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The Elevation Of Tony Romo's Game

The quarterback of the Cowboys is surrounded by the best talent of his career. And it is making him even better.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

In a recent interview on 105.3 The Fan, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said that he doesn't think he has seen quarterback Tony Romo play any better than he has in the past few games.

"We've seen him certainly do what Romo does. That is instinctively make plays. We've seen him basically protect the ball, and I know for a fact that he's bought into his working and the coordination that he has to have with [offensive play caller Scott Linehan]."

Since the Week 1 loss to the 49ers, Romo has completed 108 of 154 passes for 1,229 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Following that noticeably rocky start, Romo has steadily improved. He had a couple of highlight reel plays against the Houston Texans that certainly gave every impression that he could still make the kinds of jaw-dropping plays he had gained a reputation for. Then against the Seattle Seahawks, he did it again.

Romo himself confirmed on 1310/96.7 The Ticket what many observers were thinking, that he was not fully ready at the start of the season, and certainly was unable to make plays like the JJ Watt escape or the 3rd and 20 conversion to Terrance Williams in that opening game.

"I don't know if I could've done that in Week 1 or preseason, or even Week 2 really because I just didn't have that same ability to fire my nerve and send the message to the legs through the back and everything to be able to go do that. That was what was frustrating starting off. [Against] San Francisco, I would've done that multiple times, I just wasn't able to do that. So hopefully moving forward, that continues to be good and do what we've been doing and hopefully I'll be able to make a lot more plays like that."

The Cowboys need him to make plays like that, because they needed them to win the past two games to get to 5-1. That is something that has not really changed for Dallas.

What has changed is that the team no longer has to rely only on Romo. In the past couple of weeks, he has come up with big plays at key times. In the previous seasons, he was by and large all the team had on offense. The only way the Cowboys seemed able to move down the field was through his arm. They were a one-dimensional team, and that always makes the job of the defense easier. Additionally, a pass-heavy approach makes it very hard to control and use up the clock late, which cost the Cowboys several games in the past couple of years.

Finally, the team has the talent on the field and the resolution on the sidelines to stick with the running game and make it work. Romo no longer has to get all the yardage himself. This will help limit the number of interceptions, since he is not throwing in nearly as many crucial situations. Even the growing effectiveness of the short passing game, with quick, safe passes at or near the line of scrimmage turning into sizable gains, takes pressure off Romo to make as many deep throws as he was having to make. It seems counter-intuitive, but the great success of DeMarco Murray and the offensive line as run blockers is playing a huge role in making Romo the best quarterback he can be.

With the running game and that short passing game (often referred to as really being a long handoff when done by good quarterbacks and receivers) both working well, the team and quarterback are less reliant on the play with the highest rate of failure in the game, the long throw. There are less incomplete passes, fewer interceptions, and less exposure of the quarterback to the pass rush (since he doesn't have to stand in the pocket while the receivers get down the field). Not having to rely on making those low-probability passes should raise the completion rate in and of itself.

There is also the psychological pressure. Successful NFL quarterbacks have to be mentally tough, but they still are affected by stress. Constantly having to make throws to carry your team can get to even the most confident, resilient passers. Every quarterback makes bad throws, and it stands to reason that the greater the pressure, the more likely bad happens. I always thought that had something to do with the occasional late game interception that Romo threw. That was what kept his "choker" image alive, even though he actually was more likely to keep the drive alive than throw it away. But sometimes he did come up short, and the situation had to play into his performance. Additionally, the defense knew exactly what the stakes were. They could focus on defending those long passes, which raises that interception likelihood.

Now, however, Romo is going to have far fewer times when he has to make a drive almost exclusively with his ability to throw. Instead of having to maintain a high level of performance for extended periods, he is only called on in certain situations. In general, elevating your game (or the effort required to do whatever you are trying to accomplish) is easier when it only has to be done for short periods. Maintaining peak or near peak performance for long stretches is difficult and exhausting, and does not always work.

Tony Romo has always shown he can do things that are simply amazing, but he also has had failures. It was fairly clear at times that the Cowboys were relying too much on him, which not only demanded near flawless performance but also put a bullseye on him. Now he has plays where he simply is not expending the effort. I noticed on one picture illustrating one of Murray's big gains how Romo was just standing ten yards behind the line, watching the play. That will keep a quarterback fresh and protect his back.

Murray is flirting with some records this season. Along the way, he may help his quarterback to the best year of his career. It is a true win-win situation.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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