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


A Breakdown of Tony Romo’s 2012 Preseason

My latest Running the Numbers post is a breakdown of Tony Romo’s preseason.

Through three preseason games, Romo has passed the ball on 64.7 percent of the first-team’s snaps. That’s a high rate, but a good one, and one I’d love to see continue into the regular season.

Romo was again excellent against the blitz on Saturday night. I tracked the Rams as sending five or more rushers after Romo on five occasions. The Cowboys passed each time, and while Romo completed only two of those throws, a pair of them were dropped (one by Kevin Ogletree on third down, and the other by John Phillips, although I’ll never admit he really dropped the pass that was reviewed and overturned).

Read more at DallasCowboys.com.


Cowboys vs. Rams, Preseason Week 3: Game Plan for Dallas

Over at Dallas Morning News, I just posted my first “DOs and DON’Ts” feature for the Cowboys’ Week 3 preseason tilt with the Rams. Here’s a preview:

DO run a lot of double-tight sets.

Through two preseason games, the Cowboys’ first-team offense has run just six double-tight end sets, representing only 29.0 percent of their plays. It will be interesting to see if the loss of Martellus Bennett equates to fewer two-tight end formations during the regular season.

On Saturday night, however, I’d place both John Phillips and rookie James Hanna on the field at the same time on numerous occasions. I know those guys aren’t Jason Witten, but the Cowboys’ offensive tackles are going to have their hands full with perhaps the league’s most underrated defensive end duo. That tandem is led by Chris Long, who pressured the quarterback more often than any player in the NFL last year.

Plus, double-tight sets with max protection could allow the ‘Boys to take some shots downfield—something they should be doing more often anyway.

Check out all of my DOs and DON’Ts here. I’ll once again be doing these throughout the regular season.


More on Tony Romo’s Deep Passing in 2012

I’ve written about five articles this year on why the Cowboys should throw deep more frequently. This one is the culmination of those:

I’ve tracked all of Romo’s throws from the past three years by location and distance. The peak is on throws of 20-plus yards to the right side of the field. Although those throws represent just 4.0 percent of his passes, Romo has amazingly racked up 17.1 percent of his touchdowns in this area.

Overall, Romo’s passer rating on deep passes is 114.3 since 2009—superior than the 103.6 rating on intermediate throws and the 97.0 rating on short throws.

Read the article at Dallas Morning News.


Cowboys vs. Chargers, Preseason Week 2: 5 Things to Watch

In my latest installment of “Breaking Down the ‘Boys” at Dallas Morning News, I previewed the Cowboys’ Week 2 preseason tilt with the San Diego Chargers, breaking down five things to watch.

5. Will the Cowboys continue to throw deep?

On Monday night, Tony Romo threw the ball at least 10 yards on three of his six passes, and two of them sailed 18 yards or more. That’s something I love to see, considering only 6.6 percent of Romo’s 2011 passes traveled 20 or more yards—good for just 37th in the NFL.

Romo was absolutely dynamite on deep passes last season, racking up a 55.2 completion percentage and 125.4 passer rating on throws of 20-plus yards. Even with the shaky offensive line, Jason Garrett should be dialing up more bombs.

Read the entire article.


Tony Romo 2012 Projections

Over at Dallas Morning News, I just published the second article in my “Breaking Down the ‘Boys” column: a projection of Tony Romo’s 2012 season. I used a combination of regression analysis and Romo’s historical production to determine how successful he might be this year:

Last year, Romo tossed 32.6 passes per game. In 2010 and 2011, Romo averaged 34.4 and 41.2 passes per contest, respectively. Thus, even with the presence of DeMarco Murray, Romo is unlikely to see much of a dip in pass attempts.

The nature of Romo’s passes could change, however. Last season, Romo threw the ball deep (meaning 20-plus yards in the air) on only 6.6 percent of pass plays. That rate ranked him just 37th in the NFL. The lack of deep looks is one reason Romo’s 12.09 yards-per-completion from 2011 is actually below his career mark of 12.46, despite increased efficiency in all other areas of his game.

In 2012, you’re almost assuredly going to see more deep passes from the Cowboys. With Dez Bryant looking like legitimate No. 1 receiver material and thriving on deep passes, you have to think Romo’s deep ball percentage will increase near the 13.5 percent that it was in 2010. Plus, Jason Garrett will likely call for more deep looks simply because Romo has been successful with them. Last year, Romo’s 55.2 percent completion percentage and 125.4 passer rating on throws of 20-plus yards were both second-best in the NFL.

Read the whole article at DMN.

