IRVING, Texas – Coming off two straight 8-8 seasons and three full years removed from the playoffs, the Cowboys have plenty of question marks surrounding them as they prepare for the 2013 campaign.
As we count down the days until training camp, the writers of DallasCowboys.com will take a different question each day that is hovering over this team.
With nine days until the Cowboys take the field in Oxnard, Calif., today's question centers on who else but No. 9:
9) Will Romo have to carry the offense again in 2013?
Looking at the stats, it's fair to argue 2009 was Tony Romo's best season as the Cowboys' starting quarterback. His completion rate of 63.1 percent was good, not great – actually only the fifth-best of his career. His yardage total of 4,483 was second only to last season's 4,903. His touchdown total was a modest (at least by current standards) 26, and he posted the lowest interception total of his career with just nine picks.
More important than any of that, obviously, is that 2009 marks the lone year of Romo's tenure in which he got the Cowboys to the playoffs and then won a game. The Cowboys' 34-14 win against Philadelphia in the 2009-10 wild card round was their first playoff win since 1996, and their also their most recent postseason appearance.
As has been well-documented, nobody is going to care what kind of numbers Romo puts up under his new, gaudy contract if the Cowboys aren't in contention for the playoffs and the Super Bowl.
Looking at the stats between 2009 and 2012, it's interesting to see the differences between winning the division and falling out of the postseason. It's common for people to cite the offensive line as an area in need of improvement if Romo is going to get Dallas back to the promised land. However, the Cowboys' line gave up 34 sacks and 78 hits in 2009, as opposed to 36 sacks and 75 hits in 2012 – practically identical numbers.
So Romo is used to that type of pressure and has made it work in the past – though it's hard to be effective when everyone knows you're one-dimensional. The running game was famously atrocious in 2012 – 31st in the NFL with 1,265 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. The 2009 offense ran for 2,103 yards – seventh in the league – and 14 touchdowns. The 2007 offense, which helped produce 13 wins, wasn't even that good, with 1,746 yards on the season.
The difference is dependability, as the 2007 and 2009 offenses rushed the ball 419 times and 436 times, respectively. Last season the offense ran the ball just 355 times, which was second lowest in the league. Conversely, Romo threw an absurd 648 passes last fall, compared to 520 in 2007 and 550 in 2009. [embedded_ad]
None of this should take any pressure off Romo – he signed the big contract, and his performance will dictate how far the Cowboys go. But at this point in his career, there's a pretty reliable idea of what Romo is going to deliver during the season.
A little more diversity on offense, and a stronger effort from the guys around Romo, could be the real determining factor in playoffs vs. no playoffs.
Sticking with our numerical journey to training camp, let's take a closer look at the number 9:
- Charlie Waters played in 25 playoff games during his decade with the Cowboys. In that time span, the safety nabbed a franchise-record nine postseason interceptions. All of the Cowboys' current safeties have a combined six interceptions, period.
- Tyron Smith was drafted ninth overall out of Southern Cal in 2011. He was the Cowboys' first top-10 pick since Terence Newman in 2003, though Smith was followed the next year by Morris Claiborne at No. 6.
- The '09 season saw the Cowboys' first playoff win since the 1996 season. After shutting out Philadelphia, 24-0, in Week 17, the Cowboys once again demolished the Eagles, 34-14, in a wild card rematch.
- Randy White started his Cowboys career as a backup linebacker before eventually making the switch to defensive tackle. Obviously it was a good move, as he went on to nine straight Pro Bowl selections, not to mention a Super Bowl MVP award, after making the switch.
- The Cowboys have met both the Chargers and the Chiefs nine times in their history, and they own a 6-3 record against both clubs. With the NFC East playing the AFC West this season, the Cowboys will meet both teams for a 10th time in the first month of the 2013 season.