Romo learning to handle pressure
IRVING, Texas -- After being bruised and battered for all of a disastrous December, Tony Romo pointed the finger of blame at the Cowboys' offensive coaching staff.
Moments after collapsing in the shower due to the pain from a rib-cage injury, Romo called out the coaches for failing to come up with an adequate game plan to deal with the Philadelphia Eagles' exotic blitz packages.
"They exposed us," Romo said after the Cowboys' season-ending 44-6 stinker at Lincoln Financial Field. "It's something that we do fundamentally offensively. So give them credit."
Romo never took back those comments, but he did express confidence in offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and the rest of the offensive coaches during the offseason. Romo's relationship with his coaches isn't an issue.
As the Cowboys prepare to return to Philadelphia with the NFC East lead at stake, whether Dallas is prepared to deal with the Eagles' defensive pressure is an issue.
"I can't tell you right now what our answers are," offensive line coach Hudson Houck said, "but we have some answers, we think."
Romo is 2-3 against the Eagles, with the three losses ranking among his worst performances. Of course, a lot of quarterbacks struggled against the Eagles in recent years, when highly respected defensive coordinator Jim Johnson designing creative schemes to bring pressure from all angles.
Johnson succumbed to cancer this summer, but the Eagles still play his style of football under new coordinator Sean McDermott, who was promoted from secondary coach. Philadelphia is tied for second in the league in sacks (23) and tied for first in turnovers forced (21).
The Cowboys should be better prepared to face Philadelphia than they were in December for two reasons: The offensive line is intact with Kyle Kosier, who was out most of last season with a broken foot; and the Eagles are much more comfortable in their second season under Houck.
"Key word: communication," said center Andre Gurode of facing Philadelphia's defense. "Communicating in every single phase. We try to make sure that we're all on the same page. That's the best thing that we can do."
When you put blood out there in the water, the sharks are really going to go wild. That's really what it comes down to -- when you're behind and they know you're one-dimensional.” -- Cowboys OL coach Hudson Houck
Romo has learned to accept that sometimes his job is to keep a bad play from becoming worse. He's still a playmaker, but he's put a much higher priority on protecting the ball.
In seven games, Romo has been sacked 10 times against the blitz, according to Stats LLC. That's already two more than all of last season in blitz situations. However, he has only thrown one interception against the blitz, down from six last season.
"One of the things you learn is that a lot of interceptions end up happening when you're about to get hit," said Romo, who has completed 54 of 102 passes for 809 yards and four touchdowns while being blitzed this season. "You have to know and be judicious with when you're going to let that ball go."
Romo has fumbled twice on those 10 sacks. He fumbled twice in Philadelphia last season, threw one interception and was sacked four times. The Eagles converted all three turnovers into touchdowns, turning the win-or-go-home game into a rout.
The Cowboys made it easy on the Eagles' defense by falling behind early during the most recent meeting. With the Cowboys in comeback mode, the Eagles didn't have to worry about the running game, allowing them to focus solely on roughing up Romo.
"When you put blood out there in the water, the sharks are really going to go wild," Houck said. "That's really what it comes down to -- when you're behind and they know you're one-dimensional."
If the Cowboys are one-dimensional during this trip to Philadelphia, they'll come home in second place.
Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail email@example.com.
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