The Tape Shows Why Dallas Cowboys Tony Romo Is Elite


When discussing Tony Romo, the opinions vary widely as to whether or not he is a franchise quarterback. The pendulum seems to swing from “top tier quarterback” to “this guy doesn’t deserve to wear an NFL uniform”. Very few quarterbacks have this much range when it comes to public perception. Last week I wrote an article comparing Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo to the “second tier” quarterbacks and I debunked myths about him and his career using stats. This week, I will show you why Tony Romo is such an effective quarterback using the All-22 game film.

There are two things that make Tony Romo a special quarterback: his exceptionally quick release and his mobility.  Romo specializes in making plays downfield even when the offensive line breaks down. He uses his quick feet to move around the pocket, all the while continuing to look downfield for the opportunity to make a play.

Below is a play where Tony Romo displays both his athleticism to escape the pass rush and then uses his quick release to make a pivotal play late in the game. In week three of the 2011 season, the Dallas Cowboys are trailing the Washington Redskins 16 to 15 with 2:14 remaining in the fourth quarter. What is important to note about this game is that in the previous week, Romo fractured his ribs against San Francisco and the offensive line has played poorly up to this point in the game. On third down and 21, the Cowboys needed to convert this play in order to have any chance at winning the game.

The Cowboys deploy their 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two wide receivers) on this key third down play. Dez Bryant (circled in red) is at the top of the screen , Jason Witten in the slot, and Laurent Robinson at the bottom of the picture. The Redskins decide on third down to blitz eight players and leave no safety to help behind their cornerbacks. They believe they will be able to hurry Tony Romo and make him throw the ball well short of the first down marker. And with Romo’s injury and a shaky Dez Bryant, that seemed to be a pretty good bet late in the game. The plan for Dallas is to use Dez Bryant on a quick blitz beater  by running a slant and hope that he can beat cornerback DeAngelo Hall after the catch.

DeAngelo Hall drops into coverage, allowing Dez Bryant to become open on his slant pattern. But the main problem on this play is that the two Redskin rushers (circled in blue) are blocking Tony Romo’s throwing lanes. Knowing that a deflected ball essentially ends the game for the Cowboys, Romo holds onto the ball a little longer to see if something will develop later with his receivers.

Initially, the offensive line and the two running backs do a good job at picking up Washington’s blitz. Romo can check on his first option and then quickly look on the opposite side of the field to Witten. But when Romo decides to go back to Dez Bryant, he slides to his right to attempt a pump fake in the direction of Dez Bryant. But a rusher breaks through his block and has a clear path towards Romo. Tony Romo uses the pump fake to get DeAngelo Hall to jump towards Dez Bryant and because of that, it allows this play to eventually succeed. However, the more pressing issue is the free rusher coming right at him.

Romo’s ability to quickly move outside the pocket and avoid the pressure gives himself enough time and space to set his feet and find his target to throw the ball. Tony Romo is a warrior when it comes to being able to pass the ball when he knows he is going to take a hit. He can be fearless when the game is on the line and when the team desperately needs him to make a play. The pump fake that he used in the previous shot allowed Dez Bryant to gain inside leverage on Hall and Bryant streaks towards the middle of the field. But what is also important here is something you don’t even see in this picture. Because Tony Romo has one of the fastest releases in the NFL, he is able to wait a fraction of a second longer to deliver the ball to Dez Bryant. Romo’s release buys Dez a few extra moments to create space between him and the defender.

Romo delivers a strike to Dez Bryant, even as he is getting hit. But give Dez Bryant credit on this play as well. He catches the ball about five yards short of the first down marker and yet, he grinds out seven more yards on the play to get the critical first down.

Obviously, this is just one play in which Tony Romo makes a big play in a key divisional game. But Romo has made a career out of moving around the pocket and making plays downfield despite his shaky offensive line. One of Romo’s best attributes is that he can make up for a below average offensive line with his mobility. And if the Dallas Cowboys want to compete for a title in 2013, they are going to need Tony Romo to do more of the same.