Tony Romo is on a tremendous roll right now, playing some of the best football of his career over the last few weeks. It sure seemed that if you combine his mastery of the 4th Quarter against Washington to what we saw in the 2nd half against Miami, there is reason to believe that Romo is rounding into a form that makes him a big threat in the NFC to put the Cowboys in a great spot. The sequence we want to review from the Miami game is all about Romo making play after play at a crucial moment of the contest.
Let's review the 9th Drive of the game here today. At this point, the Cowboys are trailing, have been out-gained badly, have lost momentum, and need to make a statement before this must-win game gets totally away from them. They have barely touched the ball in the 3rd Quarter and now take the ball after the Dolphins have taken a 16-10 lead.
Play 1: 11023 - (3:48) T.Romo pass short left to M.Bennett to DAL 31 for 8 yards. Pass complete on a "Crossing Pattern."
Cowboys start in "12" personnel. This is worth noting because they never leave "12" the entire rest of the quarter. This is an odd and enlightening idea for Jason Garrett. Seldom does he stay in the same personnel package for any extended period of time, but this time he saw they were getting in a rhythm and stayed with it. 1st Down and the Cowboys have the two tight ends lined up off each tackle in a double wing look. Dolphins are in a man-under coverage so Romo picks out Martellus Bennett going across the field with a LB -- Kevin Burnett -- in a trail position. Bennett has a step but is tripped up after 8 by a nice ankle tackle.
Play 2: 2726 - (2:43) (Shotgun) Romo pass short right to Witten to DAL 35 for 9 yards.
This play goes poorly because Kyle Kosier is getting trucked into the backfield by Randy Starks. This causes Romo to throw the ball into a bad area and if there is a moment he would like back, it would have to be this. Vontae Davis very likely should have picked off this pass to Witten, but the jump ball falls into the hands of the trusty tight end after Romo held the ball for nearly 4 seconds (3.9). Protection and the QB just about ended the drive right here, but instead the Cowboys move the chains and get a fresh set of downs after Romo made a play under duress.
Play 3: 11035 - (2:04) T.Romo pass short left to D.Murray to MIA 48 for 17 yards
Here it is all about Romo being Romo. Pass protection is a mess here as the Dolphins run a double LB blitz from the QB's right side and Tyron Smith guesses wrong in his assignment. He ends up helping Kosier for no apparent reason and the flank is unguarded. This leaves John Phillips to try to block two blitzers, and he doesn't touch Cameron Wake on the outside. Trouble is, Karlos Dansby is blowing him up on the inside, too. Romo is dead here and actually decides to run from Wake to the left and somehow sees Murray out of the corner of his eye on the wheel route and a sure sack turns into a 17 yard gain. There is no way he should be able to make this pass after such a poor protection breakdown. Murray takes the pass in full gallop and gets into Miami territory. Sensational play by the QB.
Play 4: 11048 - (1:41) D.Murray right guard to MIA 44 for 4 yards.
A standard runpass option that turns into a fullback lead play with Phillips helping Murray shoot up for 4 yards on 1st Down. This is a play you will see from many different personnel groupings and formations about 5-6 times per game.
Play 5: 2644 - (1:06) T.Romo pass short left to L.Robinson ran out at MIA 30 for 14 yards. Pass complete on a "Square Out."
I wanted to point out this play to whatever remains from the "Jon Kitna should start faction". There was a time in the last 12 months where some well-meaning Cowboys fans actually thought Kitna should start in front of Tony Romo. I know they may be hard to identify right now, but trust me, they existed. Anyway, this, right here, is a throw Kitna cannot make. In fact, this, around draft time, is what they call "the NFL throw". It is an out from the far hash mark of his own 48-yard line to the 30-yard line of the Dolphins on a frozen rope to Laurent Robinson from the slot with a corner trying to undercut the route. If the pass doesn't get there, it is a Pick-6 the other way. Romo fires it and verifies his arm strength with ease. Not easy, but it looked easy and the Cowboys are now at the Dolphins 30 as the clock is running down in the 3rd Quarter.
Play 6: 11030 - (1:06) (No huddle) Murray to left end to Mia 30 for no gain.
It looks like the Cowboys are hurrying to the line of scrimmage to get a snap off to ensure there is no challenge on the pass to Robinson. It is simply a zone play to the left with Phillips in a lead FB spot. The Dolphins string out the play wide, and Murray has to fight to just get back to the 30. Not the smoothest looking run play of the day as Doug Free loses his fight at the point of attack. The Dolphins have DBs crashing hard and there is no gain to be found.
Play 7: 21030 - (:11) Romo pass to short middle and Robinson to Miami 23 for 7 yards. Pass complete on a drag route.
The last play of the 3rd Quarter is a route that we were wondering about a month ago. Where had all of the shallow crosses gone in the Jason Garrett offense? It looks like Laurent Robinson is bringing them back. Still in "12", Tight Ends clear out the shallow linebackers, and now Robinson from the slot takes his man coverage across the middle. Just like the Bennett completion, this is all a matter of leading the man and giving him a chance at a big play, but again Clemons is sound on the tackling and it is just 7 yards.
Play 8: 3323 - (15:00) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short middle to J.Witten to MIA 18 for 5 yards. Pass complete on a "Crossing Pattern."
At the quarter break, the Cowboys change personnel packages for the only time in the drive. They switch to "11" personnel and take off a TE in exchange for a WR. Kevin Ogletree and Witten both run shallow routes while Robinson and Bryant head down the field. Again, the Dolphins are in a man-under coverage with 3rd and short. This play is not that far from the play that broke Romo's collarbone against the Giants in 2010. Like that play, they have a check-release call on for the RB. Felix Jones checks for a blitzer and then releases into his route. But, like Chris Gronkowski last year, he didn't see and pick up the blitzer as Karlos Dansby comes free and tries to knock Romo out. Romo keeps his cool and delivers a duck as he is being hammered and Witten barely gets to it and moves the chain before taking down an unsuspecting cheerleader. Surely, this is not something you want to have happen much, but full marks to Romo for hanging in there and making a huge 3rd Down. This is a field goal drive if this play doesn't happen.
Play 9: 11018 - (14:37) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep left corner of end zone to L Robinson for 18 yards and TOUCHDOWN. Pass complete on roll left for Romo.
Just a superb play, once again from "S11". Romo stays alive for 5.1 seconds with the ball as the protection is strong against a Dolphins 4 man rush. He then rolls to his left which obviously where he feels most comfortable these days (how many times have we seen it recently?) Robinson comes all the way across the field and Romo is feeling so good that he fires the ball over the head of Witten into the back of the end zone. Again, this requires a very strong arm and pin point accuracy. If the ball is not caught for a TD, then nobody is catching it. Simply phenomenal QB play on this play and the entire drive.
9 Plays - 73 yards - and the Cowboys took the lead again. They would need even another drive later to secure the win, but I just thought this was such a thing of beauty that we should take a harder look at it. Romo was on fire here as the ball never hit the turf.
"I'm not kidding you, that is one of the best drives a QB in the NFL will have this season" - Phil Simms