Are the Cowboys reining in Romo?

Sometimes, perception and reality can in fact overlap, and if you think Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo isn't throwing the ball downfield the way he used to, you're right.

According to ESPN's Stats & Information, Romo's yards per pass attempt have declined in each of the past three seasons and are now at a level so low that only the Rams' A.J. Feeley has a lower figure among qualifying NFL quarterbacks this season. Stats & Info's numbers begin with 2008, the last year Terrell Owens played in Dallas:

Tony Romo's Passing Yards Per Attempt

2011: 6.9

2010: 7.3

2009: 7.7

2008: 9.4

Now, there are a couple of possible explanations for this trend, and especially for the way it's bottoming out so far in 2011. Top wideouts Miles Austin and Dez Bryant missed time earlier this year with injuries. The Cowboys clearly like to throw the ball to their running backs and tight end Jason Witten. And some have theorized that, after Romo cost them a couple of early games with bad-decision interceptions, the coaching staff might be trying to rein him in to limit his opportunities to make costly mistakes.

If that's the case, I think it's the coaching staff making the mistake. The Cowboys need to run the ball, sure, but they can't ignore the downfield passing game completely. With talent like Austin and Bryant at wide receiver, they can get mismatches against almost any secondary in the league. Romo has the arm to make any throw in the playbook, and with the soft schedule they have coming up, the Cowboys would be wise to be bullies on offense and flex some of that downfield muscle. My theory is that Sunday night's loss to the Eagles was a fluky one, since they'll not soon meet another talented secondary like the Eagles'. Romo can get on a roll with his receivers over the next month or so and get that number up and out of A.J. Feeley territory.