Want to stop Tony Romo? Don’t blitz him
It is quite obvious that Tony Romo’s improvisation skills are vital to the success of the Cowboys’ offense. He’s used his quick feet and athleticism to make the offensive line look above average in pass protection for years.
The vast majority of Romo’s “schoolyard” plays–the ones where he jukes and dodges defenders, all the while keeping his eyes downfield in search of the big play–have come on blitzes. Not only are there more defenders for Romo to elude (and thus less in coverage), but the quarterback is also underrated in his ability to diagnose defenses and promptly hit the open receiver.
Most of Romo’s reads get made before the snap. How often do you see the play clock tick down to just one or two seconds before the Cowboys snap the ball? This is because the team uses every available second to call the play(s), diagnose the defense, and make the necessary adjustments. The Cowboys may not be great at halftime adjustments, but their in-play alterations are solid.
As I looked into my database of Cowboys’ 2010 offensive snaps, I noticed a trend that seemed to confirm these ideas. I track not only when a defense blitzes, but also when they show a blitz pre-snap. Most of Romo’s mistakes over the past few years have seem to come in two situations:
- When defenses don’t blitz and sit back in zone coverage, forcing Romo to make accurate throws, and
- When defenses show blitz pre-snap but back into a safe coverage
In the chart below, you can see that Romo has been incredible against the blitz this season. All four of his touchdowns have come when the defense sends extra defenders, and he has yet to throw an interception. His 121.9 overall passer rating versus the blitz is sensational.
Romo has been below average when teams do not blitz, however. He has just a 67.8 overall passer rating in such situations through three games. That number plummets to 28.3 when defenses act as if they will blitz but then send four or less defenders.
I think Romo’s failures stem from the importance he places on pre-snap reads. When defenses show blitz but then don’t come, Romo’s original read is usually taken away. He can then sometimes panic, and although I truly believe Romo is a tremendous talent and a Championship-level quarterback, he does not possess incredible accuracy. He makes a lot of his plays by buying extra time to allow receivers to become wide open.
This would explain why he still does well when teams do not show blitz but then end up coming after him. What he sees post-snap may differ from his pre-snap reads, but he possesses not only a quick release, but also the athleticism to make good things happen that may not have been designed in the original play.
Overall, it seems clear Romo performs much better when he “knows” whether or not a blitz is coming. When teams do not blitz, his passer rating is 181 percent better when teams do not show it as opposed to feigning a blitz. When defenses do send extra defenders, Romo’s passer rating is 24.1 points better if the defense “shows” it as opposed to disguising their intentions.
So you want to stop Romo? Well, don’t blitz often, but feel free to act as if you will. When you do blitz, you better disguise that as well.