In the Cowboys’ Week 1 win over the Giants, Tony Romo outsmarted the G-Men multiple times with his audibles. On the night, Romo called four audibles—a run for nine yards and three passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns. I’ve been tracking every Cowboys play since 2009, and Romo has never come close to having that sort of success with his checks.
Actually, the Cowboys’ audibles haven’t been any more successful than other plays over the past three-plus seasons. On both runs and passes, the ‘Boys’ efficiency is almost identical whether Romo calls an audible or not.
One of the reasons we haven’t seen the sort of success you’d anticipate on audibles might be due to the Cowboys’ check system. The majority of Romo’s audibles over the years have been “Kill” calls. Jason Garrett often calls two plays into Romo, who then relays those two plays to the offense in the huddle. Normally, the offense runs the first play. If Romo sees a weakness in the defense and wants to run the second play, he yells “Kill, Kill, Kill” at the line.
The audible system is a unique and potentially useful one, but it also takes a lot of time. Have you ever noticed how often the Cowboys snap the ball with one or two seconds left on the play clock? It often seems as though the offense is rushed, and a lot of that has to do with the audible system.
Through three weeks of the 2012 season, I’ve noticed a change in the Cowboys' audibles.
Whereas almost every audible Romo made in past years was a “Kill” call, only half of his 16 checks in 2012 have been of that variety. On the other audibles, Romo has changed the play himself at the line of scrimmage.
Interestingly, it is the “Kill” calls that have been the most fruitful for Dallas through three games. While it’s a small sample size, three of Romo’s eight “Kill” calls have resulted in touchdowns (DeMarco Murray’s 11-yard score last week was on a “Kill” call). Of Romo’s eight manual checks, two have been runs good for 19 total yards. Romo is 4-for-6 for 34 yards and an interception on the six passes.
Moving forward, the Cowboys need to find a way to utilize their “Kill” audible system in a more efficient manner. The past failures of their audibles seem to be linked to the dwindling play clock. The offense has allowed the play clock to run inside of four seconds on only two of the ‘Boys’ eight “Kill” calls in 2012, however, so it looks as though they may be making more of an effort to call the plays and get up to the line with greater urgency.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.
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