After a Week 8 in which Brad Johnson threw for a measly 122 yards and the Cowboys gained only 172 in all, their fewest ever in a victory, internal concerns are emerging at Valley Ranch about whether the NFL's oldest active quarterback can effectively incorporate Terrell Owens and Dallas' other receivers in the downfield passing game.
A high-ranking team source said the Cowboys will "probably" have Johnson, the backup to injured Tony Romo, start against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Sunday. But the same source said Johnson's obvious limitations within the offense, on full display in Sunday's 13-9 win over Tampa Bay, might prompt coach Wade Phillips and his staff to consider other options, including third-stringer Brooks Bollinger.
In the two games with Johnson starting for Romo, none of the Cowboys' top three wide receivers or tight end Jason Witten has a reception for 20 or more yards. With Johnson in the lineup, Owens has just seven catches for 64 yards, Patrick Crayton four for 43 and newly acquired Roy Williams two for 10 yards. Witten has seven receptions for 52 yards. Williams is the only player among those mentioned with a touchdown catch.
On passes of 10-plus yards this season, Johnson has attempted only 21 passes and completed just six, while Romo threw the ball 65 times and completed almost 48 percent of his attempts.
When asked at his Monday news conference to address the quarterback situation, Phillips said, "I haven't had all the meetings today yet, as far as where we are, as far as everything is concerned. But, you know, Brad, winning the game is the key thing with a quarterback."
Directly asked if Johnson would start against the Giants, Phillips rephrased the previous answer. Asked again, he said, "We'll see. I would expect that. I don't know why it would change."
Asked why he wouldn't just say Johnson was the starter, Phillips said: "OK, he's going to start." Everyone laughed, including Phillips.
"Brad's going to do the best he can," Owens said Sunday. "We've got to go out there and make plays for him."
Johnson is the only Cowboys player with a Super Bowl ring and the Cowboys were attracted to his experience, intelligence and reputation for being someone who could manage the game and avoid sacks and turnovers. Johnson has three interceptions and has been sacked six times in his two starts.
Dallas (5-3) apparently has little interest in former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper -- who excelled with the deep ball -- as he failed to impress for Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett while both were with the Miami Dolphins.
The daunting challenge of playing the Giants' defense on the road is another reason for the Cowboys to discuss replacing Johnson. With the Giants leading the NFL in sacks, Johnson's inability to escape the pass rush becomes an additional liability.
Bollinger's mobility could be important against the Giants, who sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times and intercepted four of his passes in Sunday's 21-14 victory. The Giants (6-1) have a league-high 26 sacks. Yet Bollinger has started only 10 games in his six-year career.
Ed Werder covers the NFL for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.