BEREA: For the first eight games of the season, some discussion around the NFL was centered on what was wrong with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
With 13 interceptions in his first eight games, including five in a loss to the Chicago Bears on Oct. 1 and four in another loss to the New York Giants on Oct. 28, Romo had America’s Team headed for another disappointing season despite being surrounded by so many offensive weapons.
In the past two games, the picks have come to a halt and Romo, a 10-year veteran, appears to have righted the ship.
Last week against the host Eagles, Romo didn’t turn the ball over and led the Cowboys to a 38-23 victory that thrust them back into the NFC East race. Now 4-5 entering today’s game against the visiting Browns (2-7), Dallas is just 1½ games behind the division-leading Giants with five of its next six games at home and Romo playing well.
The difference, he said, has been in the details — for both Romo and his targets.
“Everyone’s on the same page and we know what we’re doing,” he said in the weekly league conference call. “What it comes down to in football is just understanding what defenses are trying to do to you and taking what they give to you. We just need to make the right choices and right decisions and do the little things that allow you to protect the ball.”
Protecting the ball the past two weeks has given the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Romo the opportunity to boost this season’s sagging statistics. Romo’s touchdowns (12) are nearly even with the interceptions, his passing yards have increased to 2,603 and his anemic passer rating rose to a more respectable 85.2.
“I never try to throw the ball to the other team, but interceptions always fall on the quarterback,” Romo said. “I don’t care if it’s a tipped ball or someone runs the wrong route or you get hit when you throw it. It’s all gonna fall back in the quarterback’s lap. [But] we’ve tried to eliminate some of the randomness that happens on certain turnovers we have and I think that’s helped us.”
No doubt the Browns would have preferred to face the Cowboys a few weeks ago in the midst of Romo’s struggles.
“He’s quick,” Browns defensive end Jabaal Sheard said. “He’s aware of the pocket. He’s aware of where everybody is. He’s got the tricks. If you don’t go for the up field shoulder, he’ll spin out. He’s a very mobile quarterback. When the hole’s there and he gets a chance to take off, he’ll go for it.”
But with the Browns defense helped by the services of athletic tackle Ahtyba Rubin, who’s returning from a nagging calf injury, they’ll look to keep Romo on the run in hopes he reverts back to making mistakes.
“[Romo’s] a great quarterback but getting [Rubin] back is great for us,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “I think defensively we can match up. I feel we can get some pressure on ’em with our front four and move him off his spot … that’s where we can gain an advantage if he makes a crucial error — his strength can be his weakness at times with him getting outside the pocket and throwing the ball across the field.”
Said Browns coach Pat Shurmur: “The game is never over when he’s got the ball in his hand and he’s got outstanding weapons to throw the football to. [Tight end] Jason Witten leads all tight ends with 66 receptions. He’s got explosive players on the outside, they run the ball well and he’s proven he can win games in this league. He has the ability to make big time plays and I think that’s what makes him dangerous.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett downplayed the interception that plagued Romo this season, figuring every quarterback struggles between being aggressive and trying to fit some balls in tight windows versus playing it too safe.
“It’s a challenge every coach and quarterback have around this league,” he said. “With the quarterback position, that guy has the ball in his hands every play. And you need him to make some plays. But at the same time, he has to be good with the football and take care of the football in order to give your team a chance to win ball games. You’re always balancing those two things. … It’s a challenge every snap for every quarterback in the NFL.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.