The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Tony Romo Versus Blitz, Perceived Blitz in 2010

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Jonathan Bales

It is quite obvious that Tony Romo’s improvisation skills are vital to the success of the Cowboys’ offense.  He has used his quick feet and athleticism to make the offensive line look above average in pass protection–or at least superior to reality–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.

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:

  1. When defenses don’t blitz and sit back in zone coverage, forcing Romo to make accurate throws, and
  2. When defenses show blitz pre-snap but back into a safe coverage

In the chart below, you can see that Romo was incredible against the blitz this past season.  His 6:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on blitzes is far better than the 5:6 ratio he displayed against “regular” defenses.  Romo is particularly outstanding when he knows a blitz is on the way, recording a ridiculous 136.7 passer rating in these situations.  His 9.45 adjusted yards-per-attempt is ridiculous.  (AYPA subtracts sack yardage and 45 yards per interception–the number of yards, on average, each interception is “worth” in terms of a team’s win probability.  Thus, AYPA is an awesome tool for assessing a quarterback’s value against the blitz).

When teams did not blitz Romo in 2010, however, he was slightly below average.  His passer rating his historically always been lowest when a defense shows blitz but then backs off, and that was again the case in 2010 (71.3 rating).  Romo’s 2.04 AYPA in such situations tells the whole story.

I think Romo’s failures stem from the importance he places on pre-snap reads.  When defenses show a 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 15.3 points higher and his AYPA 3.53 yards better when teams do not show it as opposed to feigning a blitz.  When defenses do send extra defenders, Romo’s passer rating is 1.58 times as high and his AYPA nearly four yards superior if the defense “shows” it as opposed to disguising their intentions.

So you want to stop Romo?  Year in and year out, it had been proven to not blitz him often, but feel free to act as if you will.  When you do blitz, you better disguise that as well.

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15 Responses to Tony Romo Versus Blitz, Perceived Blitz in 2010

  1. JJ says:

    Jonathan-

    I cannot argue with your assertions but I submit that we really were not able to get a full view of Romo’s off season progress during the season. Sure, you are probably right on even in 2010 but the incredible defensive meltdown coupled with the the offensive line’s woeful performance early left us with a small sample size of what off season improvements Romo made.

    We did discover that he improved on the right shoulder fade, however, I was particularly interested in his progression with reads as it seemed he often missed wide open targets and checked down (perhaps in fear for his life) and this could reinforce your premise by him thinking he was getting blitzed when he was not.

    Nevertheless, i will be deeply interested in Romo’s progress this season particularly having so much time to observe.

  2. JJ-Definitely agree about the sample size. Playing from behind makes things a lot more difficult, and Romo didn’t have too many “regular” snaps in 2010.

  3. Vince_Grey says:

    Those numbers are overwhelmingly one-sided against blitzing Romo. The one thing I wonder is, assuming your numbers are accurate, (And I’m not doubting them) why would teams blitz TR much at all?

    Do they not see what you see, or is it something else?

  4. I think teams blitz Romo in an effort to create big plays. Even though the Cowboys were quite awful in 2010, they went into the season as a favorite. Teams “knew” they’d need some big plays to beat them, and so they decided to risk giving up the big play to try to create some of their own…just my theory.

  5. percyhoward says:

    I don’t know that it’s because Romo isn’t as accuarate as other QB’s, as much as it is that he has fewer receivers on any given play than they do. The Cowboys usually keep a high number of players in for pass protection and don’t use many 4-and 5-WR sets, and so when defenses don’t blitz, there are less likely to be open receivers for Romo than than there would be for most quarterbacks.

    When teams do blitz, the field Romo sees is more like what most QB’s typically see.

  6. Joe Shunt says:

    If tony had 6 out of his 7 Ints thrown during non-blitz packages, I would have to say that at least 3 of those Interceptions were caused by the ball bouncing off the receivers hands.. I think he can throw just as good with or without a blitz coming.. overall, he just needs more time in the pocket and his receivers need to do a better job of securing the Ball..

  7. Good point Percy. Still, I don’t think Romo has the accuracy of Brady, Brees, etc. Do you?

  8. Joe–I can remember two or three tipped INTs as well that were fine throws by Romo…nonetheless, these numbers are consistent year-to-year. It isn’t that Romo is awful when teams don’t blitz, but I know if I was a DC I would rarely send pressure.

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  10. percyhoward says:

    % of Attempts w/at Least 4 WR in a pattern
    Brees 56%
    Brady 46%
    Romo 13% (2009)

    Because the Cowboys put so much emphasis on pass protection, Romo has fewer open receivers on any given play, so it’s tough to compare his accuracy to Brees and Brady.

    Another factor helping Brady is that 75% of his attempts are throws of 10 yards or less. Romo is more accurate than Brady on anything more than 10 yards downfield. In fact, in 2010 Romo’s rating on 10+ yard throws was 7.2 points higher than his overall rating. Brees’ was 5.0 points higher than his, and Brady’s was 5.0 points LOWER than his.

  11. Percy–Awesome numbers. Interesting you bring up the 4WR personnel grouping because I will be doing a personnel-based study either tomorrow or Thurs. I’d still maintain that Brees and Brady are truly more accurate than Romo, even on deep throws, but that Romo has more improvisation ability, allowing receivers to become more open. In the end, it doesn’t really matter WHY Romo is accurate on deep balls, though.

  12. Eddie Hushfield says:

    Wow, I really like the banter on this site. Stats & quotes that make sense and non of that “replace Romo” drivel from the “big & national sites”. But, to the point, we still need to see what Romo will be like under Garrett. Maybe with an OLine that is better trained and in better physical condition Tony will find that extra second needed to CONFIDENTLY find the open man more often. Having said that, he’s still getting 60% yes? It’s just that with more check downs there appear to be less first downs at times. The tipped INT’s figure in as just part of the game but they really skew the numbers. How many of those tipped passes should have been caught? I’d like to see an opinion on that one with some clips to analyze.

  13. Eddie–That’s a heck of a point and one I haven’t discussed much (regarding Romo playing under Garrett the HC). Garrett DID change his philosophy a bit when he was named HC (even on an interim basis), and we have yet to see this duo work together.

    And I believe three of Romo’s seven INTs “should have” been caught. Of course “should have” means little at the end of the day, but it would affect these stats some. Having said that, we’ve seen this same trend from Romo the past three years, so the sample size is undoubtedly big enough that we can safely conclude he really thrives versus the blitz. If I was a DC, I would rarely blitz Romo and, when I did, I would disguise it.

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