Another good sign for Romo’s career outlook. . .this graph.


Breaking Down Two Plays From Cowboys vs. Raiders

Over at NBC, I broke down two plays from the Cowboys’ first preseason game. The first was the back-shoulder throw to Dez Bryant, and the second was the sack of Tony Romo:

The Raiders showed a blitz on the right side of their defense prior to the snap. Tony Romo adjusted by moving his protection to the left side of the offense. DeMarco Murray and Lawrence Vickers both dashed to the left side of the offense to help pick up the blitz. It was one of the few plays on which the Cowboys provided Romo with solid protection.

Immediately after receiving the snap, Romo noticed the Raiders indeed blitzed up the middle and to the left side of the offense, so he rolled out to the right to buy himself more time. This wasn’t a designed rollout, of which Jason Garrett has called fewer than one per game over the past three seasons.

You can read my entire analysis here.

It was nice to see Romo and Bryant hook up on the back-shoulder throw. That sort of play suits Bryant’s skill set very nicely, but Romo just doesn’t seem to throw many of them. We see signs of back-shoulder throws every preseason, but they never make their way into the regular season. Romo doesn’t seem like he struggles with the throw, so perhaps he simply needs to trust his arm and let it rip come September.


Cowboys Film Study: Five Wacky Stats From the Database

I often come across trends or “anomalies” in our Cowboys play database that I decide to not post.  These stats are often interesting (to me at least), but simply not wide enough in scope for me to dedicate an entire post to them.

Well, this entry is a collection of “too-small-to-post” statistics from the Cowboys’ 2009 season which I uncovered this weekend.

  • The Cowboys ran only four (FOUR!) play-action passes all season with 1-4 yards-to-go.

The number of plays on the season in that range:  132.  Thus, Dallas ran play-action on just 3.03% of plays in situations with just 1-4 yards to go for a first down (situations with a legitimate threat of a run).  I wouldn’t call myself an offensive mastermind, but that just doesn’t seem efficient.

With 10 yards remaining, however, the Cowboys dialed up 54 play-action passes (40.90% of all play-action passes came on this ‘distance-to-go’), making it the most frequent ‘distance-to-go’ for all play-action passes (relative to the number of overall plays from that distance).

Perhaps these figures are at least a partial cause of the Cowboys’ lackluster success rate on play-action passes.

  • 34 of Tony Romo’s 79 audibles (43.04%) were to draw plays.

Since 44 of the 79 checks were run plays, an incredible 34-of-44 (77.27%) run plays (which followed an audible) were draws.  While this seems over-the-top, our analysis of Romo’s audibles showed that the Cowboys averaged 5.8 yards-per-carry on these runs.

Nonetheless, the Cowboys would likely have even more success on these runs if the draw rate decreased.  In a previously article, we explained why checking to a run play might be successful:

One possible explanation for the lower productivity in the passing game after checks is that defenses are more prepared to defend the pass after an audible. They may assume an audible by the opposing quarterback means he sees an opportunity for a big play, probably a pass, thus making them more likely to effectively defend the pass.

Before we place all the blame on Romo for the disproportionate draw rate, note that, in almost all circumstances, Romo does not actually choose the “new” play.  The majority of the checks (75-of-79, in fact), are “kill” calls.  We explained how “kill” calls work in a previous article:

Sometimes Romo will actually call an entirely new play at the line of scrimmage, while other times he will simply signal for the team to check into the second play which was called in the huddle (the team often calls two plays in the huddle, planning to run the first unless Romo checks out).

The latter scenario is marked by a phrase many of you have probably heard the Dallas’ quarterback yelling on television, “Kill, Kill, Kill!” When you hear this, Romo sees something in the defense that makes him believe the first play called in the huddle will be unsuccessful. The second play, which is the one run after the “Kill” call, is generally dissimilar to the original call to combat whatever problem Romo noticed.

Thus, on all but four plays in 2009, the Cowboys offense ran a play which was originally called by offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.  If the exorbitant rate of draws-after-checks is to continue, Romo is not the only person to blame.

  • Romo threw the most off-target passes to Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams, missing on 28.4% of throws to both receivers.

The chart to the right lists the off-target passes, attempts, and off-target percentage of throws to all Cowboys’ 2009 pass-catchers.  In our in-depth analysis of Romo’s off-target passes, we noted that we consider 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.’

Of course, the percentages are not comparable among players at different positions, as Romo is more likely to be off-target to wide receivers than tight ends or running backs.

  • The Cowboys ran a true hurry-up offense on just 28 plays last season–less than two per game.

