One of the criticisms of Tony Romo over the years is that he doesn’t read defenses as adeptly as some other elite quarterbacks. While I think Romo’s recent history of outstanding audibles is evidence that he has improved at deciphering defenses, it is still difficult to determine exactly how well the quarterback reads opponents.
A few years ago, I began tracking how opposing defenses lined up prior to the snap. Specifically, I label a defense’s intentions on any given play one of four ways: don’t show blitz and don’t blitz, don’t show blitz and blitz, show blitz and don’t blitz, show blitz and blitz. By tracking Romo’s numbers in each of the four categories, I can get a better sense of how well he’s seeing things at the line.
Over the past few years, Romo has been outstanding when a defense does what it showed before the snap. That is, if a defense sits back in a conservative look and sends four or fewer rushers (or conversely if they line up as if they’ll blitz and indeed send five or more rushers), Romo turns into an elite quarterback. Most quarterbacks will of course perform better when a defense fails to disguise their intentions, but Romo’s 115.8 passer rating over the past three seasons when defenses show blitz and send five or more rushers suggests he’s in rare company.
Let’s take a look at Romo’s 2012 numbers. . .
N/N: 150-for-220 for 1,671 yards (7.60 YPA), 11 TD, 8 INT – 92.1 passer rating, 11.8 percent off-target
N/Y: 30-for-49 for 316 yards (6.45 YPA), 0 TD, 2 INT – 63.0 passer rating, 14.3 percent off-target
Y/N: 25-for-43 for 263 yards (6.12 YPA), 0 TD, 1 INT – 83.3 passer rating, 6.9 percent off-target
Y/Y: 25-for-41 for 353 yards (8.61 YPA), 1 TD, 2 INT – 76.6 passer rating, 9.8 percent off-target
Romo has really been at his worst when defenses don’t show blitz but then send five or more rushers, compiling a passer rating of only 63.0 and throwing an off-target pass on 14.3 percent of his attempts.
Of course, there are different ways to assess quarterback efficiency, the best of which is probably YPA. While touchdowns, interceptions, and off-target passes are rather volatile stats, YPA is strongly linked to team success. Actually, no individual stat is as important to a team’s winning percentage as the quarterback’s efficiency as measured by YPA.
When we look at YPA alone, you can see Romo is again struggling when defense’s disguise their intentions. His combined YPA when he “knows” what is coming (7.75) is far superior to when defenses conceal their plans (6.29). Over a larger sample, touchdown, interceptions, and off-target rates would all likely even out to more appropriately reflect Romo’s true ability in each category.
Either way, it would probably behoove defenses to show heavy pressure on Romo, only to back out after the snap. But don’t tell them that.
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.
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