IRVING, Texas – If you read this headline and said something like, "just three?" … I get it.
Maybe I should've said 52 players who miss Tony Romo because it's abundantly clear at this point how valuable Romo has been to this team.
I know MVP votes go to players who are leading their teams to division and conference titles, coupled with great stats along the way. But the true definition of the award should at least warrant a few votes for Romo. I guess he can really make a claim for that if he returns and the Cowboys get back to winning.
But in his absence, several players have felt the void more than others. As we get a little closer to Romo's return, let's focus in on three players who have certainly missed No. 9 in the pocket.
1. Jason Witten – OK, so this goes in the Understatement of the Year category. Any time you have two players who have played together for so long, obviously having one of them out of action is going to hurt the other. No exception here. Witten and Romo showed their continuity already this year in the Week 1 comeback against the Giants. The veteran tight end had a season-best eight catches for 60 yards, with two late touchdowns.
Witten knows exactly where to be for his quarterback, who has a trust in Witten that absolutely can't be duplicated by any backup, no matter how long he's been in the system.
Now, you can argue that Witten has probably missed Dez Bryant just as much, considering he has become the No. 1 focal point for defenses. But even without the star receiver, you'd like to think Witten could've been and will be more of a factor when Romo returns.
2. Doug Free – We saw this happen in 2006 when the offensive line had a hard time blocking for Drew Bledsoe. Then Romo becomes the starter and all of a sudden the O-line looks a lot better.
Romo has a way of doing that for his offensive linemen and that has been the case with Free, and really a lot of Romo's right tackles over the years.
Romo has often told his guys up front, especially the ones on the right side, not to hold or grab as much because it's not as needed. Where the quarterback struggles the most with the rush is when it gets right in his face, usually coming from middle blitzes.
But being a right-handed quarterback, Romo can usually see the stuff coming right at him. Heck, he even has that weird way of seeing stuff behind him sometimes, too.
In the Seattle loss, though, it looked like Free was exposed a few times, especially late in the game. The Seahawks used some power moves to push Free back into the pocket, but against Romo, it doesn't have the same effect. He tends to see that and oftentimes use it his advantage to create his own throwing lanes.
All of the linemen are missing the starting quarterback right now, but it seems like the right tackle tops the list.
3. Cole Beasley - To be fair, maybe it's not so much about Romo, but rather Matt Cassel. Since he took over as the starter, Beasley hasn't caught a pass and has only been targeted three times. When Romo went out, Brandon Weeden connected with Beasley 14 times in his three starts, with at least 40 receiving yards in all three games. Now when Romo was in, Beasley also caught four passes each in the first two games.
I think we all know that players like Beasley are niche players who have to fit the system. And over time, he's developed a great rapport with Romo and even offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. They just all seem to have a good understanding of what Beasley can do and where he needs to line up to be effective.
In the game last Sunday, Beasley was open a couple of times and went overlooked. Obviously, that's going to happen from time to time for multiple reasons. Beasley was actually running free up the seam on the first-down throw to Dez Bryant on the Cowboys' final drive. It could've easily been a 30-40 yard gain that would've put the offense in field-goal position.[embeddedad0]
But typically, that's not really his game. The underneath slants and outs and middle-drags are the plays that have made Beasley so effective.
I think more than anything, Romo does a great job during the pre-snap, getting the offense in the perfect play and finding the exact matchup to exploit. And that's where Beasley has probably missed Romo the most.
But overall, this thing is what it is. Romo is out for at least two more starts, although Jerry Jones did come out this week and say Romo will play Nov. 22 in Miami.
For Witten, Beasley and Free, they have to be ecstatic. But, they definitely won't be alone.