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

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.

Maybe with the injuries they had last year, okay, but with the receiver they have…  I’m not saying they need to go all Mike Martz and Jay Cutler, but I wouldn’t have a problem saying, Romo, we’ve got to put the fear of the aerial passing offense into these defenses.

CN:  In addition to the injuries and the lockout, Romo has had a problem in early-season losses where he goes too crazy with risk and has a bad game and the press and some of the fans will turn on him.  It’s so out of character however.

K.C.:  That Detroit game too.  You see that and think, no Tony, scale it back.  I know Romo has made some incredibly bad decisions, but I think you  can take him out of character if you try and dial him back too far.

CN:  Metrics-wise, how did Romo look in 2011?

K.C.:  I’m looking at this, and I’m going to do this on a team-by-team basis.

Let’s put it this way — is it a surprise that the Cowboys ranked 2nd in vertical yards per attempt?

CN:  That’s not too big of a surprise.  They have “matchup busters” as you’ve called them, in Witten and Austin.

K.C.:  It could be that Romo only throws the vertical when it’s there, and goes somewhere if it’s not absolutely open.  I have to think there’s a balance there.  Think Drew Brees.  He’s got a real gunslinger mentality, more than Romo did last year.

Vertical yards per attempt is great, but look — Dallas had 165 vertical pass attempts as a team last year.  New Orleans had 226.  Now Dallas is 13.2 yards per attempt, which is slightly better than New Orleans’ 12.9.

But would you have have the better YPA on fewer passes or the 61 more attempts?

CN:  I’d rather have the Saints line.  That’s roughly an extra 50 passing yards per game from being more aggressive.

K.C.:  Here’s the funny thing — on bad decision percentage on vertical passes, Dallas’ bad decision on verticals is 3.5%, New Orleans’ is 3.9%.   So fine, New Orleans threw 61 more verticals and had a slightly bigger risk on them, but they got 726 extra yards from those plays.

726 yards will win a couple of ball games for you.

Give Garrett credit for managing the injuries and the turnover on his offense, but if he can get those yards with healthy weapons, I have to think they go deeper more.

Statisticians will tell you what, an interception is worth 40-50 yards?  Okay, New Orleans may have had an extra interception or two taking more chances, but they’re still coming out way ahead in yardage.

CN:  And Dallas was one win away from the playoffs.  These little things matter over the course of a season.  How many yards are you subtracting replacing Terence Newman with Brandon Carr?  200?  300? More?  That might add up to a win.  You mentioned the lost vertical yards.  Pump up those totals and you may find another win there.

K.C. : Dallas was also 2nd in the league in stretch vertical yards per attempt.  And there they had 60 stretch verticals and New Orleans had 70.

Here’s another comparison.  Dallas had 60 stretch vertical attempts for an 18.2 YPA.  The Giants had 106 stretch verticals for 15.1, so Dallas was about three yards better, but the Giants are attempting 46 more deep passes.  That’s about three more per game.

They have Nicks.  They have Cruz.  They picked up Reuben Randle, who had very good metrics in college playing in a limited pass offense.  If you’re Dallas, you know there the champs.  They threw more stretch verticals than any other passing attack in the league.  You’ve got to keep up with them.

They lost Manningham but they gained Randle and added Martellus Bennett as a tight end, and who knows when their injured tight ends will come back, but they might have a better corps of receiver this year than last.

If you want to keep up with the Giants you need to go vertical.  You need to stop them from doing that, but you also need to take more chances yourself.   I don’t think the Cowboys-Giants games are going to be 14-13 contests.

CN:  I’ll throw some numbers back at you to show how that vertical attack has killed Dallas.  The Cowboys are 1-5 against the Giants the last three years.  They’ve scored 24 or more points in five of those game and they’ve scored 30 or more points in three of the losses. They get into shootouts but always seem to fall a field goal short because they can’t stop the Giants receivers and Eli Manning.

