Playbook mailbag: Why are the Cowboys struggling?

Cowboy fans had huge expectations coming into this year. A second year with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin at wide receiver, another year with DeMarcus Ware rushing the passer, and their first go-round with renowned defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

But after two consecutive, heartbreaking losses, first to the Cardinals and last week to the Giants, the mood in Dallas is shifting.

Fans are wondering: What’s wrong with the Cowboys?

And to all of you who asked, on Facebook and Twitter, here’s what we think after watching Dallas on tape this season:

Defense

Adjusting to a new defense takes time. And that’s time the Cowboys didn’t have this offseason.

While every team in the NFL has this excuse following the lockout, any team that switched coordinators in the offseason -– Cowboys fans needn’t look any further than divisional rival Philadelphia –- those squads were at a serious disadvantage coming into the season. When we watch their film, we certainly see situations in which the pass rush and the coverage behind it aren’t in sync for the Cowboys.

In a scheme like Ryan’s, with the number of blitzers he brings from different areas, an ability to hit the quarterback before he can find the voided area is key. Most of all, defenders in coverage have to be at the right places at the right times. If the defense calls for a defensive back to widen or re-route a receiver, and they don’t, those missed details can lead to big pass plays on the back end.

Offense

We know the Cowboys have the ability to score points. With every game, however, it seems more and more evident that Tony Romo is a good quarterback -– not a great one.

He’s made enough flash plays in his career to fill up a highlight reel, but he doesn’t create those plays with enough consistency to be considered an elite quarterback in this league. As our analyst Brian Baldinger showed last week following the Cardinals loss, that might be starting to factor into the coaching staff’s management of late-game situations with Romo at quarterback.  Needing a play late in games, they have been largely unwilling to put the ball into Romo’s hands thus far this season.

The Cowboys paid Romo a lot of money to be a franchise quarterback, but that doesn’t make him one on the field. We look back to the success Dallas had with a journeyman quarterback like Jon Kitna as the starter and wonder what kind of “value-added” Romo brings to the table for the Cowboys offense.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (AFC) and 9 p.m. ET (NFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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