What 'Really Special' Change Can Tony Romo Make for 2013 Season?

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What 'Really Special' Change Can Tony Romo Make for 2013 Season?
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Does Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo have something special in store for the 2013 NFL regular season? 

Romo claims to have "discovered something that is going to be really special" with a change in his throwing mechanics, according to Mike Fisher of Fox Sports Southwest. That change apparently has something to do with what Fisher calls "arm angles and release points."

Romo seems excited about it. 

"I don't want to get into all the details of it," he told Fisher. "But I really think it can be a positive change."

If indeed he's making a major change, it won't come easy. Muscle memory is stubborn and Romo is the league's fifth-oldest starting quarterback. Additionally, Romo's mechanics weren't necessarily a major issue in the first place.

On paper, he's one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. But there's still clearly room for improvement when you consider that Romo tied for the league lead while also matching a career high with 19 interceptions in 2012. 

 

Examining what went wrong in 2012 in order to determine what "really special" changes could lift Romo and the Cowboys in 2013

If something needs to be fixed or improved, it first has to be identified. Let's break down where Romo had problems last season in order to assess any necessary changes. 

 

He tried to do too much

This doesn't require a mechanical or technical change, but instead it's about Romo's mentality. He has the physical ability to become a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, but his gunslinging approach costs him dearly far too often. 

Here's a look at five of Romo's worst interceptions from last season. On all five occasions, he's off balance, he looks uncomfortable, he's under pressure, and he's trying to make a throw that often can't be made. 

This is something that cost Brett Favre a lot too. The two have/had a lot in common, starting with their refusal to give up. That's admirable, but the lack of calculation involved also has detrimental results far too often. It's probably why Favre only put together one Super Bowl season and why Romo has won just a single playoff game. 

Football's a passionate game, but quarterbacks can usually only be successful when they've come to grips with the fact that not every play will end favorably. It's important, instead, to limit the amount of plays that end tragically. Romo has yet to master that, and it isn't easy to do so at 33, but that would be a game-changing adjustment at this point in time.

 

He made too many poor decisions

Of course, you can't chalk up a 19-interception season completely to Romo trying to be a superhero. He also made some very bad decisions along the way, sometimes without facing pressure. On all three of these picks, he was overestimating his ability to cram the ball into windows that were either far too tight or that simply didn't exist...

Every quarterback makes the odd bad throw, but Romo needs to decrease his frequency in that area. He's a fairly efficient, accurate quarterback the vast majority of the time, but he also bottoms out more often than most of his elite peers. 

Fortunately, cutting down on mental mistakes would solve both of the issues we've looked at thus far.

 

He was a slow starter

It's better to be good late than never, especially in the NFL, but Romo's Cowboys scored just 36 first-quarter points in 2012, compared to 162 in the fourth quarter. That second number was the fifth highest in NFL history, which goes to show how freakin' good this 'Boys team could have been had it been able to build earlier leads. 

The Cowboys scored only two touchdowns on their first possession all season, and Romo's first-quarter touchdown-to-interception ratio was 1-to-6. In every respect, he and his teammates stunk early, digging holes that made it easier for Romo to fall into desperation mode and make mistakes we looked at above.

Tony Romo, quarter-by-quarter, 2012
Comp.% TD INT YPA Rating
First quarter 61.8 1 6 6.1 61.3
Second quarter 65.1 7 6 7.9 88.1
Third quarter 69.2 8 3 8.3 103.5
Fourth quarter 65.2 12 4 7.7 101.2

NFL.com

Eight of Romo's 19 interceptions came with the Cowboys trailing by two or more scores. And, unbelievably, he didn't throw a single pick all season long with his team in the lead. Granted, it didn't hold many leads, but imagine how lights-out Romo could become if he and his teammates were able to start stronger in 2013.

Where Romo would rank without first quarter stats
2012 rank including 1st quarter 2012 Rank w/o 1st quarter
Comp.% 4th 4th
TD/INT 23rd 10th
YPA 8th 4th
Rating 10th 7th

Pro Football Reference

This might not require tremendous change, because Romo had a 103.8 first-quarter passer rating two years ago. The key could be to find whatever was working for him then and regain it in 2013. 

 

He didn't have enough support

This, obviously, isn't on Romo. But it does relate to what he might be able to change this year. A lot of what went wrong last season had to do with a lack of support in that offense.

The offensive line was a mess, which resulted in Romo facing more pressure than all but two other NFL quarterbacks, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He threw a league-high nine interceptions under pressure last season and his accuracy percentage dropped from 11th in the NFL without pressure to 20th with it. 

But there were also interceptions that came on botched routes, there were 39 dropped passes, and there were numerous mental mistakes from those surrounding him.

A subtle but important example came against the Giants in Week 8, when Romo dropped back for a play-fake in which Phillip Tanner ran the wrong direction. Seconds later, a discombobulated Romo threw a pick after failing to locate Stevie Brown over the top.

Romo has to handle those situations better, but he also has to step up as a leader and ensure that they happen less often.

After all, the veteran is expected to have his responsibilities and his involvement in the offense increase this season. And if he can control more of the game plan, the play calls and the overall approach on offense each Sunday, that change could and should result in fewer mental miscues from all involved parties.

 

Conclusion

Again, Romo is on the right track regardless of the mechanical improvements we could be in store for. In addition to stepping up his play late in games last season, he stepped it up late in the year. Fifteen of his 22 turnovers came in the first seven weeks, with only seven coming in the final nine games of the year. And between Nov. 11 and Dec. 23, he had only four turnovers in an eight-game stretch. 

Merely picking up where he left off might be good enough, but considering how handsomely he's now being paid, it has to please Cowboys fans to hear that he's continuing to tweak his mechanics in an effort to become a little more efficient. 

The hope, though, has to be that Romo has continued to evolve mentally as a quarterback and an offensive weapon. If that's the case, such a change could result in a really special season for "America's Team."

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