You said it last spring when we discussed free agent cornerbacks.  The Cowboys didn’t have the corners to go head-to-head with the Packers and Saints.  With the Giants, they can’t get out of the division until they slow those guys down.  So there’s the case for stocking up on corners, but also, as you’ve pointed out, for going back to throwing the football down the field.

We talked about the Gronkowski matchup, but in the Cowboys’ world, I think the biggest question is, can they find a slot corner who can match up to Steve Smith and Victor Cruz?  Smith is gone, but those guys have tortured the Cowboys secondary going back about five years.

Next:  What can fans realistically expect from Morris Claiborne as a rookie?

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for
Rafael Vela

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  • Stephen Baird

    no, romo can’t win or get his deep ball groove going … he throws deep balls to bobby carpenter.

  • The TURK

    Until Romo has a reliable RB that can get him a yard to convert or close out a game with a lead defensews will only have to focus on Romo and his WR’s that do not know their routes or reads

    Those same defenses have had field days against the swiss cheese o-lines Romo has had to play with all of his career

    Maybe Romo’s defense will not collapse then quit all season this year

    We have reason to be optimistic but unless an RB emerges, the WR’s know their stuff and the O-Line blocks we can expect more of the same

    You would think the defense would stop collapsing then quitting with all of the new additions but it is hard to call given that Rob Ryan did his best Wade Phillips last year by letting them quit on him

  • Pmkaram

    Just a thought for everyone,Free agents after this season are:M.Jenkins,A. Spencer,L. Laduceur,J. Phillips,F. Jones,B. Church,D. McCray,V. Butler,S. McGee,P. Costa,K. Coleman,B. Pool and K. Ogletree. The question:Who to replace on the team this year,who to allow to test FA after this season,who to definitely keep for the future? Any ideas out there?

    • Jon B.

      i think we will resign felix for a fair price……….hes what 26 27 next year………..he understands the offense and he isnt going to get crazy money offers from anybody…………he can block, catch and run all necessary for the rb in this offense………….plus he has low miles………..although he has had some minor injuries…..

      Ogletree……contract year……..SHOW ME…….otherwise theres a line of talent better than hes played

      Spencer is the conundrum………hes solid against the run and isnt an elite pass rusher but might also benefit from better corner play………..

      I think Jerry Jones might ask Rob Ryan to put Jenkins at FA some this year……….if he can play there some snaps………i think they keep him………..

      how did we do in this draft…………what do the FAs look like?   all  training camp and season questions that will be answered…….we shall see……..

      • The TURK

        I will have Danny Coale over Ogletree everyday and twice on Sundays

        The new safety Johnson will start  

  • Jon B.

    Block for him………

    give him a running game……….

    and he can be a top 5 QB in the league………..Romo is always gonna have some of those make you scratch your head brett farve moments………although i hope he keeps his privates private.   Its just who he is……..those harry houdini escapes and those plays where you go how did he do that…….are gonna occassionally have those mistakes too……..i think KC pointed out well that if you rein him in too much you lose who he is.

    Garrets offense………depends on the play action pass….and the play action pass actually depends on a good running game…..and when we lost Murray……….we really lost a lot…………this offense was clicking with him at RB.      Callahan was a big reason why the Jets were as successful as they were……….a new set of eyes on the Oline……..and a new philosphy for our youngins to learn in.     Don’t underestimate that pick up Callahan is a very strong offensive mind and a good o line coach as well.    He had to face Gruden who knew the Raiders playbook and plays as good as Callahan or he might be wearing a SB ring.   I would much rather have him than Tony Sparano.    Staffs matter in the NFL……you get talent in the draft but a good coaching staff is huge.    

    Dez Bryant needs to figure out if he has asthma or go train with Phelps and get some lungs.     He needs the Chris Carter, Jerry Rice, Larry Fitz workout regimen and he could be an elite reciever……….let Mo Claiborne take over PR KR.     So far Dez Bryant has been like a Jaguar.     It looks great in the garage just don’t drive it very far cause it will break down. 

