Sunday Night Preview: Romo?s Return

IS DALLAS AN NFL CONTENDER WITH ROMO'S RETURN?

The Dallas Cowboys weren't much of a factor in the 2010 season. They were such a non-story that many fans and even some handicappers have forgotten how the season played out. Basically, what everyone remembers about the team that opens its 2011 season tonight against the New York Jets on NBC is this:

  • Dallas lost a season-opening Sunday Night game at Washington that they should have won (NBC loves having "America's Team" in their season openers!). A boneheaded final play of the first half gave Washington a fumble return for a TD. That would be the only TD Washington scored in what would be a 13-7 Redskins victory.

  • Tony Romo got hurt early in the season, and you can't take the Cowboys seriously as a threat if Romo isn't in the lineup.

  • Pfft....Vanished!

Somehow, that's all turned into "Well, now that Romo's back the Cowboys are going to be a contender again." What people seem to forget is that Dallas was LOSING when Romo was playing! It's not like his injury derailed a 6-2 season and broke everyone's hearts in Big D. The Cowboys were an unlikely playoff team before the injury.

Let's review:

  • Romo was 31-47-0-282 in the opener vs. Washington for a passer rating of 89.1. Obviously the team only scored one touchdown if the final result was a 13-7 loss. Note that 282 passing yards may seem like a lot because it's near 300. But, on FORTY-SEVEN attempts, it's really not that great. Also, 16 incomplete passes is way too high when you're talking about elite quarterback play. Aaron Rodgers was 27-35-0-296 the other night vs. New Orleans for example. Dallas is off to an 0-1 season.

  • Romo was 34-51-2-374 in a Week Two loss at home against the Chicago Bears. Romo's passer rating was an even worse 78.4 because of the interceptions. Yes, that's huge yardage. But...again...Dallas threw a zillion passes. If you throw 51 times, you're going to pick up a lot of superfluous yards. The Cowboys only scored 20 points, and seven of those came on a Dez Bryant punt return. The Pokes sat at 0-2 in the newspaper standings two weeks into the season.

  • Romo was 23-30-0-284 in a Week Three win on the road at Houston. The Texans had a poor pass defense as you'll recall...and Romo exploited that with his sharpest performance of the season. His passer rating was 127.6 in a 27-13 victory that had everyone assuming the Cowboys were back in form. A 1-2 record isn't great...but they should have defeated Washington...they were within a field goal of Chicago entering the fourth quarter. This could still be a Wildcard caliber team about to make a run.

  • Romo was 31-46-3-406 the next week at home against Tennessee. If you're into Fantasy Stats, those 400 passing yards look huge. They came on 46 attempts though. And, three interceptions are a killer in REAL football. Romo's passer rating was 89.6. He was grading out well on charts that only emphasized passing volume...creating a false sense of his greatness and impact. Once you adjusted for context, he was as good as everyone thought...and the team was 1-3 one month into the season.

  • Romo was 24-32-2-220 on the road at Minnesota. It wasn't a bombs away game because passing attempts were down in a reasonable range. But, Romo threw two interceptions anyway. Dallas lost another toughie, 24-21. Did you remember that America's Team started the season 1-4 in 2010? It was a big deal at the time. Eventually it became a minor footnote in a history devoted to Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Chicago, the NY Jets, Atlanta, and New England. Tony Romo's injury didn't ruin the season for the Cowboys.

  • Romo got hurt the next week against the New York Giants after throwing just seven passes. Dallas would go on to lose that game 35-27 to fall to 1-5 on the season. You don't make the playoffs from a 1-5 start...particularly when two games with eventual NFC East champion Philadelphia were still ahead...as games with Green Bay, New Orleans, and Indianapolis (interestingly, Dallas beat Indianapolis and Philadelphia anyway!).

When it was all said and done, Romo had posted great volume stats but not great "impact" stats because of all the incomplete passes and interceptions. And, that happened against a schedule that included non-playoff teams Washington, Houston, Tennessee, and Minnesota. All four of those teams finished 6-10 last year. Dallas, WITH ROMO went 1-3 against teams who went a combined 21-39 in 2010 when not playing Dallas.

So...now that Romo's back...it's far from a guarantee that Dallas is suddenly a contender again. It's true that NFC East cohorts the NY Giants and Washington don't look particularly strong. It's true that Dallas gets to play the woeful NFC West this year...which could result in 3-4 wins right there. They could be a mediocre team in the Power Ratings that still makes a run at 8-8 or 9-7 because of some schedule breaks. Just remember that the starting point for 2011 is "couldn't beat Washington, Tennessee, or Minnesota," not "playoff team that had an unlucky injury."

We're very interested to see how the Dallas Cowboys and Tony Romo handle tonight's challenge in New York. They're facing a fantastic defense in hostile territory. Romo went overboard last year with miscues at home against the Chicago defense in what would be the closest comparison. Maybe Jason Garrett is building a winner...and tonight's when Dallas begins reclaiming its "America's Team" mantle. Maybe the Dallas defense is going to improve in 2011 since they now have a Ryan on the sideline too.

Or, maybe...Romo's going to be so anxious to get back on the field that he runs right into another injury against a very physical defense. The Jets will obviously be looking to make a statement in front of a national TV spotlight. They were embarrassed last year in a similar spot when they lost at home to Baltimore 10-9 in a Week One Monday Nighter. That game came before a trifecta of New England, Miami, and Buffalo...so the Jets were obviously looking ahead to facing their AFC East rivals. No such distraction this year, with only Jacksonville and Oakland on deck. If Dallas wins...it's going to be a clean win.

Jim Hurley's Network always tries to post a Sunday Night play because we know how much our clients love watching themselves win money. Click here to get our take on tonight's Cowboys-Jets game. Other big matchups we're looking at today for serious play are:

Pittsburgh at Baltimore (blood rivalry)
Atlanta at Chicago (2010's top two NFC seeds)
Philadelphia at St. Louis (playoff preview?)
Detroit at Tampa Bay (a race of darkhorses)
Minnesota at San Diego (McNabb vs. Rivers)

Then, of course, we're back Monday for that very interesting ESPN doubleheader. We'll discuss New England-Miami and Oakland-Denver here in the NOTEBOOK tomorrow...and Jim Hurley will have his top play (and maybe a PARLAY) available for you a few hours before kickoff.

It's been a long wait for the NFL regular season. We endured the lockout. The Preseason is in the rearview mirror. THE HITTING BEGINS FOR REAL TODAY...AND SO DOES THE WINNING FROM JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK! If you have any questions, call our office at 1-800-323-4453.

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