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Running the Numbers: Romo’s 2012 Numbers Versus Blitz

Posted Jan 24, 2013

Coming into the 2012 season, quarterback Tony Romo generally performed about as well against the blitz as he did when defenses sent four or fewer rushers. From 2009 to 2011, his 93.7 overall passer rating against the blitz was comparable to his rating when not blitzed.

However, Romo has traditionally been at his best when defenses don’t disguise their intentions; that is, when defenses showed blitz and then sent five or more rushers, Romo has thrived. It’s when defenses try to fool Romo by either faking a blitz or lining up conservatively and blitzing that the quarterback has struggled.

In 2012, however, we saw a shift in Romo’s play. This year, Romo was actually at his best when defenses disguised their looks. Below, I’ve sorted all of Romo’s throws based on what the defense did pre- and post-snap. The first letter (N or Y) details whether or not the defense showed blitz and the second tells whether or not they indeed sent at least five rushers.

N/N: 255-for-384 (66.4 percent) for 2,897 yards (7.54 YPA), 20 TD, 10 INT

N/Y: 67-for-104 (64.4 percent) for 923 yards (8.88 YPA), 5 TD, 2 INT

Y/N: 48-for-65 (73.8 percent) for 467 yards (7.18 YPA), 0 TD, 1 INT

Y/Y: 55-for-95 (57.9 percent) for 616 yards (6.48 YPA), 3 TD, 6 INT

First of all, you can see that defenses tried to disguise their looks a whole lot against Romo in 2012. This is new, but not unexpected. Opposing coaches watch plenty of film, and if they astutely noticed that Romo was struggling against untraditional alignments, you can bet they’d be more inclined to try to trick the quarterback in the future. Overall, defenses actually disguised their blitzes over half of the time they sent them in 2012, which is simply remarkable.

Surprisingly, however, Romo seemed to adjust. After struggling badly with disguised looks in past years, Romo completed 68 percent of his passes and averaged a stout 8.22 yards per attempt (YPA) when defenses either showed blitz and backed out or blitzed from a conservative look. Compare that to just a 57.9 percent completion rate, 6.48 YPA, and just one touchdown for every two picks when defenses showed blitz before they sent extra rushers.

One explanation for Romo’s improved numbers against deceptive looks is that they force defenders to start plays out of position. When defenders blitz from their standard alignments, for example, it takes a whole lot longer to reach the quarterback than if they crowd the line before the snap. Similarly, it can be dangerous for a defense to show an all-out blitz but then back out of it because defenders in coverage could potentially be out of position.

Another reason Romo excelled against disguised defenses may be that since he saw them at an historic rate, he simply was more prepared for them. When defenses almost never blitzed Romo without showing it and almost never dropped seven men into coverage when they did show blitz, it was far more surprising when they actually disguised their looks. In 2012, defenses tried to trick Romo on a regular basis, so he probably anticipated it more often.

So what can Romo and the offense expect from defenses in 2013? Probably a lot of the same. Romo’s 90.5 passer rating in 2012 was the worst mark of his entire career, so there isn’t too much incentive for defenses to change what they’re doing. It will be up to Romo – a quarterback currently set to play in the final year of his contract – to lead his team by beating both blitzes and four-man rushes alike.

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