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More than ever, the pressure is on Tony Romo to prevail over the Giants

Doug Farrar
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The narrative is easy and longstanding, but not necessarily accurate these days -- Tony Romo has the stats; Eli Manning has the rings. In 2011, Manning made that a moot point by not only grabbing his second Super Bowl MVP award, but also finally entrenching himself in the statistical pantheon of elite quarterbacks. Manning outdid Romo in passing yards (4,933 to 4,184), and held serve in many other numbers. Manning did especially well in his two games against the Dallas Cowboys in 2011, totaling 51 of 80 for 746 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.

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Meanwhile, Romo is just trying to gain some ground -- any ground -- back when facing the Giants. From 2006 through 2008, Cowboys teams quarterbacked by Romo were 4-0 against the G-Men, and that included the Giants' 2007 Super Bowl championship season. From 2009 through 2011, the 'Boys are 0-5 against their division rivals with Romo under center, and the stats tell the story. Romo's passing yards per game have plummeted during that losing streak (233.6, down from 273.3), and his yards per attempt totals (7.4, down from 9.4) are even more worrisome.

It could very well be so again when the Cowboys welcome the Giants to their stadium Wednesday night to kick off the 2012 NFL season.

Perhaps the primary reason Romo has struggled against the Giants in recent years is that while the Cowboys' offensive line has regressed due to a lack of organizational focus on the position, New York's pass rush -- particularly the Giants' ability to bring pressure with four linemen and minimal blitz pressure -- puts the burden on quarterbacks while also relieving the team's somewhat suspect secondary.

"It's right near the top," Romo said on Monday when asked about New York's pass rush. "They're one or two, and probably the other one is in our division too. They're good. They can attack you with a lot of different guys and each one has an uniqueness to his move or the way he approaches rushing the quarterback. You've got to dig in, grind out the week with the offensive linemen and some of the other guys and figure out what they like to do, each guy, try to use that to your advantage."

But with 2011 first-round pick Tyron Smith and veteran Doug Free moving to different slots -- Smith to left tackle and Free to the right side -- continuity has been tough to find. Newbie guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings will help on the inside, but the days of Dallas' stout lines seem a thing of the past, at least in the short term. Injuries through the preseason prevented the projected starters from practicing together once this past week, and that's a scary thought given the fact that most great lines grow from repetition and consistency.

"We signed these guys for a reason," head coach Jason Garrett told the media this week. "When they've been healthy, they've done a real nice job for us," coach Jason Garrett said. "It's our good fortune they've been healthy the last couple of weeks. The offensive line we have is fairly experienced. They've played a lot of games in this league. We're going to put a plan together and we're going to go play football ... So we're excited to see them play against a really, really formidable defensive line the Giants have. It'll be a great challenge for us and we're excited about it."

Team owner Jerry Jones is typically unconcerned about the shaky front five and its potential effect on Romo. "The interior of the line -- I think we're more physical, we've got more anchor, which gives your quarterback more confidence that we can be a united front in there and Tony can handle it as far as beating the right side rush," Jones told 105.3 the Fan in Dallas on Wednesday. "He has complete confidence on his back side and I feel we are better there."

Problem is, on his backside is where Romo has spent an unusual amount of time when facing the Giants of late. In their two losses to New York last season, Romo was sacked nine times in his two games against the Giants, and though he managed to transcend his almost complete lack of effective pressure and still put up good numbers (50 of 68 for 610 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception), one has to wonder just how long Romo will stay upright against a Giants front four that, if anything, looks more formidable than ever. Smith will be going up against Jason Pierre-Paul, and well ... good luck with that.

Most importantly, and to whatever degree "quarterback wins" is a meaningful stat (hint: none), the pressure's on Romo to pull this one out and start the Cowboys off right. Tight end Jason Witten will most likely miss the season opener with a lacerated spleen, and primary receiver Dez Bryant defines "unpredictable" both on and off the field. Romo will have to hold it together and raise the level of his offense.

You see, it's what "elite" quarterbacks do.

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