There are a few reasons to be optimistic about the Dallas' chances heading into Nasvhille for Sunday's contest against the Tennessee Titans, but we'll start with the top three reasons Cowboys fans should worry.
1. Tony Romo’s Not Back
I mentioned a few days ago that there’s something wrong with Tony Romo.
He made poor reads, he played tentatively and his throws lacked their usual velocity. That’s a bad combination, which led to three interceptions — not to mention a few more throws that could have been picked — in last week’s 28-17 loss to San Francisco.
All that damage came against a depleted San Francisco secondary — who actually does disguise coverage well — that played in nickel and dime with only two cornerbacks for a good portion of the game. Tennessee’s secondary is a bit older, but it’s still a solid unit that could give Romo problems with a similar performance.
Romo looks off. If it's due to rust hesitance coming off injury, it could be temporary. Given his age and recent injury history, though, we might be witnessing the downside of Romo’s career.
2. Dallas' Secondary
What is going on with the Cowboys’ defensive backs? Dallas' secondary looked awful in zone coverage, which gives mobile quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick and Tennessee's Jake Locker more of an opportunity to shred them.
Locker isn’t the most accurate passer, but it doesn’t take much to complete passes against the cushions and blown assignments you saw last Sunday. Plus, Locker's at least as much a threat to run as Kaepernick, if not more, which will force Dallas into zone coverage.
For example, go back and watch the first connection between San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin. Four Niners’ receivers ran with at least five yards of cushion as the Cowboys' secondary looked lost. Cornerback Morris Claiborne had the best coverage when he fell transitioning out of his backpedal and tripped wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
The Titans receivers are likely salivating as they watch film of last Sunday’s game.
3. Tennessee's Defensive Line
The Titans fielded a mediocre defense last season, but the front seven really seemed to take to their new 3-4 alignment last week.
Their performance requires a grain of salt since it came against Kansas City’s porous offensive line, but they did hold them to 4.4 yards per play. And it’s always impressive to suppress Jamaal Charles the way they did — only 19 yards on seven carries.
The Cowboys’ best chance for offensive success will likely be on the ground with the stretch zone runs that were successful against San Francisco. Dallas’ offensive line is much more athletic and talented than Kansas City's, but the Titan’s line clogged gaps and sealed cutback lanes to perfection
Tennessee's performance against the Chiefs might have been fluke, but they showed some of the same attributes that made San Francisco a tough matchup last week. If the Titans truly have turned a corner under first-year head coach Ken Whisenhunt, it could be another long Sunday for Cowboys fans.