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Spagnola: Fly, Fly, Fly, It’s Time For Cowboys To Simply Let It Fly
IRVING, Texas – Let’s face some stark facts heading into Sunday night’s game against the undefeated Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome, to be seen by a national television audience.
Starting running back DeMarco Murray will miss this game, too, with that sprained foot that knocked him out of the Baltimore contest and subsequently caused him to miss outings against Carolina and the New York Giants the past two weeks.
Felix Jones, his capable backup, has been nursing a bruised knee and shoulder injury, all sustained in Carolina, and although he pushed himself through the Giants game, team COO Stephen Jones revealed the other day most guys would not have even attempted to play in that one as banged up as he was. And, he has been limited in practice all this week.
In seven games this season the Cowboys now rank 29th in the NFL for rushing, which includes a phenomenal 227-yard effort against Baltimore, more than likely an indictment of the Ravens run defense than any ground promise from the Cowboys. That factors out to 86 yards rushing a game and but 3.6 a carry.
Last Sunday against the Giants, the Cowboys ran 17 times for 19 yards. Seriously, no misprint. And that brought their two-game total the past two weeks to 104 yards on 48 carries, a not-so-robust 2.17 yards per attempt.
To me then, against these 7-0 Falcons who have scored at least 23 points in every one of their games, why even bother? Just sling it around. Let it fly.
Unreasonable? Maybe. Unorthodox, since everyone insists every offense needs balance? OK, fine.
But if you are trying to repeatedly knock down a wall with your head, and all you’re doing is chipping the cement while creating cranial damage, why waste your time, and in this case, your most valuable plays? Man, go get you a missile.
Ask yourself this: After spotting the Giants a 23-0 advantage, how the heck did the Cowboys climb back into the game to take a 24-23 lead. Sure wasn’t by handing off to Jones or Phillip Tanner, was it?
Noooo. They threw the ball, just basically lined up in 13 personnel (one tight end, three wide, one back) or 12 personnel (two tight, two wide, one back) and slung it around Cowboys Stadium. And get this: from the 8:29 mark of the second quarter until the bitter end of that game, the Cowboys threw 45 passes for 347 yards. They ran the ball nine times, plus the end of the half kneel-down for minus-1, totaling a four-yard touchdown run which allowed them to finish those 10 runs with all of two yards.
And you want to run the ball? You want balance?
Me, I want yards.
Forget two back, two wide, one tight. Just go three wide and let those little short passes to tight end Jason Witten serve as your running game, as they basically did against the Giants when the Cowboys ate them up underneath with 18 catches for 167 yards to Witten.
Any chance of this radical approach?
“We try to pride ourselves in attacking defenses in a lot of different ways,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said here on Friday, sort of throwing up a Heisman on the idea, although, there is a ray of hope, since he did not say you had to run the ball.
As for Tony Romo, who most assume can’t be trusted since the Cowboys did get intercepted four times by the Giants, although it’s hard to blame him for the majority of those picks, he actually told the Atlanta media, “We really did a lot of things that I liked. I’m pushing coach to kind of get the offense more in that mode a little bit, which is nice. But styles make fights sometimes, so we’ll look at different opponents and see different things.”
So Tony, you onboard with playing a little seven-on-seven style football? What you say?
“I was just saying, at the end of the day, styles make fights sometimes, and in that specific game, that was something, but I think we’re trying to be good each game and figure out what we need to do,” Romo said, sort of tempering his pass-happy enthusiasm. “And in different games, there are different ways.”
So might playing the undefeated Falcons beg for a little unorthodox approach, possibly running the ball if need be out of three wides, since at times the Cowboys have done so with a measure of efficiency, and threaten the league’s 20th-ranked defense with the pass?
“We did a lot of good things in the game that allowed us to come back and be in position, but at the same time you kind of want to figure out what your team is going to be very good at and try to utilize those things,” Romo said, sort of straddling the fence.
Well, seems the Cowboys running backs do much better running in space, and this offensive line sure struggles to just saddle it up and move defenses right off the line of scrimmage running, and certainly as we saw this past Sunday, move ’em off the goal line when it took two runs, an incomplete pass and a QB bootleg on fourth down to finally score on four tries from the 1-yard line.
Plus, if the Cowboys are playing to their offensive strengths, then who are those strengths? Why Romo, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. I mean, didn’t Garrett say on Friday, “We want to make sure we’re getting the ball to the right guy, throwing the ball to the right guy”? Didn’t he?
To me, those are the right guys.
And I know, I know, you’re probably screaming about the four picks from last week, and the Chicago game when Romo coughed up five interceptions, acting as if it’s been me hitting my head against that wall.
But again, ask yourself, how did the Cowboys score 24 consecutive points against the Giants? They slung it around. At 3-4, and knowing they must win at least one of these next two games being played on the road (at Philadelphia next Sunday), man, this is no time to grow tentative. No time to play scared, meaning overly cautious.
And that has been the faulty notion all week around here, that Romo has to pull back, that he has to play cautiously to cut down on those interceptions. Now, he has to cut down on reckless throws being picked off, but the bottom line is the throws have not been reckless. They are ones you have to make in this league if you’re going to be successful.
Even Troy Aikman was asked about reining Romo in, that the Cowboys must tell him to play more cautiously. Aikman harrumphed, saying if quarterbacks play tentatively in the NFL then their goose is as good as cooked even before the game begins. That you’ve got to cut it loose; trust your offensive line is doing its job and trust your receivers to be where they are supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there.
He was insistent the quarterback can only do his job, and can’t be worrying about if the other parts of the offense will be doing theirs. And he said all of this before Romo was basically asked the same question, if he had to pull back.
“No. 1, you have to let the ball go,” Romo said later that same Thursday. “If the team is going to be any good, if you’re going to be any good, you have to trust what’s around you and let it go. We can do a lot of things better – it’s not just one thing. We need to throw it better, we need to run, we need to block. I think it comes down to a lot of things that make for turnovers sometimes, and we are coaching very hard to rectify those things.
“But as a quarterback, no, if you are going to hold the ball, if you’re going to double-check and triple-check the routes, then your team has got no chance. So you just have to be able to trust, but at the same time play smart football. There’s that fine balance, but on certain plays you have to let it go.”
Now if the red-headed ball coach happens to read this, he likely will give me strange looks on Saturday’s charter flight to Atlanta, as if to say, after all these years I thought I’ve taught you better than this.
Maybe he has. But you know, he doesn’t have Emmitt Smith back there, or Erik Williams at tackle or Nate Newton at guard or Mark Stepnoski at center. And he won’t have Murray at running back, nor a healthy Jones at running back since even Stephen Jones said he was “concerned” over Felix’s health.
After all, there are only two ways to move the football: Run it or throw it. I say throw it, and when you run it, then run out of throwing formations. Makes those Falcons adjust to what you’re doing.
So come on, let’s go. Let it fly.