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Cowboys Film Study: Tony Romo’s Off-Target Passes

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Tony Romo is far more of a “pocket passer” than outsiders tend to believe.  Yes, he is rather athletic and does scramble from time to time, but the majority of his movement is completed behind the line of scrimmage.  He moves to allow receivers to get open rather than to find running room of his own.

As this variety of “pocket passer,” it is imperative that Romo is accurate.  Every quarterback must be accurate, of course, but it is even more crucial for quarterbacks who do not use their legs to gain massive chunks of yardage for their teams.  Interestingly, it is Romo’s behind-the-line movement (as opposes to scrambling for positive yards) that allows receivers to gain separation, making his throws easier.

We dove into our film database to uncover not only Romo’s accuracy in 2009, but also the vicinities of the football field in which his throws were best.  To do this, we tracked each play that Romo threw an off-target pass.

What is an ‘off-target pass’?  Certainly it is a subjective statistic, but we considered a pass to be ‘off-target’ if:

1.  Romo missed a receiver who was relatively open

2.  Romo was giving his best effort to acquire a completion.

Thus, spikes, throw-aways, and passes that were on-target but knocked away by a defender did not constitute ‘off-target passes.’

The graph to the left shows that Romo’s accuracy was quite consistent in 2009.  He never had less than five off-target passes in a game, and never more than 10.

The graph below displays Romo’s accuracy on passes in different areas of the field.  As you can see, Romo was again incredibly consistent, whether throwing to the left, middle, or right parts of the field.

There are really no surprises in these numbers, perhaps outside of the fact that Romo was least accurate on throws to the right side of the field.  He was ‘off-target’ on 23.3 percent of passes to the right side of the field, compared to just 21.5 percent on the left side.

However, this statistic could be affected more by who was receiving Romo’s passes on the right side rather than where the throws were going, i.e. Miles Austin frequently lined up on the left side of the formation.

The 18.2 percent of off-target passes over the middle represents Romo’s best area of the field. This is to be expected, however, as passes over the middle tend to be shorter (and thus easier to complete).  A large percentage of these throws also went to Jason Witten, whose presence generally caused matchup problems from the defense.

In 2010, Romo’s accuracy will undoubtedly have an enormous impact on the success of the team.  If he can retain his current consistent play while still limiting turnovers, the Cowboys will once again be very difficult to beat.


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8 Responses to Cowboys Film Study: Tony Romo’s Off-Target Passes

  1. David Mark says:

    Just saying: I love these “Film Study” articles. Love the data. Love the data-derived analysis. It’s much better than the I-think-it-therefore-it-must-be-true analysis to found almost everywhere else. Keep them comin’.

    BTW: you ever read Michael Lewis’ book “Moneyball”? I’m thinking if Billy Beane were to follow DC football at all, he would love this web site too.

  2. Hey David,
    Thanks a lot for the feedback. It is funny you mention Moneyball–that is one of my favorite books and actually an inspiration for me to bring a Sabermetrics-like approach to football. I had always been interested in statistics and game theory, but that book really put me over the edge in terms of implementing the methodology to football.

    I really think you will see “Sabermetrics” and game theory become huge in football within the next decade. I think you are already seeing some changes in play-calling in teams like the Saints and Pats, and I’d expect the rest of the league to follow.

    It is amazing how statistics and numbers can sometimes be so misleading, yet sometimes reveal complex truths about certain phenomena which can be utilized in making decisions.

    Anyway, sorry for the long post–glad you are enjoying the analysis.

  3. David Herrera says:

    I really enjoy this too, I wonder what Tony would say if he saw it :]

  4. Thanks David. Who knows? Maybe he has seen it…I’m sure he Googles himself haha

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