Tony Romo to Terrance Williams – PRE SNAP READS FAVORITE PLAYS OF THE 2013 NFL SEASON
An undrafted player who works behind the scenes for years to earn a place in the league, before blossoming into a starting quarterback for arguably the biggest franchise in the whole world. Someone who wasn’t a first overall pick who everyone saw coming. Someone who instead went through stages of development to become one of the best players at his position in the league.
Someone who we should all admire because he is an exceptionally bright bulb fixated to a broken fuse that simply cannot work.
That’s not the way Tony Romo is usually described.
The now 34-year-old starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys is probably the most polarising player in the NFL. Yes, the same NFL that features Richard Sherman and will soon feature Michael Sam. The Romocoaster that has perennially and gloriously crashed into the final stop each season will always haunt Romo until the Cowboys can at least reach the Super Bowl.
That is because the Romo narrative has everything. He fits the high profile, somewhat glamorous player with the personality to instigate hatred from some sections and hilarity from others, while his fascination is born out of something that we can watch develop on the field so the constant suspense and threat of him overcoming the negativity can always be felt.
Unlike Sherman, who while a very popular player currently, Romo plays the position that most casual fans pay attention to. Sherman is only the focus when he is making an interception or being burned for a touchdown, so he is rarely the focal point of a play. Sam may not even make the Rams roster and the media fascination with him is primarily based on something that has nothing to do with what happens on the field.
Like seemingly all narratives, the problem with them is they blur the perception of the player’s performances on the field.
The narrative surrounding Romo is that he is a choker. He is a player who can only do so much and will never elevate his team to the point that they can win a Super Bowl. Of course, that narrative is based in ignorance because it works with the idea that every single quarterback in the league gets the same supporting cast and that Romo is always the reason that they come up short when they lose.
If we look past the narrative with Romo, we find a quarterback who has been simply phenomenal throughout his career.
Since his first full season as the starting quarterback in 2007, Romo has thrown for the fifth most touchdowns and sixth most yards of any quarterback during that time in the regular season. Of the players who have thrown at least 1,000 passes during that time, Romo had the ninth best completion percentage with 64.54 percent.
Save for Matt Schaub, who completed .06 percent more passes than Romo in a very completion percentage-friendly offense, every single player who ranks above Romo in any of those categories is either a definite hall of famer or someone who only needs one more Super Bowl ring or multiple quality years of play to be a definite hall of famer.
One of the most important things for any quarterback is throwing the ball under pressure. This is something Romo particularly excels at, as he consistently gets rid of the football quickly to avoid the impact of pressure. We think of throwing under pressure as the quarterback letting the ball go while being hit or throwing through traffic in a collapsing pocket, but the mental capacity to quickly adjust when you know the pressure is coming is an understated and under-appreciated aspect of playing the position.
In Week 2 of the 2013 regular season, Romo had one of the best performances of any player all season. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was able to confuse the Cowboys pass protection throughout the game with blitzes and disguised rushes that sent defenders free at Romo.
Outside of one fumble that came on a blindside hit, Romo was essentially flawless against a defense that performed to the point that it would likely have racked up more than five sacks against most quarterbacks in the league.
One of the most impressive plays of the game showed off Romo’s mental intelligence and his physical ability to throw the ball.
On 3rd-and-3 on the Chiefs 37 yard line, Romo initially lines up in the shotgun.
It’s important to understand the field position here, because the Chiefs are being aggressive to get a negative play that will knock the Cowboys out of field goal range. Sutton has called a designed pass rush that will only see him rush four, but the problem is recognizing where the four players will come from.
Before the snap, all of Romo’s communication with his offensive line focuses on the right side of the offense.
Once the offensive line has set itself, seemingly to protect the right side of the offense, Romo turns to the left side of the offense and communicates with his wide receivers. While we have no idea exactly what was communicated between the quarterback and his teammates, what happens after the snap gives us an idea.
Left tackle Tyron Smith stays inside to block the right defensive end. This leaves tight end Jason Witten to handle Eric Berry, who was threatening to blitz off the edge. However, Witten actually runs a slant route inside, while the rest of the offensive line and the running back who stays into pass protection focus on the other side of the line.
This allows Berry a free run at the quarterback, but also allows the slot cornerback who blitzed at the last second a free run at the quarterback.
Romo’s blocking scheme has seemingly failed because he has six blockers accounting for just two defenders. Bob Sutton’s disguised coverage has worked to perfection. However, the route combinations on the backside of this play accounted for any blitz from Berry or the slot cornerback.
Berry and the cornerback may not be blocked, but Romo immediately looked at Berry at the snap so he had time to get rid of the football with his quick release. Because Witten ran a slant from the tight end spot, he accounts for any potential inside linebacker who would undercut the slant route to the slot receiver. That would be the throw to negate a Berry blitz.
Because Berry and the cornerback blitzed and the free safety dropped down to play man coverage on the slot receiver, Romo recognized that he had a receiver running down the sideline against single coverage.
He has to make a very quick decision and throw the ball very accurately while under pressure and with a quick release, but this is the kind of play that Romo can consistently make. Therefore, even though the initial blocking was sent to the other side and Sutton’s disguised rush seemingly worked, Romo and the offense actually had everything accounted for.
If the blitz had come from the other side, the offensive line would have been in position to give Romo time to survey the field. If it came from the left side of the offense like it did, he could use his own physical and mental quickness to negate the pressure with the right route combinations.