to this little scene in the hallway by the coaches' locker room on Thursday out here at The Ranch when offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was giving me his spiel on just how difficult Sunday will be on his offense.
He was documenting how they have "really good players" along with a really "sound defense" topped off by a "really great scheme." He went on to say how this particular defense challenges your ability to run, challenges your ability to protect and challenges you with their coverages.
"You just don't say, here is the weakness," Garrett said, "and this is where we need to attack."
And about that time, his quarterbacks decided to bust his chops. Here comes Romo, sauntering by after signing what must have seemed like 100's of those miniature helmets for some promotional gig, and sensing what we were discussing, quipped with this little gleam in his eye, "Pick out a guy and let it fly."
*Real funny * was the look on Garrett's face, as he continued to stress how important it will be for the Cowboys to "take care of the football." And I'll be, seconds later, here comes Brad Johnson around the corner from the other way, smirking at the ongoing scene and saying, "We just pick out a guy and throw it up," all smelling a little bit like a QB gag.
If only it was all that simple against these Steelers, led by their two sack-meister outside linebackers, John Harrison (14) and LaMarr Woodley (11.5), along with safety Troy Polamalu, who leads the league with six interceptions.
But here is the thing with this Steelers defense. You are impressed with their rankings, but become even more so when you dig inside, realizing only Baltimore (103) and New England (122) have rushed for more than 100 yards against the Steelers and only Indy (228) has netted more than 200 yards passing against Pittsburgh. On top of that, only five of their 12 opponents have been able to limit the Steelers to less than three sacks.
But here is the deal: Most of these defensive numbers fly in the face of the Cowboys offensive numbers. While the Steelers limit teams to 238 yards of offense, the Cowboys average 356.4. While the Steelers limit teams to 166.8 nets yards passing, the Cowboys average 278.3 with Romo starting nine games. While the Steelers hold teams to a 33.9 conversion percentage on third down, the Cowboys convert at a 46.2 rate overall and a 50-percent rate with Romo under center.
And check this out. While opponents have scored just 16 touchdowns against the Steelers, 1.3 a game, the Cowboys have totaled 36 overall and average 3.4 with Romo playing.
No wonder Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had this to say about Romo: "I think anybody can see that and what he means to his team. He's a great quarterback, he's playing great football . . . he throws touchdowns, he doesn't throw picks, he doesn't get sacked, what else is there?
"He's a guy, you know, who has a penchant for the big play, he's a guy who seems to seize the moment and people seem to feed off of him. He makes them go and makes them go big time."
Now chances are this Cowboys offense will not go "big time" Sunday against the Steelers. Even Romo knows that, admitting, "When you look at it, you are not going to put up a ton of points on these guys. You're not going to move the ball consistently on them. They get off the field on third down and I think this is going to be a very difficult environment to play in. It's going to be a great test for us."
Yeah, until the next week against the Giants when the Cowboys take on the league's third-ranked defense, followed by the league's second-ranked defense the next week (Baltimore) and the seventh in the finale (Philadelphia).
But the Cowboys biggest challenge come Sunday, precipitated partly by the weather and partly by the quality of defense they face, will be holding onto the football. They must treat that pigskin as gold. Seriously.
Because look, the Steelers aren't some notorious offense. They average 22 points a game, and they aren't their traditional hard-running selves. The Steelers ranked 22nd running the ball, and their lead guy, Willie Parker, while he has