As I mentioned in my initial film study observations of the Cowboys’ Week 9 loss in Atlanta, Tony Romo attempted only three deep passes (traveling 20-plus yards) in the game—good for 94 yards and a touchdown. On the season, the Cowboys have chucked it deep on only 10.7 percent of passes. Nonetheless, Romo has posted a passer rating of 106.5 on deep passes, and that includes two deep interceptions against the Giants that may or may not have been his fault.
I’ve written about Romo’s deep passing in the past, describing why he has excelled throwing the ball downfield for years. I’ve heard some critiques that the offensive line can’t afford Romo the necessary time to get the ball downfield, but I really don’t think that’s the case. The Cowboys’ 4.1 percent sack rate, although enhanced by Romo’s quick feet, ranks them ninth in the NFL. The truth is that the Cowboys’ offensive line has been solid in pass protection for the last month.
On top of that, it isn’t like Romo’s ability to scramble and find receivers downfield is the impetus for his deep passing success. To prove it, I’ve tracked the length of all of Romo’s throws in 2012, as well as the route he attempted. It should come as no surprise that Romo has been extremely successful when plays break down. When throwing to receivers following a “scramble drill,” i.e. when the designed play breaks down, Romo has completed 13 of 21 passes for 152 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception—good for a 103.6 passer rating.
However, despite his scrambling prowess, only one of Romo’s deep completions—a 21-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Ogletree—wasn’t on a designed route. Romo threw two off-target passes on his other two deep scrambling attempts. That means that of Romo’s 34 deep passing attempts in 2012, 31 (91.2 percent) have been thrown on the designed route—typically a go, post, or seam route. Romo is 10-for-31 for 435 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions on those passes—good for a 93.8 passer rating.
Thus, while Romo can make a lot of things happen with his legs, they aren’t the sole reason for his deep passing success. With just one deep completion that followed a scramble, nearly all of Romo’s ability to get the ball downfield in 2012 has been the result of reading the defense and throwing the football accurately.