A few short days ago, I took part in some analysis of the last interception Tony Romo threw this past season. The discussion, however, was more centered on the outlook of Tony Romo going forward than excusing away the past.
I readily admit that I entered this discussion believing that Tony Romo was the best option for the Cowboys now and for the foreseeable future. I held a firm belief that Tony's mistakes stem largely from his style of play, and that that style's advantages typically outweigh its downfalls.
For those who missed it, this is my take on Romo, his talents, and his quirk. Among the 'very good' quarterbacks (saying 'elite' makes people act funny), I don't believe there is a profound difference in arm strength and accuracy. They can pretty much all make every throw and make it fairly consistently. What, then, makes these quarterbacks unique?
I feel that these quarterbacks all have a quirk. An unconventional technique that gives them unique advantages, but also comes with a disadvantage. In Romo's case, it's somewhat well-known that he often plays by 'feel.' He feels pressure from behind him, so he spins away from it. He feels the receiver on the backside will beat his man coverage, so he lofts the ball without looking (in order to keep the safeties away). He's become very proficient at reading defenses and predicting where all 21 other players will be at different stages in the play. There's a catch, though.
In recent years, it's become apparent that Romo has been, on occasion, 'fooled.' The third interception is one such case. Linebackers and safeties that successfully sell pass rush or blitz are able to sneak into coverage while Romo has his head turned away, and capitalize on his blind passes.
"So just don't do it!" I hear so many shouting. But it isn't so easy as that. Without his feel for the game, Romo might be just another Matt Ryan or Matt Schaub - a good quarterback who really does nothing to stand out, despite being physically capable. Many of his greatest plays are made while looking off safeties (and necessarily looking away).
But what of last week? We needed a play (an entire drive, actually), and Romo was victimized. Caught with his head turned, throwing blind, picked off. Of course, I thought it was a very unfortunate fluke. But, over the course of extended conversations with this wonderfully stimulating community, a shadow of doubt crept into my mind.
What if teams have caught on to Romo's game? Sure, they've all seen the tape and they all know how he plays. But what if they've finally figured out how to capitalize on it with some consistency? This is some cause for serious concern.
It's debated whether or not playoff performance is any more indicative of ability than regular season success. Is it possible, though, that teams in the playoffs better prepare to face their opponents and exploit their vulnerabilities? Is it possible that, even if this Cowboys team finds itself in the playoffs, they will inevitably encounter an opponent who's implemented the Tony Romo counter-scheme? Surely, after two weeks of preparation, anyone the Cowboys might face in a Super Bowl would have an answer prepared.
I've argued before that I don't think it's in our interests for Romo to alter his playing style. Though perhaps more consistent, it certainly wouldn't make him more effective. The fact remains that, on a national stage, the world received a lesson in how to beat Tony Romo; if everyone paid attention, then it's possible this team really can't get anywhere with him under center.
There may yet be a way, however, to reduce the potential for future embarrassments such as this. I'm not speaking of jettisoning Romo. Rather, we could do our best to make 'playing by feel' unnecessary for him. For that, I'm looking at the offensive line. A wonderful way to stop Romo from throwing the ball without looking is to give him time to look. Though we all praise his knack for improvisation, it's this very improvisation that leads to these unconventional throws, and typically big plays for one team or the other.
It all starts up front. And if by some misfortune my fears become reality, and the league really does have an answer, we'll need competent blocking to allow Romo a less dramatic existence.