ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- How do you corral an offense that has helped produced more points through four games of a regular season than any team since the AFL-NFL merger? Or cool down a quarterback who has thrown for 16 touchdowns and completed 75 percent of his passes?
It’s a riddle that four defenses have unsuccessfully tried to solve this season – and, as his defense looks to slow the record-setting pace of the Broncos offense on Sunday, Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett noted that defending the Broncos and
“You see different teams trying to do different things and they’ve tried it all,” Garrett said on Wednesday in a conference call with members of the Denver media. “Pressure him, don’t pressure him, play man, play zone, play shell defense, play single-high defense and they do a really good job attacking all of it.”
Garrett was straightforward in his synopsis of the Broncos offense.
“It’s fantastic,” Garrett said.
The Broncos have scored an NFL-best 44.8 points per game – nearly 18 points more than the league’s second-highest output – and Garrett noted that the efficiency in which the Broncos have utilized the multiple options on offense has played into Denver’s success.
“They’re playing offensive football maybe as well as Denver has played,” Garrett said. “They’re up and down the field. They can throw it – they can run it. Getting a lot of different weapons (involved). They don’t make any mistakes. They make a ton of plays that make a difference in the ball game.”
“There is just a lot of ability on that side of the ball from just the depth that they have at each position,” Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo added. “They are able to do a lot of different things.”
An integral part to that success has been the record-setting Manning – and Garrett said that he believes the future Hall-of-Famer has raised his level of play to an unprecedented level through the season’s first four games.
“As well as Peyton Manning has played for 15 years at about the highest level you can play. I think he’s probably playing his best football he’s ever played over the first four games of the season. He looks remarkable to me and they certainly are hitting on all cylinders.”
Slowing down that attack, Garrett noted, will require precise tackling in order to latch down on a stable of Broncos playmakers that have broken off chunks of yardage throughout the season.
“We just need to be sound fundamentally in everything that we do,” Garrett said. “Rally and tackle the football and just try to minimize all the success they’ve been having.”
Clamping down on a Broncos running attack that has churned up 305 yards over the past two games, as Garrett pointed out, could be crucial for enabling the Cowboys’ pass rush and secondary to slow down Manning and the receivers.
“It all starts with stopping the run,” Garrett said. “It all starts with affecting the quarterback and then on the back end whatever coverages you’re using, man, zone whatever, if you can cover those guys up on the back end and make it difficult for the quarterback to find places to throw you’re going to be effective.”
While Manning’s play has been well-documented, Romo has put together a strong campaign of his own in 2013.
Romo has thrown for 1,017 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception – good for a 105.0 quarterback rating that ranks fourth in the NFL. His efficient play is a far cry from the eight interceptions he threw in the first four games of 2012, something that he credited in part to the work he put in over the offseason to improve his throwing mechanics.
“I found something pretty important, I think, in the throwing motion that’s allowed me to throw from a little bit different position,” Romo said. “That’s calmed certain things down. I think a lot of things go into play. We’re getting good offensive line play. A lot of different things come into play with that stuff.”
Garrett noted that lightening the burden on Romo’s shoulders by establishing a run game – running back DeMarco Murray’s 356 rushing yards rank third in the NFL and he has averaged nearly five yards-per-carry – has beneficially affected his quarterback’s game.
“We’ve run the ball relatively effectively the last couple of weeks and that takes the burden off the quarterback,” Garrett said. “The feeling that he has to keep up and do everything himself kind of goes by the wayside a little bit and he can be 1/11th of the offense and execute the plan and just really do his job. I think whenever you can put a quarterback in that kind of environment, he’s going to respond well to it and Tony certainly has.”
Romo will be challenged by a Broncos secondary that he noted excels with its speed and positioning.
“I think this is as fast a back seven as I’ve seen in some time,” he said. “They play very well in tight spaces.”
The physicality of the Broncos secondary particularly stood out to Romo.
“They do a great job with their hands,” he said. “To me, that’s going to be tough sledding for a lot of teams when you play against teams who are going to be that physical outside. I think we’ll try to do some things to help combat that.”
And as the Cowboys look to rebound from a difficult 30-21 loss to the Chargers in which Dallas lost a fumble at the San Diego goal line in the closing minutes, Romo noted that there is no consolation in being just a few plays away from a 4-0 record – only motivation to correct the mistakes that led to losses and get better.
“I think more than anything, you recognize that it just doesn’t matter. We’re 2-2,” Romo said. “The games could have easily gone the other way but they didn’t. We’re in this position and we need to play good football, play our way right back to where we need to be.”
“I think the only way to do that is to get better and to go out here and figure out some of those little things that didn’t allow us to win that game last game, and be a better team from it,” he added.