Every off-season, each NFL team goes through a period of self-evaluation during which they formulate a plan for the future. After all, signing free agents and drafting rookies is difficult if you don’t understand your weaknesses. In addition to self-scouting for personnel reasons, teams also want to learn how they can improve their game plans in subsequent seasons.
When I track plays from Cowboys games, I’m basically conducting an analytical form of self-scouting. My goal is to quantify the aspects of the game that others see on film, potentially lending credence to or discrediting certain ideas. One new aspect of my film study for 2012 is tracking each run route on each play. I did this primarily to judge Tony Romo’s accuracy when throwing to different areas of the field. Here are the results:
- Angle: 0-for-1
- Back Shoulder: 8-for-13 for 95 yards, 5 TD
- Check Down: 34-for-39 for 261 yards, TD
- Comeback: 17-for-27 for 206 yards
- Corner: 4-for-11 for 75 yards
- Curl/Hitch: 86-for-108 for 741 yards, 2 TD, INT
- Dig/In: 18-for-29 for 320 yards, 2 TD, 5 INT
- Drag: 22-for-31 for 218 yards, INT
- Fade: 0-for-6
- Flat: 32-for-44 for 237 yards, INT
- Go: 13-for-37 for 482 yards, 5 TD, 4 INT
- Hitch-and-Go: 2-for-3 for 50 yards, 2 TD
- Out: 54-for-75 for 468 yards, INT
- Out-and-Up: 1-for-4 for 66 yards
- Post: 17-for-33 for 427 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT
- Scramble Passes: 19-for-36 for 235 yards, 5 TD, INT
- Screen: 19-for-24 for 123 yards, TD
- Seam: 6-for-11 for 122 yards, TD
- Slant: 52-for-72 for 637 yards, TD
- Smash: 3-for-4 for 24 yards
- Swing: 14-for-19 for 83 yards, TD, INT
- Wheel: 1-for-5 for 33 yards
Note that the stats above are very close to Romo’s final season totals, but not exactly the same due to a few passes that were thrown away or spiked. The play against the Bears on which Romo had the ball knocked from his hands but was credited with an interception is also not included.
You can see that a big portion of Romo’s interceptions came over the middle of the field. Romo threw five interceptions on dig routes alone, despite attempting only 29 such passes all year. That 17.2 percent interception rate is over seven times as high as Romo’s 2.3 percent interception rate on all other throws! We see similar struggles on drag routes; Romo managed only 7.03 YPA, no touchdowns, and one pick. And despite outstanding efficiency on post routes, Romo’s interception rate of 9.1 percent on such throws is much too high.
The question is whether or not Romo’s high interception rate on certain routes is due to something inherent to his game or simply to small sample sizes. We’ll have to wait another year or two to tell for sure, but the stats do match up pretty well with our intuitions regarding Romo’s best and worst routes.
Lastly, take a look at Romo’s efficiency on slants and scramble passes. On the former, Romo completed 72.2 percent of his throws for 8.85 YPA—both outstanding marks. On the latter, Romo threw 17.9 percent of his 2012 touchdowns on just 5.6 percent of his passes. While Romo’s legs might cause him to get sacked even with good protection from time to time, they also get him out of trouble, leading to enough big plays downfield to make holding onto the football well worth the trouble.
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.