Despite the fact that Tony Romo has been thriving on deep passes for years, Jason Garrett’s play designs rarely call for deep routes. Actually, 64.7 percent of Romo’s 2012 throws have traveled nine yards or fewer in the air—higher than the rate for Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, and Matt Ryan.
In addition to his deep passing prowess, Romo has also been sensational when throwing to his left this season. I track all of Romo’s passes as being to either the left, middle, or right portions of the field; the ‘middle’ consists of any pass attempted to a receiver between where the offensive tackles originally lined up.
Left: 48-for-64 (75.0%) for 492 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT – 110.9 passer rating, 7.69 YPA
Middle: 54-for-85 (63.5%) for 642 yards, 2 TD, 6 INT – 64.9 passer rating, 7.55 YPA
Right: 48-for-72 (66.7%) for 502 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT – 83.4 passer rating, 6.97 YPA
Interestingly, Romo has completed three-quarters of his passes to the left side of the field—an area where most quarterbacks struggle. He also has the most touchdowns, fewest interceptions, and highest YPA when throwing left. Don’t forget that his one interception to the left side of the field was the play on which Dez Bryant ran the wrong route against the Bears.
It’s also surprising to see two-thirds of Romo’s interceptions over the middle of the field, even though only 38.5 percent of his passes have been into the heart of the defense. Romo has connected on a fewer percentage of passes over the middle than anywhere else on the field.
So, should the Cowboys try to design plays that allow Romo to throw to the left side of the field? I’m not so sure. One of Romo’s biggest strength is avoiding the rush to buy time for his receivers to get open. When he does that, he often spins out to his left. How many times have you seen Romo leave a pass-rusher grasping air as he pirouettes off of the left side, spinning out at the last possible second? Romo is far superior moving left and then re-setting to throw as opposed to rolling right and throwing on the run.
Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much of a way to simulate Romo dodging rushers and then scooting to his left. Garrett could design plays that re-set the pocket to the left side of the field, but that won’t necessarily buy Romo the extra time he needs to find receivers downfield, i.e. it’s probably the extra time Romo buys when spinning to his left that leads to greater efficiency, not the actual act of throwing to the left.
Further, YPA is a far better than passer rating as a predictor of future success. While Romo’s passer rating is skewed heavily by fluky bounces of the ball that result in interceptions, YPA is not. Despite the lower completion percentage in the middle of the field, Romo’s YPA when throwing to the middle is comparable to his YPA when passing to his left.