SI.com NFL senior writer Peter King attended Dallas Cowboys practice last week and wrote about some of his discoveries on Tuesday.
King received exclusive interview access to Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo. Some of the highlights include Garrett discussing Romo’s ability to win a Super Bowl and Romo’s take on the additions to the team’s offensive line.
“He’s more than capable of winning a Super Bowl in this league,” Garrett said of Romo. “Look at John Elway. He went 14, 15 years without winning one, and all of a sudden Denver runs it better and plays better defense, and he wins two, and now people think of him as a top three quarterback of all time. With Tony, we’ve just got to be better around him, and I think we will be.”
That’s certainly high praise coming from Garrett, a former NFL quarterback. Getting better around Romo will depend greatly on him having time to make plays. If the offensive line remains as shaky as it’s been during the preseason, Romo won’t get a chance to find receiving options like Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten.
According to Romo, all he needs from the offensive line is an extra half-second to make a play.
“I feel good about where we are,” Romo said. “We’ve changed our two guards (adding Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau), and they’ll be important to what we do. If they can give me an extra half-second more after the snap, that can be eternity for our offense. It’s interesting to consider what we’d be able to do.”
RELATED: PETER KING – Romo already in mental battle against Giants’ D
I don’t normally talk to quarterbacks at midnight Pacific time, but we’d missed each other after practice, and we were both tied up in the evening, so he told me to call before 11, and I did, and he was talkative, so we spoke for a while. The quote had to do with us talking about how complicated some defenses are getting, and how smart the Giants’ defensive front was and a few other things, and Romo, who was sitting in his hotel room in San Diego studying some tape of the Giants, just knew that no matter how much he studied, the Giants would do some things in the opener 15 nights away that he wouldn’t — couldn’t — be prepared for. On this night, he looked at six Giants games from last season. He said he felt good about being able to study the Giants so much — but he’s no fool. He knows Eli Manning is probably doing exactly the same thing, studying the Dallas D back in New Jersey, whether it’s on this night or some others. (Editors note: Wouldn’t that also mean Manning in a mental battle against the Cowboys’ D?)
"We run an offseason study on the teams we’re going to play, like all teams do,” Romo said. "They [the Giants] will structurally be the same team; why would you change when you’ve won the Super Bowl? Structurally, they’ll probably run the same blitzes. But when you look at games from last year, you see their imagination. Against Buffalo [way back in Week 6], they did some really new stuff. I’ve watched a lot of that Buffalo game, with how they played a stack alignment and how they handled the [Bills’] screen game. What you do is take all that in and try to determine how they’ll react to what you’re going to do.”
Chess match. Spy vs. spy, especially in a first game, when two teams that played each other twice in 22 days at the end of last year then had eight months to wonder: How will they counter us when we do X?
"The first game of the year is always an in-season adjustment game,” Romo said. "But I feel good about where we are. We’ve changed our two guards (former Bengal Nate Livings and ex-Panther Mackenzy Bernadeau now start), and they’ll be important to what we do. If they can give me an extra half-second more after the snap, that can be eternity for our offense. It’s interesting to consider what we’d be able to do.”
That presumes that ascending star Tyron Smith, at left tackle, and right tackle Doug Free can also keep pressure off Romo. Last year, according to ProFootballFocus.com, Free allowed 49 pressures/hurries/sacks, so it’s no sure thing that Romo will be cleaner this year.
Romo was better last year than our memories of him: 66 percent accuracy (and one memorable overthrow of Miles Austin in the close December loss to New York), 4,184 yards passing, 31 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, a 102.5 rating. "He’s more than capable of winning a Super Bowl in this league,” Jason Garrett told me earlier in the day. "Look at John Elway. He went 14, 15 years without winning one, and all of a sudden Denver runs it better and plays better defense, and he wins two, and now people think of him as a top three quarterback of all time. With Tony, we’ve just got to be better around him, and I think we will be.”
The reason I’d feel good about Romo as my quarterback if I were a Cowboys fan was accentuated late in our conversation. We were talking about the contentious practice session against the Chargers, which ended with a Romo rainbow deep into the end zone to a fifth-round receiver who looked like he didn’t get both feet in. The official looking at the play looked around for help. The Chargers screamed that the kid was out of bounds. With no help coming, the ref threw both hands in the air and called out "Touchdown!” The Chargers were furious.
"I went back and looked at the play on tape tonight,” Romo said. "Threw it to Danny Coale. Cover 2, soft zone. Safety bit on the fake too hard. Danny came down with it. Great play. And he got both feet in. He definitely got both feet in.”
Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine decided to count down the best of the best, the top 25 plays in franchise history. Here is No. 5 and a snippet from the Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine story:
Simply Spectacular, Jan. 15, 1978:
The Cowboys led the Denver Broncos, 13-3, midway through the third quarter of Super Bowl XII. After dominating early, forcing three fumbles and four interceptions in the first half alone, Dallas should’ve been in command, but momentum was starting to change. The Cowboys were facing a third-and-10 at Denver’s 45-yard line.
There is nothing like the national, heck, worldwide stage of the Super Bowl. Make a spectacular catch in Week 3 at Cincinnati, and sure, it’s going to be replayed that night, maybe make a few Plays of the Week reels, but the highlight is quickly lost in the passage of time. Not so on the final Sunday of the football season. Just ask Lynn Swann, John Taylor … or more recently Santonio Holmes.
And then there’s Michael “Butch” McColly Johnson, the Cowboys longtime return specialist and third wide receiver who hauled in a Roger Staubach pass in such aerobatic brilliance that it’s impossible to watch any collection of outstanding Super Bowl plays without its appearance. Just recently, in an ESPN poll, the catch was rated among the most memorable plays – that’s plays, not just catches – in the 45-year history of the Big Game.
The call came in from head coach Tom Landry, “Spread orange left, ray 15,” but quarterback Roger Staubach slightly altered the play in the huddle, later explaining, “(Broncos free safety) Bernard Jackson had been hanging in the middle. He wasn’t dropping into a deep zone as he should have been doing. Our receivers had mentioned it to me and I remembered it in the huddle. Butch wasn’t supposed to figure in the play, but I told him ‘Run a good post pattern.’
“When I faded, I saw that Jackson hadn’t dropped quickly enough. (Cornerback) Steve Foley did a good job, but Jackson should have stopped the play. When I threw, I thought the pass was too long. I couldn’t believe it when Butch made a sensational catch.”
For what it’s worth, the catch never would’ve counted today, especially with the recent addition to the rulebook of completing the reception. Johnson left his feet just inside the 5-yard line with outstretched arms and fingertips and somehow, someway, hauled the ball in around the 1-yard line, his left shoulder landing on the ground as he completed the 360-spin while crossing the goal line. Before he was standing upright, though, the ball was on the ground in the end zone.
In the locker room after the game, according to Sports Illustrated, a reporter said, “It looked spectacular,” to which Johnson simply replied, “It was.”
Courtesy: Jeff Sullivan | Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine