Every NFL quarterback has a particular route or two that he most likes to throw. Some passers have rocket arms and excel on deep outs, for example, while others use their accuracy to connect on comebacks and other timing patterns.
In my opinion, Tony Romo is at his best when he does one of two things: get the ball out quickly following a three-step drop or use his magic in the pocket to extend plays and find receivers downfield. To test that theory, I’ve been tracking every route Romo has thrown this season. Here are his numbers:
Back Shoulder: 1-for-2 for 6 yards
Check Down: 6-for-6 for 50 yards
Comeback: 6-for-8 for 57 yards
Corner: 2-for-3 for 41 yards
Curl: 1-for-1 for 7 yards
Dig: 6-for-11 for 98 yards, 2 INT
Drag: 3-for-3 for 43 yards
Five-Yard In: 5-for-6 for 40 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Flat: 1-for-1 for 16 yards
Go: 1-for-7 for 34 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Hitch: 14-for-18 for 123 yards, 1 INT
Hitch-and-Go: 2-for-2 for 62 yards, 2 TD
Out: 8-for-13 for 65 yards, 1 INT
Post: 5-for-9 for 125 yards, 1 INT
Screen: 6-for-7 for 40 yards
Seam: 1-for-4 for 18 yards
Slant: 16-for-24 for 189 yards
Swing: 4-for-5 for 6 yards
You can see that, with the exception of a few routes such as hitches and slants, Romo hasn’t posted a huge number of throws on any particular route. When we see that he’s 1-for-4 for 18 yards on seam routes, for example, it’s difficult to tell if he really struggles with that route or he’s simply been unlucky this year.
Thus, I’ve broken down the routes into timing and non-timing patterns. The timing patterns include both in and out-breaking routes on which Romo needs to get the ball out at a specific time. Digs, corners, posts, and outs are examples of timing patterns. On such routes, Romo is 42-for-66 for 558 yards, one touchdown, and five interceptions—good for a passer rating of 63.8.
On all other routes, Romo has completed 43 of 63 attempts for 462 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception—good for a rating of 92.2. Note that not all of Romo’s attempts are accounted for in my sample—I excluded passes he threw away, passes that came on scramble drills, and a few other fluky throws (such as the interception against the Bears that got knocked out of his hands).
The question is whether or not Romo’s struggles on timing routes are a “real” thing or simply due to bad luck through only four games. I really think it’s a combination of both. Romo has proven that he excels at extending plays. On his 2012 scrambles, he is 5-for-8 for 54 yards and a touchdown (121.9 passer rating). Still, I think he’s capable of standing in the pocket and delivering strikes, with the majority of his five interceptions on timing routes coming as the result of bad luck. When you hit a guy right in the hands and the ball pops straight up into the air, for example, that isn’t really on you.
One thing I’d love to see the Cowboys do in the future is run more double-moves. Romo has thrown only three double-moves all season, completing two for 62 yards and two scores. The reason we don’t see more of them is that Jason Garrett doesn’t trust his pass protection, and rightfully so. With Romo’s ability to improvise in the pocket and find open receivers downfield, however, I think double-moves are worth the risk.