    Last year it seemed like our defensive series would play good on first and 2nd down and then on 3rd and long we couldn’t get home and we would give up a 24 yard catch on 3rd and 23.    Carr, Clairborne, and Jenkins and Scandrick should pretty much be on the field a lot.     I sure hope that makes those 3rd and 23s unreachable.   

    Hey we are undefeated and optimism reigns supreme.    We got the Gmen as an opener and there can be no better way to open the season than to get a beat down on the sb champs.   

    • MadMick

      Romo shouldn’t necessarily have to protect the ball like Matt Ryan. That is if the Cowboys were actually an elite scoring offense and could score on the ground when they needed to.

      All that being said, I still maintain a QB can have 16 total turnovers and still not have as many critical “what the holy hell was that” turnovers as Romo had last season or in the opening month of ’10.

    • The TURK

      Defenses know if you stop Romo there is nobody else on the roster that can beat you

  • MadMick

    5 rushing TD’s for the season? Pathetic. Even the Saints and Giants had 16 and 17 TD’s on the ground respectively.  The Cowboys actually being able to score on the ground in the red zone still remains a huge problem; at least as much as the O-line and WR’s health allowing the team to take more shots down the field.

    Otherwise, you’re in the unreasonable position of saying to Romo you’re going to have to throw 35-40 TD’s in order for the offense to be a top five scoring unit and win a few of those shootouts against teams like the Giants or Saints.

    • The TURK

      Defenses know that we do not have a RB or O-Line

  • truecowboyfan

     Great interview here! I tend to agree with Joyner that the Cowboys do not throw the ball down the field enough:

    1. Garrett is very creative with the deep and intermediate passing attack. But he is TERRIBLE with the short passing game. He just does not seem to have the knack for designing short passing plays that gets the ball into the WRs hands quickly, on the run, with room to maneuver. I think we can all remember those games where Garrett was scared of the opposing teams pass rush…probably one of the most frustrating things to see short throw after short throw that gains no yardage. I believe that for a Garrett-led offense to be successful, they have to throw the ball downfield. Unless, of course, Garrett improves his short game (and I’m not talking about golf).

    2. YPA is great, but the Cowboys need more attempts for the simple reason that it makes the defense respect the deep ball. If teams know the Cowboys are going downfield, maybe the linebackers and DBs won’t be so aggressive attacking the LOS on run plays. Taking away just a little of the aggression from the LBs and DBs will have a positive effect on the running game and the short passing game.

    3. Dez Bryant. It is pure negligence on the part of Garrett and/or Romo for not throwing the ball downfield to Dez more often. PURE NEGLIGENCE! The man is 6’2″, 34″ arms, 38″ vertical, and awesome body control and ball skills. Unless he is doubled, the Cowboys need to make it a point to throw the ball downfield to Dez more often, even if he appears covered. Let the man make a play because quite frankly, I will take Dez over 99% of all NFL CBs in a jump ball situation.

    That being said, I also agree with Raf that the OL crippled the offense’s ability to go downfield last year. That is why it was imperative that the OL got fixed in the offseason.

    • on point 3 — you did notice how Dez disappeared after 15 minutes in the first 6-7 games of the season?  Carried that mysterious “thigh injury” that had him running like Roy Williams on a Nyquil bender?  

      Negligence or lack of dependability?  Dez was the most dominating 15 minute WR around.  Look at how many of his stats came from the 1st and 2nd drives of games.  I’m pretty sure he would have seen a lot more were he able.

      • truecowboyfan

         I think there is no doubt that he was not dependable. And that very well could explain the lack of attempts, especially if Dez’s conditioning is deficient. However, the bottom line is that if you want to win, you need to get the ball to Dez Bryant. If Jason Garrett is truly a genius, he needs to find a way to overcome Dez’s inherent mental and/or focus limitations to get him the ball. If that means dumbing it down, then that’s what he needs to do. Conditioning aside (since that is not on Garrett), the inability to maximize such an immense talent such as Dez  would make Garrett negligent, at least IMO.

