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Freeze Frame: The Man In The Arena Pt. 1

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“His place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither know victory nor defeat.

— President Theodore Roosevelt, 23 April, 1910

With these words, Theodore Roosevelt matched Rudyard Kipling for describing what a man should be. I can think of no truer representation of what those words mean than the Cowboys career of Antonio Ramiro Romo. Never did he lack for people to point out his stumbles. Never did he lack for people to point out how his deeds could have been done better. But it’s all there in his story: the dust, the sweat, and the blood. The error and shortcoming. The great enthusiasm and devotions. The man has spent himself in our cause. He knows the triumph of achievement. Where he has failed, he has unquestionably failed daring greatly.

And when his life is done, I would expect to find "his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat" carved into his tombstone.

The team has moved on without Tony Romo. While they are keeping him as an insurance policy against injury to Dak Prescott, they cannot and should not pass the reins back to Tony. Dak has been named the starter and it would be disastrous to what the team has built behind him to yank it away again for poor performance. So, in this week’s two part freeze frame I would like to look at a sequence of plays which I think epitomizes his career: the end of the December 2012 game against the New Orleans Saints.

Romo was great in this game. He was 26/43 for 416 yards, 4 TD and 0 INT. But more to the point, for the majority of the 4th quarter, from 11:50 to 5:49, Dallas’s win probability never rose above 2.4% and it actually reached 0%. Once upon a time, I personally witnessed what is widely regarded as the most amazing comeback in Dallas history: the 1979 home games against the Washington Redskins. This time Dallas was a point further down, and had less time remaining.

Play 1

1st and ten at the 20 yard line, 4:46 remaining. Shotgun with Jason Witten split but in line right, Kevin Ogletree and Dez Bryant split wide. Miles Austin in the slot. Remember when we thought Kevin Ogletree was a good wide receiver? Anyhow, the Saints play deep quarters coverage out of a nickel alignment and Romo knows Dez Bryant’s hitch route is going to be wide open. Three guys go with Miles Austin.

Here’s a second before the release. The blue circle shows the spot Romo is throwing to. Dez is so open it’s crazy.

It’s worth noting, however, that Romo gets killed on the play. This is the "pocket" at the moment of release. Doug Free and Tyron Smith both lose their battles and Romo is sandwiched right after this picture. The line was Doug Free, McKenzie Bernadeau, Ryan Cook, Nate Livings, and Tyron Smith. Remember when we were really proud of trading for Ryan Cook to be our center?

Play 2

Second down, Ogletree wide right, Austin in the slot, Witten in-line, Dez split left all alone. Witten will run the seam here. The safety will see it and move to cover it, too late.

You can see the effect here. Witten literally runs around the first LB guarding him and is about to blow by the second one. Romo is staring Witten down and about to wind up. The safety, in the gold circle, sees this all.

And bites like a champion bass. Romo’s quick pump totally sells the safety while Dez runs a stutter go and proceeds to beat his single coverage like a drum. Romo winds up to let go for real this time, but his target is the giant box behind the bamboozled safety.

Romo does a great job of putting the ball where Dez can use his advanced knowledge of where it’s going to run around his man and gain position for the catch, well across midfield.

Play 3

A nicely designed pass in the flats to Demarco Murray and an incompletion to Dwayne Harris later, Dallas finds itself on the New Orleans 16 yard line. Daryl Johnston circles Dez on the telestrator and says that Dallas has to get the ball to him instead of targeting guys like Harris. But Tony Romo knows Dez will be doubled, as will Witten. Miles Austin will be pretty open on his look-in, but Dwayne Harris is running a corner against inside leverage. That’s a win.

Here we see the routes going as planned, including a big wide open space in the middle for Miles Austin. But Dallas needs TDs right now and Tony knows he can get it to Harris in the corner on the circled DB.

And Tony does a great job with ball placement, throwing Harris open for the first of two needed touchdowns. Daryl Johnson says, "what do I know?"

2012 was a remarkable run at the end. After struggling the whole first half of the season with poor routes and miscommunication from Dez, the infamous pinky game against the Giants seemed to turn something on for Bryant. Dallas would go 5-3 the rest of the way with four of the five wins being fourth-quarter comebacks by Tony Romo, who put up a monster half-season with a pace for 36 TD, 12 INT, and 5,018 yards. Keeping that team relevant was one of the more amazing feats of Romo’s career.

But, for the moment, this game was still unlikely to become the fifth comeback, and fourth in a row. Dallas had to give the ball back to New Orleans and would spend all their time outs trying to keep time on the clock for one final game tying touchdown drive. Was Romo up to the task?

To be continued...