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Make no mistake: Life without Romo will hurt the Cowboys

With all due respect to wide receiver Roy Williams, the Cowboys, as an organization, are about to learn what life without quarterback Tony Romo will be like.

For some Cowboys fans, they know this is going to be miserable. For the anti-Romo folks, they are about to learn why they should appreciate the man. For Williams, he will learn that the Cowboys are not as good with Jon Kitna as they are with Romo.

It's complicated

The loss of quarterback Tony Romo for six to eight weeks makes it much more difficult for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to evaluate the performance of coach Wade Phillips. **More ...**

Romo takes far more criticism than he should. Mention Romo to his detractors, they always reference his inability to win the big game, or how he can't perform in clutch moments. They blame him for all the Cowboys' failures in the playoffs. But those are superficial criticisms, because not all that is wrong with Dallas should be laid at the feet of Romo.

Imagine if Saints coach Sean Payton had stayed on to be the Cowboys' coach to guide Romo. Or what if Mike Shanahan were coaching Romo, or even Jon Gruden? Do you think Romo would be dealing with all the negativity?

Yes, Romo makes his share of mistakes and is far from perfect, but like many quarterbacks in the league, he gets blamed for far too much of what is wrong with his team. Romo can't control the draft, or player development, or the fact that his team never seems to cover all the details needed to win close games. The play that sent Romo to the injury list is actually symbolic of what is wrong with the Cowboys.

It was a missed assignment that created the free path for Giants linebacker Michael Boley to lay out Romo, causing the shoulder damage that will prevent him from playing for the next six to eight weeks. Missed assignments, lack of attention to detail, poor conditioning, poor fundamentals. Those are the reasons Dallas is a one-win team.

Now, I'm not saying Romo doesn't make his share of mistakes, or that he couldn't do more. But if the Cowboys had more players or coaches who were as talented in their job as Romo is in his, they would not be in this mess. Romo misses former coach Bill Parcells. Romo needs someone to constantly challenge him, push him and make him reach levels of performance that he never thought he could. Without implying Romo lacks great work ethic, he needs someone who keeps after him to reach his untapped talent.

Romo can be successful without a coach like Parcells, but he could be even better with one.

Without Romo, the Cowboys will find out how bad their offensive line has become. Even when Romo was in the game, not many opponents respected the Cowboys' running game, and now it will be even harder to run the ball. (When will the Cowboys figure out that Marion Barber is not the same back?) Every problem the Cowboys have as a team will now come to the surface and be magnified, and Romo won't be there to shoulder the blame.