        • Jarhead

          i’ll beat up on JG with the best of them, but dez needs to do his job.

          dude needs to run better routes and know his business come game day.

          if JJ is letting dez get away with slacking behind the scenes, he is cutting JG’s legs out from under him.

          word is, dez is late to meetings and the like. not sure why he is getting away with stuff like that if its true, but jj needs to step in and play “the hammer” with stuff like that.

          • The TURK

            Dez needs to know his reads/routes or you will see Romo have more faith in the likes of Danny Coale who is a Route/Read WizKid and has excelent conditioning/stamina

        • MadMick

          It’s not Garrett’s job to make a grown man give a damn about being a professional or concerning the bigger picture; ever make Dez care enough about being the absolute best he can be. If that’s not already instilled in him, there’s nothing Garrett can inject into him to boost his want-to for three and a half hours on Sunday.

          While he’s a wholly supreme talent over the likes of Roy or Alvin,  it just seems he has too many of their jackassy traits to ever max out that freakish talent.

      • Taylor

        If Dez is not working every day, conditioning and playbook, then he will be another headcase bust like Marty B.  However, give Tony 5-6 secs in a clean jersey and we will rock.

        • MadMick

          Well, I wouldn’t go that far. Even coasting by, Dez will still be able to produce 900-1,000 yards/10-12 TD season in, season out. And even with him costing a 1st and 3rd, he’ll be productive enough to not be considered an outright bust.

          However considering he has the talent to be as productive as T.O. or Mike, that just won’t be good enough.  Also who knows how long Miles’ prime will even last? Because Dez will still be young by the Austin turns 30 that’s all the more reason for him to develop into an elite receiver sooner than later.

        • Montecito Tex

          Give Romole time and he’ll hit Bobby Carpenter in the flat up 28-3. Clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed. “Is chicken of the sea, chicken or tuna?,” ponders the slippery-fingered QB who is a biscuit away from becoming Jared Lorenzen.

          • MadMick

             Is J-Lo even still in the league? Surely he has transitioned into the world of Sumo Wrestling by now.

          • Oklahoma

            In the immortal words of Jimmy “pure pork sausage” Dean, Tex’s all-time favorite, Stetson-wearing singer (of sorts):  “All I want’s a biscuit, nobody seems to care.”


          • The TURK

            Your an imposter Tex

            an Oilers Fan

            You have never set foot in the great state of Texas

      • Jon B.

        Does he have asthma?   ADD? Is he eating twinkies and hohos?  

        Hopefuly the staff can get him in better shape and get his endurance up………..KR PR goes to MO=  NO MO DEZ at KR PR.     Maybe this is his year……….he has those moments where he is uncoverable………but then in the 2nd half he just disappears…… far he is a Jaguar…….a beauty in the garage just don’t driver her very far.

        • The TURK

          Woicik will handle all of that

  • Emmitt>Barry

    I think KC has the results absolutely correct here, but in this particular interview he comes across a bit off on the reasons for those results.

    Based on Jason Garrett’s history of being very comfortable throwing downfield and installing a vertical offense, I think the reason for Tony’s fewer vertical pass attempts this year was not a fear of making mistakes, as KC suggests, but instead an inability to run many 7 step drops due to the porous OL (not just on the interior, but at LT as well many games), and the need to protect a QB with severely damaged ribs for a sustained stretch of the season, just as Raf suggests above.

    KC seems to make the leap: “Garrett wants very few mistakes, so Tony dialed back his risky throws and that’s why he’s got fewer deep attempts.” I don’t totally buy that rationale, given Romo’s comfort going downfield in previous seasons with Garrett as his OC. Instead I think it was the below-average OL, and that if the OL improves this year we’ll see the downfield attempts pick back up, with perhaps a slight uptick in bad decision but nothing massive.

