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Mailbag 2/8/10

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Q: Given Tony Romo’s above-average performance against the blitz, what do you feel is the best defense to use against him?

Rick B.

A: Great question. I will be posting an in-depth evaluation concerning Romo’s performance versus the blitz once I finish my film study of the season, so be sure to check back for that.

Zone blitzes, such as the one shown above, lower the risk of giving up a big play and can confuse a quarterback, often taking away his ability to "throw hot" against the blitz.

Romo has proven year after year that his athleticism and ability to improvise make it extremely difficult to blitz him. While you always want to get pressure on the quarterback, sending five or more defenders very often can be risky, as a failure to get to the quarterback can lend itself to giving up big plays, particularly against a quarterback like Romo who can extend a play so well.

Still, just sitting back in cover two or three and letting Romo pick you apart is not the answer either. From what I have studied on film, the most effective way to attack Romo is by constantly changing up your approach and employing “sneaky” coverages. Zone blitzes, for example, are something against which he has struggled in the past. A zone blitz involves dropping back players who are not generally in coverage, such as defensive linemen, and sending linebackers or defensive backs in their place. The reason this can be effective is it gives the immediate appearance of a blitz to the quarterback, but the defense can still drop eight men into coverage. Thus, the risk of a blitz is lessened, while the upside is still available.

Expect Miles Austin to be dancing even more this offseason after he signs a long-term extension.

Ultimately, to combat Romo’s effectiveness versus the blitz, I would mix up unique coverages and zone blitzes, trying to not allow him to get comfortable or figure out what the defense is going to do pre-snap. Perhaps showing strange defensive looks, such as the new “Amoeba” defense that teams such as Pittsburgh and Denver have implemented, would do the trick (the “Amoeba” defense is used during passing downs and is characterized by having no down-linemen and players shuffling around, confusing the quarterback and offensive line as to which players are rushing). Still, containing Romo is easier said than done.

Q: With Miles Austin a restricted free agent, does that mean he is free to sign with another club? Will the Cowboys sign him long-term before that happens?

Todd Rowley, Sacramento, CA

A: Yes, Miles Austin is free to sign an offer sheet with another team, but Dallas then has seven days to match that offer. If they choose to not do so, they would receive the highest compensation possible from a RFA, a first and a third-round pick. I do expect the Cowboys to sign Austin long-term, as I see it as the #1 offseason priority. Austin was a beast all season, and although he has only proved himself for one season, he is not the type of player who will give less effort when he gets his first huge check.

There is also a possibility that the ‘Boys could franchise Austin, meaning he would receive a one-year deal worth the average salary of the top five wide receivers in the NFL. I see this as a long-shot, however, as Jerry Jones rarely decides to use the franchise tag. I think the Cowboys have seen enough to know that Austin is their go-to receiver of the future.

Q: You talked about what a great addition WR Jordan Shipley would be, but I don’t think there is room for him on the roster. What wide receiver would the Cowboys let go?

Jennifer Miller, Exton, PA

Dallas signed Allen Rossum as a return specialist in '09, so drafting a returner who can also play wide receiver, such as Jordan Shipley, would be like having a more versatile Rossum.

A: That is a good point, and I should have addressed it in my previous article. I definitely think there is room for another WR on the roster. It is not uncommon for teams to keep six wide receivers, meaning Shipley, or another rookie, would join Austin, Williams, Crayton, Hurd, and Ogletree. If Dallas ends up cutting Deon Anderson and using John Phillips as a FB/TE, that would open up a roster spot. Also, don’t forget Dallas has receivers Jesse Holley and Manuel Johnson on the practice squad, so their emergence could alter the Cowboys’ plans.

If the Cowboys were to cut a player, I would expect it to be Sam Hurd. Hurd is such a valuable special teams player, though, so I see them keeping six receivers over cutting him.

The main reason I think Shipley would be such a great fit in Dallas, however, is his return skills. It just so happens he plays wide receiver, but any player with his ability to return is worth a roster spot. He would be an immediate upgrade in the return department, and an eventual replacement for Patrick Crayton. Also remember that Dallas signed Allen Rossum midseason as a return specialist (showing their lack of confidence in Crayton and Felix Jones at the time), so if you view Shipley in this way, he is simply a younger, more versatile Allen Rossum.

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