Jason Garrett budgets out of pocket

IRVING, Texas -- More than most head coaches across the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys' Jason Garrett understands what it's like to play quarterback in the league.

As he watched Tony Romo's scrambling, slipping, sliding 25-yard completion to Miles Austin in the third quarter Sunday at Philadelphia that helped lead to a game-tying touchdown, Garrett, the ex-quarterback, could only shake his head.

"Just having played the position, I know what a melee that whole thing feels like," Garrett said. "These guys are all around you like, 'Where the hell am I?' You feel like you're going the wrong way. He just has this great poise about him as an athlete where he can kind of feel what the heck's going on, and keeps his eyes up and sees what's going on down the field. It's pretty unique."

Garrett, the coach, saw something else that made him happy. As Romo slid under defensive end Fletcher Cox, Garrett saw Romo with two hands on the football. As Romo slipped through Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins, Garrett saw those hands stay on the football.

All the while, Romo's eyes stayed downfield.

"We harp on it a lot with him," Garrett said. "You do it with every quarterback, but when a guy moves as much as he does in the pocket, the thing that naturally happens is your hands break [and the ball separates from the body]. Now that ball is out there for guys who are such great athletes to knock it out of your hands. He's had a ton of those plays and he's worked very hard to, in all of his movement, the ball is up here, in his cylinder. It's protected with two hands."

That play was a signature Romo moment, one Garrett called "one of the top five since I've been around him."

It also showed the delicate balance Garrett has to have when coaching Romo. What happened is not coachable. Coaches like to say every play is designed to score, but poor execution and the opposition turn design into mayhem.

It's that mayhem in which Romo flourishes and can separate from other quarterbacks in the league. It's also where he has had critical mistakes this season.

"If you ever get to a point where you're strangling him and saying, 'You can't do that and you can't do that,' I think you're taking away the essence of what makes him a really special player," Garrett said. "You're going to have some plays that you don't like, and you have to live with those. And we've had a few of those. But at the same time, you have to allow for the other ones. You can't sit there as a coach and honestly say, 'You can't do this.' You can't do whatever, change the play, go against the read, get out of the pocket because the play was bad, then there's six others where you don't recognize he did the same thing over there [and it worked].

"It's like the guy who misses the 4-foot putt to shoot par but forgets the six 40-footers he made."

The fight to understand the right time and place to attempt to make a play or simply take a sack or throw a ball away is never ending. If you thought Romo found that balance last season when he threw 31 touchdowns and had only 10 passes intercepted, you were wrong.

That the Cowboys have gone two straight games without a turnover this season doesn't mean the problem is fixed, either. It's always temporary.

The recent ability to hold on to the ball can be traced to the play calling as well. In the past two games, against the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles, Romo has taken seven shots down the field out of 65 pass plays. The passing game has been more controlled to help the offensive line protect and help Romo get the ball out faster.

There is also a downside. The field becomes smaller and defenses can pressure more, which forces Romo to make some plays on his own, like he did on that 25-yarder to Austin.

It's a tough way to live.

"Every week he's going to be challenged the same way," Garrett said. "We never want to get to the point where he's got it down pat. He doesn't have it down pat. Nobody does because that position is too challenging, so you have to make sure you're thinking about it the right way every week. You're taking care of the ball the right way every week, and you picked your spots the right way every week."