I have been a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan. My love started in the very early 90’s when a tight end by the name of Jay Novacek quietly fueled the Cowboys’ run to three Super Bowls with key blocks in the running game and clutch catches in the passing game. He was the consummate Dallas Cowboy and he forever endeared me to the silver star helmets. Doesn’t he just look like a tight end for Dallas? And maybe a long lost Gronkowski brother?
That background story gives me context for what’s happening behind the scenes in Frisco, TX. In the past the Cowboys have been abysmal when incumbent quarterback Tony Romo has missed time due to injury since taking over for (struggling) Drew Bledsoe in 2006. Until 2016 that is, when the team turned the reigns over to rookie 4th round pick Dak Prescott out of Mississippi St (BOO, I know) because Romo suffered a back injury in the 3rd week of the preseason. This season without Romo the ‘Boys are 4-1 and dominating the league via the rushing attack, rattling off four straight victories. So, with that kind of success comes chirping from the media echo chamber; “Will Romo be the guy when he returns from injury”, “Cowboys would be dumb to let Romo be the starter when he gets healthy” “Dak Prescott is better than Romo.”
Let’s squash some of this right here and right now. Romo is the starter when he is deemed fit to take contact. Dak Prescott has filled in admirably for Romo, but the reality remains that the team’s clearest path to success is with Romo at the helm. Dak has run the offense to near perfection and has not been intercepted this season, something Romo has always struggled with during his NFL tenure. But where is the downfield passing attack? Yes, the Cowboys have a dominant offensive line and their 1st round rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott has looked the part rushing for 546 yards, which is 85 yards clear of the second leading rusher in the league. And Dak is a part of that; the Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has incorporated some zone-read looks that Dak excelled with while at MSU and that creates a difficult decision for the unblocked defender at the end of the line of scrimmage. That all goes away when Romo returns. However, what they lose in zone-read looks, they will make up for in the passing attack. It’s not that I think Dak is a bad thrower of the ball. Limited? Yes, but certainly not bad. They just don’t ask him to make throws that a quarterback has to make when the games grind down in December and January as the competition and pressure rise. Romo has never been one to rise up to the pressure of the playoffs, but last we saw him in the playoffs he was directing one of the most efficient offenses in the league and was a questionable ruling on the field (known simply as the “Dez Play”) away from winning a game at Lambeau Field.
Also, last time we saw Romo healthy he was playing at an MVP level during the 2014 regular season. Thus, while Dak has played well and he presents Cowboys brass and fans alike some glimmer of hope for the future, the present is Tony Romo. He simply gives Dallas the best chance to win. Romo will get first crack at the job. He’s earned that with the brilliant level of play he showed in 2014, but at the first sign of trouble, the first interception that we all know Romo is going to throw, will we hear the boo birds out in Big D? Only time will tell how this all shakes out and just because it’s Romo’s job the first game after he’s cleared for contact doesn’t mean it will remain his job throughout the rest of 2016 and into the playoffs (hopefully). Reading between the lines I can confidently say that Romo will get first crack when he’s healthy enough to play football again.