For offensive coordinators around the NFL, there are two general philosophies as to how to attack a defense. Some offenses, like that of the San Francisco 49ers, attempt to steadily move the ball down the field, putting themselves in manageable third down situations. For them, incompletions and negative plays are perhaps more detrimental than for others. Other offenses seek big plays; those offenses like that of the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, although methodical at times, thrive on getting the ball downfield.
As Jason Garrett gains more experience as an offensive coordinator, his philosophy has begun to resemble the first type of offense more and more. Despite possessing some big-play threats on the outside, the Cowboys have transformed into a team that continually throws the ball underneath, rarely taking shots downfield. I’ve tracked all of Tony Romo’s passes thus far in 2012, breaking them down by distance thrown:
**Note: This sample doesn’t include three of Romo’s throws—two passes he threw away and the interception that was knocked out of his hands against the Bears
Behind the line to 4 yards: 57-for-65 for 351 yards – 89.2 passer rating
5 to 9 yards: 54-for-75 for 506 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT – 82.4 passer rating
10 to 14 yards: 14-for-29 for 218 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT – 56.4 passer rating
15 to 19 yards: 17-for-29 for 324 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT – 91.7 passer rating
20-plus yards: 10-for-20 for 253 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT – 114.6 passer rating
The majority of Romo’s passes (64.2 percent) have been nine yards or fewer. Through six games, only 9.0 percent of Romo’s passes have traveled at least 20 yards in the air. Nonetheless, Romo’s passer rating of 114.6 on deep throws again ranks among the best in the NFL.
Romo’s lowest passer rating has come on intermediate throws between 10 and 14 yards. It’s difficult to tell if the 56.4 passer rating is due to a small sample size of only 29 passes or because of something inherent in Romo’s game. Of the 29 passes, 19 have come on timing routes like comebacks and curls, i.e. not so short that Romo can get them off without proper protection, but not so long that he can scramble and still hit them.
Moving forward, I really think it’s imperative that the Cowboys open up the offense with more deep passes. In addition to a quarterback who can throw the deep ball and two physical receivers who can outmuscle smaller defensive backs on jump balls, don’t forget that a lot of the benefits of a quality deep passing game aren’t reflected in the deep passing stats. If a defense fears the deep ball, it can open up the intermediate passing game and the running game—two aspects of the Cowboys’ offense that have struggled all season.