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Tony Romo Isn't the Only Offensive Key

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    Discussions of the Cowboys offense have a way of getting bogged down on Tony Romo.

    No matter what happens during the game, success or failure always have a way of being pinned on Romo's shoulders. There's no doubt that the result of Sunday night's game with the Giants will wind up being seen as a referendum on Romo.

    Yes They Do Need Romo on Sunday

    [DFW] Yes They Do Need Romo on Sunday
    Cowboys linebacker Bradie James on how Romo must play on Sunday. More at NFL.com and DallasCowboys.com. (Published Wednesday, Dec 28, 2011)

    That doesn't mean it will be correct. In fact, it probably won't be correct. But ever thus to Cowboys quarterbacks.

    No matter the narrative when the dust settles, Romo won't be the only player who decides what happens on Sunday. There are others on the Cowboys offense who will play crucial roles and they will loom as large, if not larger, than the quarterback. Thanks to the previous game with the Giants, we already have a pretty good idea about who those players are going to be.

    Doug Free: It has not been the kind of season that the Cowboys expected to get from their left tackle after signing him to a big new deal in the offseason. He hasn't been particularly good in any phase of the game, but he's been particularly bad when it comes to pass blocking. With Jason Pierre-Paul looming on the other side of the line for the Giants, that's a very scary proposition.

    Free needs to be better than he was in the first Giants game, when Pierre-Paul was able to keep the Giants defense from blowing the game all by himself. Frankly, Free needs to be better than he's been at any point this season and figure out a way to give Romo time to make plays because those plays are going to be there against an awful Giants secondary. If he can't, the Cowboys aren't going to have much of a chance to win.

    Felix Jones: Unless the Giants do something radically different than they did last time, there is going to be a lot of room to run on Sunday night. In the first game, the Giants focused on taking away the outside receivers by leaving a couple of safeties deep on the majority of the snaps. That left plenty of room for Jones to operate and he took good advantage.

    Now Jones is dealing with injuries and might be at less than 100 percent on Sunday night. He needs to summon up enough to produce on the ground, though, because it will open things up for the passing game. If the Giants have to bring up a safety or spend a beat longer making sure they are set to play the run, there are going to be big chances for Romo to make plays through the air.

    Jason Witten: Getting Witten more involved in the passing game is going to be just as difficult as it was last time, when he caught three passes for just 12 yards. The Giants pass rushers are too good for Witten to have no responsibilities with pass blocking, even if it is just chipping a rusher before getting out into a pattern.

    If the Cowboys can find a way to make a play or two early to Witten, though, it would make a world of difference. Anything that pulls attention away from Dez Bryant and Miles Austin is going to create myriad opportunities to gain big chunks of yardage. Whichever role Witten plays, he needs to excel at it for the Cowboys to win on Sunday.

    There's more the Cowboys can do to make life easier for themselves on offense. They can make the slot receiver a frequent target to take advantage of Antrel Rolle and Prince Amukamara, for example, and they can deploy more of the crossing patterns that worked so fell for them last time around. All of that is great, but it won't be worth much if the three players above fall flat in the Meadowlands.

    They won't get the credit (or the blame), but they're the biggest non-Romo reasons why the Cowboys can win the NFC East.


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