In this instance, we define “hurry-up” as a no-huddle play run with a time-saving mentality.  Of the 28 plays, only two were runs (for 6 total yards).  The 26 passes went for 151 yards, or just 5.81 yards-per-attempt.

25 of the 28 plays were out of a Shotgun formation.

  • The Cowboys completed a pre-snap shift 17 times in 2009–all on first or second down.

A shift is when multiple players change their alignment at once.  Offenses will frequently shift from a run formation to a pass formation, or vice versa, such as Full House (run formation) into Gun Trips Right (pass formation).

The offense ran on seven of these plays for 20 yards (2.86 yards-per-carry), and passed 10 times for 55 yards (5.50 yards-per-attempt).


Romo Misses Golf Tourney to Participate in Cowboys’ OTA’s

Cowboys’ OTA’s (Organized Team Activities) begin today, and one familiar face you can count on seeing is that of Tony Romo. Romo skipped his 9:57 am tee time this morning at the Byron Nelson Championship Opening Qualifying tournament to be with his teammates at Valley Ranch.

This may not initially seem like a newsworthy story, but we point it out because of all the flack Romo receives for “not being 100% committed to the Cowboys.”  Following a bye week trip to Mexico and various celebrity girlfriends, Romo’s work ethic and focus have been called into question in the past.

Of course, we know Romo is all-in for the Dallas Cowboys. He is one of the hardest workers on the team and, as a superstar player, sets an example for the younger guys to follow.

His absence from the Byron Nelson golf qualifier in favor of OTA practices reinforces our notion of Romo as ultra-dedicated to this 2010 Cowboys team.

Of course, skeptics will point out that Romo should be there, and they are correct.  He is the leader of a Super Bowl-caliber NFL team, and his presence in all offseason activities should be a foregone conclusion.

But NFL players, even quarterbacks, don’t always do what they should.  Thus, it is not out of line for us to praise Romo’s decision.  We may come to expect it, but only because of the level of dedication and focus he has displayed in the past.

Cowboys fans–you should be relieved in knowing that the most important player on your favorite team is also perhaps the most driven.


The Blonde Side: Team Romo

By Amber Leigh Hartman (Twitter: @texasaleigh)


We have just been informed that all of the recent major catastrophes, world hunger, the downfall of the United States economy, and every Dallas Cowboys’ loss all derive from one common source—Tony Romo.

Okay, maybe these comparisons are a little extreme, but enough is enough! I am tired of the Romo-hating, self-proclaimed “lifelong die-hard Cowboys fans” blaming every loss or mistake the Cowboys make on the quarterback.

When our kicker failed to perform last season, Romo stepped up to become the holder in order to benefit the team. Did he get any credit? No. Some analysts and so-called “fans” criticized the move as “dumb” and said “he’ll break his hand” and that “he can’t even hold the ball”. No matter what this man does (right or wrong) he is put down for it.

When I think of a Dallas Cowboys fan, I don’t think of a traditional football fan. I see the people who bleed silver and blue and who wear Cowboys gear year-round (because their wardrobe consists of 90% Cowboys stuff).

I see the people who stick by the team through thick and thin, win or lose, despite the bandwagon-jumpers or how much controversy they might create.

I see the people who save their money for a ticket to sit in the upper deck of the new stadium just to feel the energy of the game.

I see the people who include themselves as part of the team and say “WE had a great win last night”, “WE just couldn’t get it together”, “WE are going to the playoffs.”

Tony Romo is MY Quarterback. Is he going to mess up? Yes. Is he going to crack under pressure? Yes. Every player on that team is going to have their good days and their bad days—they are only human (though some look like Gods). Each member of the team contributes to its success or failure, and as FANS we should be supporting our players, not tearing them down.

I will probably yell at Romo during a game to get his stuff together, but I will also be yelling at the O-Line to block, and the receivers to get open or to learn to catch. I can do that because I have their back. If I hear negative comments about MY players, I launch into defense mode (like someone just insulted my momma!).

Think of it as a marriage—right now Romo is your brother-in-law who you can choose to hate but, when it comes down to it, you’re going to have his back because he’s family. If he ever cheats (gets traded), you can say or do whatever you want. You don’t have to be a Romo fan, but support your family.

We can’t control what the media reports or what analysts say, but we can show the world that the Dallas Cowboys have an army of fans who will immediately come to their defense. That is what being a TRUE fan is all about—loyalty.

As long as Tony Romo is the quarterback for MY Dallas Cowboys, for MY team, I will be loyal. . .I will be on Team Romo.


Cowboys News and Notes: 3/17/10