Those of us who are being objective about Romo's first pick against the Giants realize that it was Dez who ran the wrong route. Just in case you have any doubts, here's Garrett telling Dez Bryant that he needs to cut in front of the safety. Look at the motion he's making with his hand.
But Jaworski, and many others, want to characterize this as Romo making a bad decision - throwing the ball into a tight window to a receiver that he knows can't read the defense and is mistake prone. I disagree with this assessment for two reasons: 1) The window wasn't that tight; and 2) Dez had made the correct read on the exact same play in the first Giants game. Let's compare the two plays side-by-side.
Right before the snap, the safety to Bryant's side rotates down to the line of scrimmage, while the strong side safety rotates to the deep center. This changes the coverage from a two deep look to a single safety high look.
The exact same thing happens on the first quarter, first and ten play from last Sunday's game against the Giants.
Look at the offensive formations in the two photos above. They are basically the same. You have a fullback/wingback set to the strong side of the formation, with Miles and Witten on the same side of the formation. Dez is on the weak side of the formation, and both wide receivers have tight splits to the line. These are both the same play calls.
After the snap in both plays, Romo fakes a handoff to the strong side of the formation, and drops back to pass. (In Sunday's game, Tanner didn't carry through with the fake, but instead peeled off to his left to pick up a free pass rusher.)
Lets's look at the pictures at the moment that Romo has completed half of his throwing motion. In other words, he has already made the decision to throw the ball to Dez and his arm has just completed it's backward motion and is about to come forward.
Here's game 1:
1) Witten stays in to block, Miles releases downfield.
2) Dez has begun his inside break. He is exactly 11 yards from where he lined up (his front foot was at the 19 yard line). The corner is playing outside of Dez, and a void has opened up between the two safeties.
*Note: This is actually a pump fake by Romo, who then reloads and throws to Dez. However, the timing is the same as the second play and it actually suits our purposes better, as you will see in a little bit.
1) Witten stays in to block, Miles releases downfield.
2) Dez has begun his inside break. He is exactly 13 yards from where he lined up (his front foot was at the 44 yard line). The corner is playing outside of Dez, and a void has opened up between the two safeties.
Now, using the pythagorean theorem (Google it if you don't remember your high school algebra) and the yard and hash markings, we can estimate that the distance between Dez and the safety is more than 11 yards away. That's a huge "window" in NFL terms. THIS IS NOT AN EXAMPLE OF ROMO FORCING THE BALL. This is a play that the Cowboys have run before against the exact same defense, with the same down and distance, with Dez making the correct read the first time. I'm sure that this play was identified and practiced during the week. Now the safety is closer to Dez in the play run on Sunday than in the first game, but he is more than far enough away for a successful completion.
Now let's look at the conclusion of the two plays to see exactly how badly Dez runs his route.
In the first game, Dez is at the 30 when Romo's arm is cocked back in his pump fake. Let's see where he catches the ball:
Dez catches it at the 35 yard line. So, in the time it takes Romo to pump fake, reload, and throw (which is amazingly fast - to all those who think that Romo is declining, just watch this play), Dez only travels 5 yards vertically by the time the ball gets to him.
Let's look at Sunday:
Dez was at the 43 when Romo's arm was cocked back. He almost catches it at the 35. So even without added time for a Romo pump fake he travels 8 yards vertically as opposed to 5 yards - not good. All told, the route ends 15 yards from the original line of scrimmage in the good play, and 20 yards from the line of scrimmage in the interception.
Why did Dez run the route differently? One picture is worth a thousand words:
Dez gets shoved early in his route by the corner, which distracts him. In the first game, he got a free release.
So, in my opinion, this ball is one that has to be thrown. It is a perfect play drawn up for the situation and a great play call by Jason Garrett (OMG, Jason Garrett can call good plays?!!). Some, including the esteemed Mr. Halprin, have advised that the Cowboys rein in Romo and limit receiver routes - I disagree. Dez does make good reads sometimes, as evidenced by his 41 catches, which is more than Miles Austin, Julio Jones, and Roddy White. Obviously, Dez is not a finished product yet, but how do we expect him to learn and become a complete receiver if we limit him? Will the learning be painful for us sometimes? Absolutely; but I'm willing to endure the pain because the prize can be so great.
Here's Felix stuffing a blitzing linebacker early in the third quarter of Sunday's game:
Two plays later, here's Phillip Tanner getting steamrolled by a blitzing linebacker:
Anyone get the number of that truck?
Here's Mr. Tanner whiffing on another blitzing linebacker.
That's why Tanner is not starting over Felix. Don't get me wrong, Tanner had some good blitz pick-ups as well, but he is not as good as Felix, yet. So, be careful what you wish for. Remember Chris Gronkowski?
Defensive Backs on 3rd Down
Some screenshots of Cowboys DBs breaking up passes on third down. Jerome Henderson has his group ballin' out.