Tony Romo Directional Passing: Why Dallas Should Throw Deep More Often
I recently assessed Tony Romo’s direction-based passing thus far in 2011. . .
You can see Romo has been a bit superior when throwing to the left and middle portions of the field, but not enough to draw any statistically significant conclusions. Equally effective passing to all portions of the field has been Romo’s M.O. over the course of his career, as he has never really racked up a majority of his touchdowns, completions, or yards in any given section of the field.
The fact that his efficiency has been relatively equal all over the field is somewhat unusual, as most quarterbacks are more accurate when throwing to the right side of the field (right-handed quarterbacks, anyway). I suppose Romo’s lack of increased success when throwing to his right is a byproduct of his game–one which emphasizes buying time for receivers to get open as opposed to extremely accurate throws. As I have explained over the years, I would rate Romo in the bottom half of the league in terms of pure accuracy, but his completion percentage is always good because he has the ability to buy time in the pocket.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter how you complete passes. Romo’s game is not any better or worse than another style of play, but it is likely the reason we see such an even distribution of passing efficiency, regardless of field sub-section.
Perhaps more interesting than Romo’s directional passing are his numbers when broken down by pass length. According to Pro Football Focus, Romo has racked up a 122.8 passer rating when throwing 20+ yards in 2011. This includes a 58.1% completion percentage, 11 touchdowns, two interceptions, and a ridiculous 20.2 yards-per-attempt (yes attempt, not completion).
Let me start by acknowledging there is likely somewhat of a selection bias at play here. Romo is far more likely to hold onto the football when a deep pass isn’t open as compared to a short or intermediate route. Plus, no throw-aways are traveling 20+ yards, so his numbers on deep passes aren’t hindered by “give up” plays.
Nonetheless, Romo’s success on deep passes has been a trend over the years. I have detailed twice (here and here) how important deep passes can be to an offense, along with why the Cowboys need to attempt far more of them. In those articles, I noted quarterbacks as a whole seem to have more success when they throw deep more frequently. . .
You can see interception rates actually decrease for quarterbacks who throw a lot of deep balls, while both average yards-per-attempt and success rate increase. We find similar numbers in 2011.
So why don’t NFL offenses air it out more? As Brian Burke explained earlier today, NFL coaches are risk averse:
A risk-averse mindset is echoed in an old football saying attributed to Texas coach Darrell Royal and still often repeated: “Three things can happen when you throw the football, and two of them are bad.” Coaches tend to classify outcomes as good things and bad things, and then count them up. I’m sure coaches obviously know that interceptions are a lot worse than an incompletion or a one-yard stuff. But they don’t accurately account for the payoff and frequency of each possible outcome, and this is reflected in how infrequently they call for deep bombs.
In addition to all of the stats we can measure from deep passes, offenses gain an even greater advantage due to defensive penalties on these throws. As Burke points out, even if we list every sack in the league as being the result of a deep pass attempt, that advantage still exists. NFL teams need to throw deep far, far more often than the current rate. That seems particularly true for a Cowboys squad with a play-making quarterback and three legitimate deep threats at receiver.