Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jeremy Mincey didn’t mince words after his team’s 24-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
It was quarterback Tony Romo’s first game back after sitting out seven weeks with a broken cavicle. The Cowboys are 0-7 without Romo and 3-0 with him.
“Romo made a difference,” Mincey told reporters after the game. “He is the savior of our season.”
There’s good reason for confidence in Dallas to swell now that Romo is back. He is 15-3 in his past 18 regular-season starts, and he was a controversial no-catch call away from playing for the NFC Championship Game last year.
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(Tony) Romo made a difference. He is the savior of our season.
Cowboys defensive end Jerome Mincey
Now he hosts the Panthers on Thanksgiving Day on a short week after showing flashes of what makes him and the Cowboys offense tick.
Why are the Cowboys 3-0 with him and winless without him?
“Because of who he is and his understanding and feel for who they are as an offense,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “That’s one thing he understands. It’s one of those things where he can come to the line of scrimmage and he checks and changes things. He makes calls as far as their protection. He audibles. He tries to put them in the best offensive play possible from what he’s reading.
“You could see him doing those things and you could see them responding. He’s a savvy veteran. He’s had a lot of success and that spreads to the other guys. They get a little more motivated, a little energy, and that’s what he does. He brings that kind of energy to his team.”
Romo was a respectable 18-for-28 for 227 yards, two touchdowns in two interceptions in his return. His success in the passing game against the Dolphins came almost entirely out of shotgun.
Of the 31 total passing plays, Romo lined up under center on seven. And of those seven, he used play action six times. Just once did he do a straight dropback from under center.
Romo went 4-for-7 on play action, with all four completions going at least 14 yards.
What makes the Cowboys’ play action so successful is an established rushing game. Dallas rushed for 166 yards, including 129 from Darren McFadden, against the Dolphins, forcing Miami to respect the handoff motion and opening up the passing game.
Washington enjoyed similar ground gains against the Saints in Week 10 but were stymied by Carolina on Sunday. Washington had 12 carries for 14 yards in the most stout performance by a Panthers rush defense in team history. Stopping the rush forced Washington to be a one-dimensional offense.
“I think as a safety we can be a little more patient if we shut the rushing game down and we can keep everything in front of us,” safety Kurt Coleman said. “They’re going to take some shots deep. (Receiver) Dez Bryant is a great playmaker. (Tight end) Jason Witten is Jason Witten for a reason. It really is going to come down to fundamentals. This week is so short it’s really tough to get all the game planning or film study that you want. We have to take away what they do best.”
But for as much success as Romo had out of the shotgun formation, that is also where he had his failures. He threw an inexcusable interception in the red zone when pressured with a blitz in the first quarter. The first drive of the second half also ended in an interception when he floated the ball over the head of running back Robert Turbin.
The game film shows that Romo can make poor decisions when pressured, possibly because of a lingering lack of confidence as he continues to recover from his injury.
The Panthers will look closely at how the Dolphins sacked Romo twice and hit him six times for tips on getting to Romo.
“You do want to be disruptive, especially with a guy like him coming back from that type of an injury,” Rivera said. “You can’t let a guy with his ability get comfortable back there.
“Dallas does a nice job with their play action. They’ve got some boot action that they do and one of the things that we have to do is make that ineffective. If not, and he gets comfortable, he can hurt you.”