The script: My first 15

  1. The good news for Cowboys fans is the Jaguars are coming to town, and even without Romo they should be the better team. But the Jags won't go quietly. The Cowboys' offensive line will struggle to block Jacksonville's front, not because they are so talented but because they rely on their lateral quickness to make plays, something Dallas' line can't handle.
  1. The Cowboys are not the only team in the NFL with major issues. The Bengals are not the same playoff-type team they were last year. Coach Marvin Lewis is a free agent at the end of the year, and even though, on paper, the Bengals look like they should be better than they were a year ago, their performance on the field is not the same.
  1. The Dolphins will have to prove their toughness once again, as they have to overcome last week's tough loss against the Steelers and win their fourth straight road game. The Dolphins should be able to successfully attack the Bengals on the ground and in the air, as the Bengals are not the same physical team from a year ago. Miami must win this game with its physical mentality.
  1. The Packers must find a way to run the ball against the Jets and not think they can throw it 50 times to win. Teams that beat the Jets actually run the ball more than pass. In their nine losses since Rex Ryan has been the coach, the opposition averaged 31 runs and 19 passes. Balance is the key. But can the Packers find a run game?
  1. Chan Gailey returns to Kansas City after being fired as offensive coordinator last year, and his Bills are coming off their best game offensively last week in Baltimore. Buffalo, with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their quarterback, has looked much improved recently, but the defense is beyond suspect.
  1. The Lions, coming off the bye, are finally healthy, and the Redskins are a good team for them to face. The Lions' defensive front should dominate the Redskins' offensive line and win the game in the trenches. Detroit must protect the ball. The Redskins have 17 takeaways this season, tied for second in the NFL, and have nine takeaways in their last two games.
  1. London will see Troy Smith take the reins as the starting quarterback for the 49ers. I have a feeling if Smith plays well, we might never see Alex Smith play quarterback again for the Niners.
  1. The Rams are a different team at home than on the road, especially on defense. The Rams' Chris Long and James Hall have been playing much better, pressuring the passer and creating negative plays. Long has 3.5 sacks in the last two games and finally has looked like the playmaker the Rams thought they drafted.
  1. The Chargers just make mistakes with the ball, committing turnovers, but when you watch the tape they play well on offense and defense. In fact, I bet the Titans think this is the best team they have played. Tennessee's only chance to win the game is if the Chargers keep turning the ball over, and I have a feeling that will stop this week.
  1. The Bucs are not even close to the best team in the NFC. In fact, they are not a playoff team. They will struggle to block the front of the Cards, especially on the road. Look for Arizona to run the ball more, as the Bucs really struggle to play run defense.
  1. Brett Favre will want to play. In fact, I am certain he will play. Does coach Brad Childress have the guts to tell Favre he isn't? And if Childress doesn't play Favre, what lasting effect will this decision have on the future of the season?
  1. The Patriots will be expecting Favre, but if Tarvaris Jackson does play, expect the Vikings to manage the game differently with more run, less pass and a much more structured two-minute drill. Part of the reason Childress might want to play Jackson is to get his offense back.
  1. The Raiders made a statement last week by demolishing Denver, and can make another one with a home win against the Seahawks. But Seattle has been playing better since their bye week. Adding Marshawn Lynch has helped the Seahawks play with more power and given them an identity on offense.
  1. I never thought I would say this, but the Saints' offense is slow -- and I mean really slow. Without Reggie Bush they lack an explosive player capable of making big plays. No wide receiver on the roster is showing the vertical speed, and opposing teams are not afraid to play man-to-man on them.
  1. The Steelers, without defensive end Aaron Smith, will now need Troy Polamalu to step up his game. Polamalu is not having the kind of season we are used to seeing, as he is sixth on the team in tackles with just two passes broken up all year.

Second and long

» The Eagles traded Chris Clemons, cut Antwan Barnes, and let Jason Babin go to Tennessee, and all three are playing well right now. In fact, Clemons has 5.5 sacks and Babin has six. The Eagles brought in Brandon Graham and Darryl Tapp, and so far neither has been dominating.

» The Chiefs are one of the best running teams in the NFL. Credit their line coach, Bill Muir. Kansas City is also one of the best teams in throwing the ball against the blitz. The Chiefs' success this season lies in their ability to get their line to play at a high level, and Muir deserves a ton of credit.

Gadget calls

» Minnesota this year is 52 percent run and 48 pass in the first half, but last year they were 57 pass and 43 run, so the shift back to the run has happened since the Vikings' passing game is not the same. Missing Sidney Rice really has hurt them, along with Favre not being the same player he was last year. One thing about the NFL: Every year is a new year.

» The Bears have only drafted two offensive linemen in the first round since 2002: Marc Colombo, who is no longer on the roster, and Chris Williams, who has been moved from tackle to guard and is struggling. Wonder why the Bears' line is so bad?

See you at the game...

I will be at the Packers-Jets game this weekend, and I'm looking forward to seeing a great game. The Jets are coming off the bye and riding high. Meanwhile, the Packers will have to find a way to control the Jets' pressure package. I expect Darrelle Revis to be on Greg Jennings, which means Donald Driver will need to play big for Green Bay. Hope to see you at the game. Happy Halloween!

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.

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