    (I also think there’s a CHANCE that the WR injuries hurt out ability to go downfield, but it’s not totally clear from the stats. Romo actually had a better YPA throwing to Holley, Ogletree, and others than he did throwing to Dez and Miles. However, that may be because he only threw deep balls to those lesser WRs when they were TOTALLY open and it was a clear home run, producing high YPAs but low total overall deep attempts, whereas if Dez and Miles were in there he might’ve thrown the deep ball to them more often. Tough to know that for sure, but that’s an explanation that might make sense to me.)

  • Tdships

    I have seen the light. It is blindingly apparent that the DAL braintrust saw CB as the critical deficiency on this team – and went about addressing beyond what many of us, myself included thought possible. 

    For all my carping about upgrading the Interior OL with middling talent, its clear stopping the Giants and Eagles from their traditional track meets agianst our woeful secondary circa 2007-present is going to win us a lot more games than better G/C play. 

    Now if only Romo doesn’t get killed in the process…

  • Montecito Tex

    If Garrett wants to eliminate mistakes, then the pear-shaped Romo needs to be replaced. From the Seattle slips to the weekly yips, there isn’t a more dopey and careless signal caller in all the NFL.

    • Jarhead

      yeah, i dont know why we didnt sign vince young.

    • DW94

       Colt McCoy might be on the trading block now. Care to call, Tex?

    • The TURK

      Romo is the best player on offense

      No “REAL” Dallas Cowboys Fan would say such nonsense

      Tell us who your real team is cause only a Redskins, Giants or Philly fan would tell us to replace the best player on the team

      No need to pretend to be a Cowboys Fan anymore

    • David Lusk

      I think Tex’s schtick has gone pear-shaped.

  • Jarhead

    romo gets himself, and the team, in trouble when he feels like he has to do it all.
    thats when he pushes it, takes high risks, and thats when he commits the gaffs.
    he is just not the guy to do it all, week in and week out, though there is no doubt in my mind he will kill himself trying to be.
    There are times where i recognize that JG MUST put it on romo b/c romo is simply his best chance for success. As a play-caller, he is leaning on his best guy, and we must understand that.
    and to admire his creativity in running and passing plays is fine too….but i maintain that JG has a fundamental flaw as a play caller/Head Coach. he puts too much on romo at really bad times, when it is just not necessary to do so.  and in those moments, he exposes his team’s success to very unnecessary risk.
    -constantly lining romo up in the SG inside the opponent’s 10 yard line.
    -lining romo up in the SG inside his own 20 yard line.
    -still passing late in the game with a healthy lead (the most egregious example of this is late in a week 17 game against philly when he had a 24 point, thats right, a 24 point lead; with a playoff game less than a week away).
    Creativity is fine and good. But stupid and unnecessary risk, especially with a QB who has shown that he will take huge risk to make a bad play successful, is foolhardy. That foolhardiness at game time (in fact at key times in a game) negates all creativity from the week leading up to the game.
    JG has to do better. and romo cant be relied upon to do it all himself. Even Brady cant do so, just ask wes welker, or mrs brady if you prefer. She had some pointed comments right after the SB, which were right on the money when you think about it. i call that a good woman, sticking up for her man and calling out his teammates who didnt do their part.
    miles austin, hurt or not, STUNK last year. he had two HUGE gaffes (at the jets and vs the giants) that cost this team big-time. He better get his head out of the clouds or he will go the way of MBIII and roy williams the safety: big time in-house signings that proved to be busts.
    like it or not, this is romo’s team for the next two years. and too many people in the cowboys organization are listening to the press and not looking in the mirror: its romo’s fault, its romo’s fault, its romo’s fault, bark bark bark bark.
    JG, every coach, and every player on that team needs to step it up and quit blaming romo for the team’s mediocrity.
    it may be a “QB’s leage,” but that is no excuse for everyone else in the organization to turn and look at him when something goes wrong.
    dont eat the cheese my friends. if romo pulls a favre in a CS game, i’ll be the first to call him out. meantime, how about we start calling some of the other members of the team out.

  • Austonianaggie

    It’s a tribute to Tomy Romo we scored in the red zone at all. Given how bad our rushing red zone offense was, we could of easily been only kicking field goals all season.