The Dallas Cowboys ended the season in the way we all believed to be inevitable in the middle of the year: out of the playoffs and starting their draft preparation in early January. It’s really no surprise that Dallas gave up 28 points to Washington, especially considering all of the injuries this year on defense. What’s more shocking is that, despite coming into the game on fire, Tony Romo really struggled to lead his team.
Missing the Target
Coming into this game, Romo’s interception total wasn’t really representative of his play because he tossed a lot of interceptions when trying to overcome a late-game deficit. Actually, I’ve always thought Romo was unselfish in that way; when other quarterbacks get conservative to preserve their numbers when down big, Romo really takes shots to increase his team’s chances of winning, no matter how futile.
On Sunday night, however, Romo’s interceptions were on him. Despite getting some pressure on the first, Romo overthrew Kevin Ogletree on a drag route. On the second—one of only two play-action passes from Dallas—Romo made the right read to get the ball deep to Miles Austin. He threw the ball far too much inside, however, and Austin really didn’t have much of a chance to haul it in or even break it up. The third and final interception—the killer that sent Dallas home without a division title—was perhaps the worst of the season. Seeing a blitz, Romo blindly chucked the ball out to DeMarco Murray in the flat. The play came on 1st and 10, so the decision was really poor because Romo could have easily thrown away the ball.
Altogether, I counted eight of Romo’s passes as being off-target.
Playing in Opponent Territory
Despite scoring just 18 points, the ‘Boys actually played in Washington territory quite a bit, running 47.5 percent of their offensive plays on the Redskins’ side of the field. That’s substantially larger than the 39.6 percent of plays Dallas ran in opponent territory on the year. Romo’s first two interceptions came in Washington territory, explaining much of the low scoring.
Romo threw 37 passes on the night, but only three—8.1 percent—traveled over 20 yards. One was the interception intended for Austin, another fell incomplete, and the final was a 23-yard completion to Dez Bryant.
Bringing the Heat
Romo’s lack of deep passes isn’t really surprising considering how much pressure he was under throughout the night. The Redskins executed the type of game plan that has worked against Dallas all season: mixing up looks and confusing the offensive line and quarterback. Washington sent five or more rushers after Romo on 52.4 percent of the Cowboys’ snaps. They also feigned a blitz or lined up conservatively and blitzed on 20 snaps—32.8 percent. That’s the highest “rate of confusion” that Dallas has faced all year and a major reason they lost the game.
The Cowboys obviously have some major decisions to make moving forward. They’ll need to overhaul the offensive line and make a key choice on Anthony Spencer. With a number of holes, the ‘Boys can’t afford to turn in a poor draft this off-season. As is the case with every underperforming team in the NFL, though, things are never as bad as they seem. The Cowboys can’t overestimate how close they are to being a Super Bowl contender, but they’re also a few key additions and prudent moves away from again making a run at the division in 2013.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.