Cowboys make an outlier out of themselves
By John Kryk, QMI Agency
|Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo calls an audible to teammates while playing against the Baltimore Ravens in the first half of their NFL football game in Baltimore October 14, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
After the Dallas Cowboys thoroughly outran, outpassed, out-defenced, outplayed and outscored the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in Week 1, we wondered, was this an indication of just how good the 2012 Cowboys would be? Or just could be?
Or, more cynically, was it nothing of the kind? Was it merely something the stats majors and bar-graph junkies call an outlier?
It sure didn’t feel like it at the time, but more and more it looks as though that’s exactly what it was. For a whole bunch of reasons.
That and a couple of significant injuries make it seem unlikely the Cowboys will complete the season sweep, when they play host to the Giants late Sunday afternoon.
To refresh what happened on Sept. 5 at MetLife Stadium, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo probably was as dynamic in a big game as he’d been in his 10-year NFL career.
He escaped the heavy Giants pass rush time and again, to barely get off precision passes, short as well as deep – not only to his top two wide-receiver targets, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, but even more often to his No. 3 wideout, Kevin Ogletree.
After a first-quarter interception, Romo sizzled. He was 18-of-22 for three touchdowns and 243 yards. No quarterback could have done a better job in the circumstances. He was elite.
Ogletree snared two of Romo’s touchdown throws, and caught eight balls on the night for 114 yards. A breakout performance.
As well, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray ran wild – gaining 131 yards and averaging 6.6 yards a pop.
Defensively, the Cowboys shut down Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw. And they rendered quarterback Eli Manning average – limiting him to 21-of-32 for 213 yards and just one TD. No other defence had, or has, done that to the younger Manning since, oh, some time last November.
Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones called his team’s 24-17 victory one of the highlights of his 24 years in the NFL.
Since that day? Plenty of outlier evidence. Such as:
* The Cowboys have won just two of five games, nailbiters against 3-4 Tampa Bay and 1-5 Carolina.
* Ogletree has caught just 13 balls for 134 yards, and no TDs. Bryant and Austin have resumed being Romo’s only playmaking options at wide receiver.
* Romo has thrown only five more TD passes, has a mediocre 77.8 passer rating in the past five games, and the only QB statistic in which he’s ranked among the NFL’s Top 10 is in completion percentage (67.9, behind only Robert Griffin III and Aaron Rodgers).
Worse, the Dallas rushing attack is in trouble for the rematch.
Murray was still on crutches at mid-week, after hurting a foot two weeks ago in Baltimore. He is unlikely to play. And his able backup, Felix Jones, didn’t practise Wednesday with a knee tweak.
On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys’ defence does rank among the league’s best in most categories, and that always gives a team a chance in a rivalry game.
But the defence’s heart and soul – linebacker Sean Lee – is now out for the year after suffering ligament damage in his big right toe last Sunday in Carolina.
In Week 1 against the Giants, Lee led defenders on both sides with 12 tackles. No other Cowboy had more than seven.
His loss hurts, especially because Manning and the Giants have been rolling on offence since Week 1 – averaging 436 total yards and 31 points per game.
What’s more, Manning’s receiving corps was a mess in the opener. Victor Cruz had three drops, Hakeem Nicks had just returned from a broken right foot and tight end Martellus Bennett was playing in his first game as Giant. They’re all in sync now.
The Cowboys defence, then, has a much stiffer challenge.
So, for Dallas, it’s all on Romo and the passing attack. And ya know what? Romo is usually up to that challenge. According to ESPN, in his last five games against the Giants, Romo has completed 74% of his passes and thrown 13 touchdowns against only two interceptions.
So there’s still hope for America’s Team. Maybe Mr. Outlier himself, Kevin Ogletree, will even step up again.