriots comebacks were in September and October respectively.

Indeed, the Jets loss in Week 1 is a paradigm example of the Cowboys problem, but it has nothing to do with Romo. In that game, the Cowboys defense was stifling Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense. Late in the 4th quarter though, Sanchez all of a sudden took on the persona of Dan Marino. The defense could not put any pressure on him, and he was allowed to dissect the secondary at will. The same story is repeated throughout this season, with simple substitution of the relevant antagonist; a Tom Brady here in Week 6 and an Eli Manning there in Week 14.

Tony Romo and the offense may have found it difficult to move the football late in the 4th quarter of some games, but the fact remains that they nevertheless put their team in a position to win these game in the first place. 34 points and a near flawless performance from Romo against the Giants should have been enough. Yet the defense gave up big scores late on and, for the first time in Cowboys history, allowed a passer to go over 400 yards in conjunction with a running back and wide receiver achieving 100 yard performances in the same game. The capitulation of the defense is not on Tony Romo or Dan Bailey. It is on Rob Ryan. Ryan admitted as much himself, contending, “it’s just (on) me and I’m going to fix it”.

He better fix it soon. Ryan needs to work on his defensive schemes, particularly in the 4th quarter, and time is of the essence. We have seen with the past two Superbowl champions that your defense does not need to be lights-out, but it does need to supplement your offense with big plays in key moments. The 2010 Packers and 2009 Saints did just that, specialising in explosive plays. Interceptions played a significant role, with the Packers leading the league with 24 in 2010 and the Saints joint 3rd in the league with 26 in 2009. The Packers defense added 47 sacks to their cause, smothering opposing quarterbacks when the game was on the line. The converse is currently true of the Cowboys.

The Cowboys fate is still in their hands, but the Giants have stolen a march in the division. Fortunately, Dallas faces an extremely disappointing Buccaneers team on Saturday. Tampa Bay’s offense trails only the Eagles in interceptions, having thrown 20 picks this season. Running Back LaGarrette Blount has also demonstrated his difficulties holding onto the football with two fumbles last Sunday. Look for the Cowboys defense to bounce back and exorcise some demons. But stiffer tests are still to come, and the defense better deliver there too. With only two playoff wins since the last Superbowl title 15 years ago, the patience of Jerry Jones will be wearing thin. His shiny new stadium is complimented by a shiny and exciting offense. But do not let all the shiny objects distract you, because it is the defense that is holding America’s team back in the shadows.


Oggy’s Quick Slants

  • Green Bay’s pursuit of perfection and 16-0 has taken a significant blow as the team reported this week that star WR Greg Jennings will be out for two to three weeks. Jennings should, however, recover from a collateral ligament sprain in time for the playoffs. Viewed in this context, the Packers overall pursuit of back-to-back Superbowl titles has received a significant boost with the news of his expected recovery.


  • Ben Roethlisberger is still unsure over whether he will be able to play on Monday night against the 49ers. The Steelers are trying to keep pace with the Ravens at the top of the AFC North, and without Big Ben they will have to rely on Charlie Batch; a quarterback who has only attempted two passes this season, and failed to connect on either.