With so many question marks surrounding the 2014 edition of the Dallas Cowboys defense, and so many quality players on the offensive side of the ball, there is a natural inclination to say that the offense lead by Tony Romo will have to be nearly elite in order to push this team to a division title and into a playoff run.
As I pointed out last year, the offense was very good at times, but was too inconsistent in a lot of areas, and the fastest way to improvement on offense goes through the man who wears number nine.
When I started tossing around the idea for this series, my goal was to come up with "9 Ways for #9 to get better in 2014" but through my brainstorming and conversations with several folks I trust, I realized, he's a really really good QB, and there really just weren't nine ways we could come up with for him to markedly improve.
Over the next few days we will cover these five areas of possible improvement. Today, we start off with:
I've talked extensively both here on BTB and on Twitter about the need for this team to be better at gaining yards after the catch, and their overall lack of weapons who possess the ability to convert short throws into explosive gains. However, there is a part of the blame for this lies in the lap of the quarterback. When a QB puts the ball in the perfect spot, especially to a receiver on the run, it puts that player in position to turn themselves more seamlessly into at runner.
This area has been a particular spot of inconsistency for Tony Romo. Many times balls are placed just behind the receiver on the run, specifically over the middle, forcing his man to decelerate just enough to limit his ability after the catch. Then there are times when Romo demonstrates pinpoint accuracy, which makes one wonder, what is it that causes his inconsistencies?
The answer to that question is of course fairly complicated. However we'll look to break down a few pieces of the puzzle.
First of all let's look at Tony's mechanics. When you watch Tony Romo throw the ball it is fairly clear that over the course of his career he has used what many refer to as a 3/4 delivery, meaning his arm angle is much flatter than those passers who throw directly over the top. To illustrate this delivery, let's look at a picture courtesy of smartfootball.com. with some cropping by yours truly.
This image is an overlay of Romo mid throw compared to leading passing coach Darin Slack (left), as well as Denver Broncos' QB, Peyton Manning. Through this picture, it is easy to see the drastic difference in arm angle between Romo, and the over the top throwing slot, as well as the "weak wrist" that Romo has at the release point.
But what difference does this make in his ball placement? First of all, with Romo's 3/4 delivery, his arm motion naturally wraps around his body as opposed to extending out in front. This wrapping motion drastically decreases Romo's margin of error from a footwork and delivery standpoint, leaving him very susceptible to pulling the ball to his left and leaving the ball behind a WR coming from his left, or out of reach in front of a WR coming from his right. This is referred to as having a wide "target hallway" (think of the hallway as the path the ball will follow to reach its target, the wider the hallway the more possible paths, and more potential arrival points).
This delivery only exaggerates the fact that at 6'2" tall, Romo is a full two inches shorter than the average height of his projected offensive line. Because of his height, he has to work to find clear lanes to see through, and as we can see in the pictures below, the throwing motion does him no favors.
This picture is from a game in 2013, and the red line represents the angle from the center of his shoulder to his elbow. This downward angle puts his release point basically even with his head, meaning he needs to find clear lanes through which to make his throws as well.
When we compare that image to the following image of the premier "short" QB in the NFL, Drew Brees, we can see how high he raises his elbow over his shoulder, and as a result, is able to elevate the ball over his head, thus overcoming his "stature problems."
In addition to the height on the release in the picture above, he as achieved a position described by Coach Slack as the "Zero" position. Without going too in-depth into the physiology of this position, we can think of it as the point where the elbow is both high enough, and in front of the shoulder enough to allow the tricep to release all of the torque built up by the lower body and mid-section through out the course of the throwing motion. With Romo's 3/4 delivery, this position is impossible to achieve, causing the body to make a chain of adjustments in order to deliver the ball, none of which are optimal and all lead to the widened hallway.
Now fast forward to the 2014 off-season, and see the picture below.
In this image, we can see Romo with a much more elevated elbow and ball, giving him an opportunity to achieve true "Zero" and more efficiently use the kinetic energy built up in his motion to deliver the ball down a narrow hallway, to arrive accurately to its target.
Based on some conversations that I have had in preparing for this series, this arm angle is something Romo has been working on over the past couple of years, but as he suffered setbacks with the nagging back injury, he lowered the delivery point. However, as he has rehabbed the injury this off-season, he and Jason Garrett made a few trips to Duke University to visit with QB Guru (and famous Manning Mentor) David Cutcliffe, in regards to the exact areas of ball placement I addressed here.