So near, and yet so far for Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys. In what could have been a statement victory for them, Dallas was the first team this season to really gain the upperhand against the Denver Broncos, matching Peyton Manning score for score and turning the game into a shootout against an undermanned defense. At quarterback, Romo was in scintillating form, but as is his wont, things unraveled spectacularly in the game’s crucial moment as the Broncos got the key play of the contest to set up the win as time expired.
This was a game all about offense, with Romo and Manning going blow-for-blow in a passing clinic against two defenses that were simply unable to stick with the pace and quality of these two quarterbacks and their receivers. There is a depth to many games in the NFL, and there were performances of note throughout both teams, but the inescapable truth in this encounter was the duel between Manning and Romo, their superb play throughout, and the one critical play in the final minutes that turned the game in the cruelest fashion.
Denver – Three Performances of Note
The Thomas Twins Continue to Shine
We’ve given Peyton Manning plenty of credit to start the season, and he’s earned it, but just as impressive have been the two Thomas’s that he gets to target every game. Julius Thomas was the busier of the two in this game, getting things started for the Broncos on the scoreboard with a 4-yard TD on a well worked shovel/screen pass, and he flashed again on another short reception –split out wide against Brandon Carr, he ran a slant before executing a perfectly timed and aimed cut to knife between Carr and Brandon Church closing on him to reach the end zone on a play that appeared to be doing nothing more than setting the Broncos up with a 3rd-and-goal somewhere around the 2-or 3-yard line. Demaryius Thomas, while seeing less of the ball, came up with a number of big grabs in the game, including a 30-yard gain wiped out by a holding penalty on the Broncos’ first play from scrimmage. At the end of the game it was D. Thomas who made the plays to take the Broncos into the red zone for their final scores. On the tying drive, he fought inside Brandon Carr on a back-shoulder throw before fighting upfield and spinning forward to the 10. Then on the final drive his wheel route from the slot took the Broncos down to the 11 from where they wound down the clock for the win.
Rough Outing For Rodgers-Cromartie
On the whole, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie’s move to Denver has been a successful one, putting behind him a torrid stay with the Eagles. However, in his third game back against an NFC East opponent he had his toughest contest of the season to date. In two games against Dallas last season Rodgers-Cromartie let up 150 yards and two scores on seven catches (nine targets) — yesterday he let up a season high 110 yards and two scores (second and third of the season) on just four catches. Furthermore, he surrendered a defensive pass interference penalty worth 20 yards to Dez Bryant when beaten down the right sideline, pulling back the arm of Bryant to prevent another completion over his head. This marks the second time this season Rodgers-Cromartie has surrendered 100 receiving yards in a game, and on both occasions he has given up a 70+ yard reception, the other being against Oakland in Week 3. But for that, Rodgers-Cromartie is flourishing in Denver’s defense, however this was a reminder that there is still work to do for him and the Denver coaching staff.
Strong Game Running From Moreno
Prior to the season, the state of the Broncos’ running backs was the subject of much conjecture with it seemingly unclear who would emerge and the specter of a three-way committee looming. While each of the three are getting snaps next to and behind Manning in the Denver backfield, Knowshon Moreno has emerged as the leader of the trio, a trend continued in this game as he had 52 snaps to 23 by Ronnie Hillman and only 6 for rookie Montee Ball. But for a fumble, which he recovered himself, Moreno put in another stellar all-around performance this week, running the ball well to the tune of three missed tackles and 2.8 yards per carry after contact. He also added 57 yards as a check-down target in the passing game, with three first downs, and showed his value as a pass protector with a crucial pick up on Sean Lee to give Manning just enough time to get the pass away to Demaryius Thomas which took Denver into the red zone on their tying drive. Through five weeks Moreno is grading positively in every aspect of the game, bar penalties.
Dallas – Three Performances of Note
Almost Faultless Romo
Timing is so important for a quarterback and yet again, even after arguably the best performance of his career, Tony Romo will have to answer questions about his ability to deliver in the clutch. In spite of shredding the Broncos’ defense, and matching it with Manning, this outing will be remembered as another big game lost with a late Romo interception. With pressure in his face and his left foot caught on Tyron Smith’s right, Romo couldn’t step into his throw to drive the ball into Gavin Escobar between defenders on the fateful play, instead Danny Trevathan was able to drive and dive across the pass for the game’s pivotal play. In that moment (for many) forgotten will be his command of the short area (11 of 13, 140 yards), his accuracy on the intermediate passes (9 of 14, 152 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) and the big plays he hit on the deep ball (3 of 6, 199 yards, 1 TD). All that will remain from Romo’s stunning performance will be that one throw, which, even considering the pressure around him, ended up costing the Cowboys this titanic back-and-forth battle.
Pass Rush Nullified
Prior to this game the Cowboys featured, essentially, a three-man pass rush attack, with Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware leading the way, and George Selvie impressing as the under-the-radar member of this trio. Against Manning and the Broncos though, the Cowboys’ pass rush was rendered almost invisible by the Broncos’ offensive line and Manning’s ever rapid release. On 42 drop-backs Manning averaged 2.2 seconds from snap to release, getting rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less on 31 of his 42 snaps. You don’t need me to tell you that isn’t much time to generate a pass rush, and even on the occasions Manning held the ball for longer he was still brutally efficient, going 9 of 11 on those drop-backs with a 118.8 passer rating. Only Selvie (+0.3 pass rush), with one hit and two hurries, graded positively as a pass rusher, while Ware and Hatcher combined to record only three hurries on 64 combined pass rushes — although Ware recorded another on a play nullified by a penalty. Teams haven’t yet figured out how to cut off Manning’s quick releases and you can chalk up the Cowboys as the fifth team on that list of teams unable to work their pass rush and coverage in combination to keep the ball in Manning’s hands and allow time to get at him.
A New Breed of Triplets
As good as Romo was in this game he didn’t do it alone with three of his receivers pitching in with 100+ yard receiving games, and only two drops from all of his receivers combined compared to 26 receptions. His old faithful was, as ever, Jason Witten, who snagged all but three passes and hooked up with Romo on a number of extended plays. Out wide, Dez Bryant pitched in with his fourth straight receiving grade of +1.0 or higher (+2.1) and it would have been even higher but for a fumble and a drop. Bryant caught passes at all three levels of the defense, maximizing those receptions at every turn with plenty of yards after the catch, both on short passes and his deep shot which featured 46 yards after the catch having made Duke Ihenacho miss to open things up for him to cut infield. The breakout performer though was Terrance Williams (+2.9) who caught everything thrown his way, including capitalizing on the sloppy deep defending by Tony Carter to run away for an 82-yard score. He showed signs last week in San Diego but also coughed up a drop and a fumble. This week he put things together with a performance that, if sustained, gives the Cowboys a terrifying receiving duo with Bryant.
– After being pressured on only 7 of 42 drop-backs in this game, Peyton Manning is now adrift at the bottom of the league facing pressure on only 18.7% of his 203 drop-backs all season.
– For the third straight week Cowboys’ rookie center Travis Frederick graded well as a run blocker, with a +1.7 grade this week his third straight of +1.5 or higher.
– On average, Tony Romo’s depth of target was 4 yards deeper than Peyton Manning’s. Romo’s aDOT was 11.3 yards across the line of scrimmage, compared to Manning’s 7.2 yards.
PFF Game Ball
Others made bigger plays on offense, but for his contributions in all phases of the game Knowshon Moreno gets the game ball from this scintillating shootout.
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