Corner Tandem Steps Up Against Dallas

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Photo courtesy of USA Today

ARLINGTON, Texas — Tony Romo didn’t look right, and that needs to be part of the conversation.

Since fracturing two transverse processes in his back last month, the Cowboys quarterback typically doesn’t begin practicing until Thursday in a normal week. This, of course, was no normal week, and it looked like the lack of recovery time affected his play.

“There are no excuses,” said Romo. “They made things a little bit tougher. I missed a couple throws that I normally won’t miss. I will be better at that the rest of the year, I know that for sure.”

That’s probably true assuming the wear and tear doesn’t get the better of him over the final quarter of the season.

While the Dallas passing game wasn’t at its optimum, credit needs to be given to starting cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. This was not an easy matchup and many thought it would go the way of Green Bay, only this time with Dez Bryant tearing it up on the outside rather than Jordy Nelson. Bryant did pull down a 38-yard reception over Fletcher late in the first quarter and finished with four catches for 73 yards. But that was just one of two Dallas pass plays that went for over 20 yards, and the second came in garbage time on the Cowboys’ final drive.

In a roller coaster season for the corner tandem, this performance was right around the top of the lift hill.

“You see why I can’t go high and low and up and down? Because the rest of the players have up and down games too. Those corners, it’s just a different microscope they’re under,” said Billy Davis. “Their bad plays are plus-forty and everybody sees it. As a coach I can’t say, ‘Oh, I’m going to bench you!’ because I know the other guys are making similar mistakes, it’s just not as costly. I have complete confidence in those guys.”

Davis actually hinted that he was close to benching Fletcher a couple weeks back against the Packers but stuck with him, encouraged by the fact that the defensive back’s resolve didn’t waver in the midst of struggle. Fletcher has had his share of tough times through 12 games. He has been targeted more than any other cornerback in the league by opposing quarterbacks and has yielded the most yards (820) and the second most touchdowns (6) in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. It’s not all bad, though. Quarterbacks are completing just 48.5 percent of the throws in his direction – good for the eighth best mark in the league – and Fletcher is far and away the leader in pass breakups with 16 (the next closest is New Orleans’ Keenan Lewis with nine).

Williams has yielded five touchdowns and opposing QBs are completing just under 60 percent of their passes against him. He intercepted Romo in the third quarter and led the team with three passes defensed.

“We just want to continue to fight and compete the best we possibly can. You’re going to have those tough games; we haven’t played any slouches this year…guys have been pretty good against us and pretty accurate to a degree,” said Williams.

“The main thing about the corner position is you have to have a short memory. You can’t allow the plays that they had success on to affect the next play or to trickle over into the next week.”

Williams and Fletcher each broke up passes on the Cowboys’ first possession to help set the tone. (Fletcher, to be fair, probably could have been called for pass interference.) Though some of it might be attributed to health, Romo was held to under 200 yards passing and threw zero touchdowns and two interceptions. The defensive backs disrupted the receivers’ routes early and the pass rush moved Romo off his spot, throwing a wrench into the Cowboys’ offensive machine.

Big picture, it’s to be determined whether the back end can handle its business against the best come January. On this late November afternoon, it held its own against a pretty good opponent in a very big spot.

“[Fletcher] and Cary are there every day, down in and down out and they’re going to put their hands on people and compete,” said Davis, “and I got a lot of respect for both of them.”