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Tony Romo’s Conservative Play & What You Need to Know in Week 5

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At DallasCowboys.com, I explained why Tony Romo isn’t playing aggressively enough to win:

Tony Romo isn’t throwing enough interceptions. Could that seemingly absurd statement actually have some merit?

Through four games, Romo has compiled a 105.0 passer rating and 72.4 percent completion rate, both the highest marks in his entire career. There’s also this:

With just one pick through the first quarter of the season, Romo’s interception rate (0.7 percent) is at an all-time low. Moreover, that lone Week 1 pick was really the result of a blown route by Terrance Williams.

Romo’s low interception total is good in and of itself, obviously, since interceptions are strongly correlated with losing. But we can’t examine Romo’s interception rate in isolation.

The truth is that, while interceptions aren’t beneficial, the style of play that leads to interceptions can be advantageous. Let me repeat that: The style of play that leads to interceptions can be advantageous. When Romo takes more chances, the Cowboys have the potential to be a more efficient offense. Take a look at his career yards per attempt (YPA).

Resembles the interception graph, huh? As Romo’s interception rate has increased, so has his YPA. The more chances he takes, the greater the probability of 1) enhancing offensive efficiency, and 2) throwing interceptions. One is good and one is bad. So what’s a quarterback to do?

There needs to be some sort of balance, through which Romo (and the offensive play-calling) remains aggressive without unnecessarily increasing risk. The Cowboys need to take their shots downfield while still maintaining a certain level of safety.

It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. We don’t have to see either “Romo the Gunslinger” or “Romo the Checkdown Monster.” How about a little bit of both?

And at Bleacher Report, I posted a little Week 5 preview:

Matchup to Watch: Linebackers vs. Tight End Julius Thomas

Julius Thomas has come out of nowhere with 18 receptions for 237 yards and four touchdowns through the Broncos’ first four games. He’s been Manning’s go-to guy at times, especially in the red zone, when defenses are so focused on the outside receivers that they leave the middle of the field open.

As mentioned, the Cowboys have traditionally struggled with tight ends. That was particularly true on Sunday; linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter were horrific in coverage, combining to give up 14 completions on 16 attempts, including an unreal 192 yards and three touchdowns.

In most cases, Lee will be the man on Thomas. Of Antonio Gates’ 11 targets against the Cowboys in Week 4, six of them came on Lee, three on Carter and two on safety Barry Church.

To stop Thomas over the middle, it might be helpful to understand how Denver is utilizing him and how he’s performing in certain situations. So here is Thomas by the numbers…

  • 1: Dropped passes.

Thomas has dropped only one of his 19 catchable targets.

  • 40.7: Percentage of routes run from the slot, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Believe it or not, this number is about average for today’s tight ends. Gates is slightly higher at 55.1 percent, and Cowboys tight end Jason Witten checks in at 39.3 percent.

  • 2.10: Yards per route.

Yards per route is one of my favorite stats because it judges receivers on every snap, not just those on which they’re targeted, meaning it penalizes for a failure to get open. At 2.10 yards per route, Thomas has been the fourth-most efficient tight end in the NFL through four weeks. Witten ranks 22nd at 1.37 yards per route.

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