Can Romo Get His Deep-Ball Groove Back? Does He Need To?

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I’m throwing deep again!

In the last edition of Cowboys Nation’s chat with ESPN Insider K.C. Joyner, the missing vertical passing attack was discussed.  We pick up the discussion there and K.C. ponders whether Tony Romo was too conservative in 2011?

Cowboys Nation:  That’s not the offense that Jason Garrett ran the previous four year.  I expect to see Dallas revert to a more aggressive style this year, with Romo and the receivers healthy.

K.C. Joyner: Mind you they ranked very well.  They did a lot of things you would expect out of a Jason Garrett offense.  As an offense they ranked 4th best in the league in bad decision percentage, at 1.8%.

They were very productive in a lot of metrics.  I think the got the most out of what they had, within reason, because if you’re only throwing Witten 32 vertical passes…  the leader in verticals by a tight end was Gronkowski, with 61.

I think there could have been some upside there if Dallas used Witten more but that only brings the Cowboys offense to the middle of the league in vertical attempts.  That’s part of the issue in why they didn’t go down the field more, but it wasn’t the only problem.  It’s what you said, when you lose your top receivers, you’re not going deep as often.

CN:  They were also playing three first-year starters on offensive line.  They were going to be more risk-averse, and take fewer seven-stop drops, especially after Romo had that injured rib in week two.

K.C:  Two things you see from a Garrett offense.  He does want to go down the field, but he also wants to eliminate mistakes.  Remember we talked last year about Jon Kitna.  At one point I almost named the bad-decision metric after him because he was a leader year-in and year-out.  He was that bad.

Then in 2010 he finished either 1st or 2nd in the league in that stat running Garrett’s offense.  That’s Garrett saying, “you’re going to be safe with the football or that’s it.”  And I think we saw some of the same with Romo last year.  The number one priority was to have a safe offense and to build everything else off of that.

I’ve got wonder, and I’ve got a lot of respect for Jason Garrett, both as a run play caller and as a pass play caller.  He’s very creative in both areas.  But there’s a risk-reward factor.  If you’re going to manage short passes, you’re likely to keep your bad decisions very low.  If you’re intelligent about it, it’s very hard to have a lot of bad decisions in a short game, and Garrett is smart.

In his offense, it’s going to come down to downfield attempts.  Sometimes you have to take those chances.  If Tony Romo is sitting at a 1.7 bad decision percentage, which he had last year … with gunslinger types, if you’re over 3.0%, then you’re taking too many chances and the penalty for those deep throws begins to outweight the benefits.

If you’re sitting at 1.7%, you can go to 2.2, or 2.5%.  It’s doesn’t sound like much, but that’s an almost 50% increase in bad decisions, it doesn’t matter.  You’re still well in that safe range for a gunslinger passer.