Breaking Down How Tony Romo Shredded the Broncos Defense for 500 Yards in Week 5

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Breaking Down How Tony Romo Shredded the Broncos Defense for 500 Yards in Week 5
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Much of the talk right now surrounding Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has unsurprisingly centered around 2.7 percent of the passes he attempted vs the Denver Broncos last Sunday.

That translates to one pass of the 36 he attempted on the day, and for this breakdown of his performance you're going to see a very similar percentage of the article dedicated to that one pass. 

On Sunday, Romo became the first Cowboys quarterback in franchise history to throw for at least 500 yards in a game. He finished the game 25-of-36 for 506 yards, five touchdowns and one very costly interception.

The Cowboys ultimately lost the game 51-48 in a game that will undoubtedly be considered one of the best of the year when it's all said and done, even if it is just Week 5. Romo went toe-to-toe with one of the best to ever play the game in Peyton Manning, who's playing at a level that we'll all tell our kids about one day. 

We're going to take a closer look at how Romo managed to rack up these historic numbers on the Broncos defense. 

Coming into this game the Broncos defense, pass defense in particular, had been giving up a lot of yards. But they had also been playing with a lead most of the season and were facing teams having to throw the ball to try and catch up. But in any case, teams have had success moving the ball on them.

Denver Broncos pass defense numbers
Opponent COM ATT PER YDS/GM TD INT
First 4 games 100 173 57.8% 334 6 6
Tony Romo 25 36 69.4% 506 5 1

NFL.com

Early in this game, the Cowboys receivers were able to take advantage of poor tackling in space by the Broncos defenders. According to Pro Football Focus, of the 506 passing yards that Romo threw for in this game, 269 were after the catch. 

Also according to Pro Football Focus, Romo targeted receivers 21 times across the middle of the field (between the numbers), which led to 15 receptions for 309 yards and two touchdowns for Cowboys receivers. 

The Cowboys offense attacked the Broncos Cover 2 defense by attacking the middle of the field, which on more than one occasion was a pass to tight end Jason Witten on a couple of different routes. 

The first route they hit on was the seam route. 

You can see the Broncos were in a Cover 2 look with the two deep safeties. The Cowboys move out five-wide with Witten in the slot to the top side of the formation. 

After the snap you can see the Broncos running a Cover 2 zone blitz and bring cornerback Chris Harris at the quarterback from the nickelback position. 

Romo does a great job of waiting for Witten to get over the top of the linebackers so he can place this ball in between the levels of defenders, down the seam and between the safeties. 

It should also be noted that it was a great play from left tackle Tyron Smith to kick out and pick up Harris coming off the edge. 

Witten was also able to make a couple of big plays from the slot position when lined up with linebacker Danny Trevethan, who will always be remembered in this game for his fantastic interception that set up the Broncos game-winning field goal. 

On both of these slant routes from Witten, Trevethan is shaded with inside position as if to show that he is not going to easily give an inside release. But both times Witten is easily able to get inside separation and pick up more than 20 yards on each reception.

Witten finished the game with seven receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown, which was good for 17.3 yards per reception.

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In a Hall of Fame-type career spanning 11 seasons and 164 career regular season games, Witten has averaged more than 17.3 yards per reception in just 14 games.  

But Witten wasn't the only one getting in on the action across the middle. Rookie tight end and second-round pick Gavin Escobar found his way across the middle on a 25-yard seam route as well.

This was an absolutely perfect throw from Tony Romo against pretty good coverage. The Broncos are running a Cover 2 man-under scheme and Romo has to perfectly place this ball and lead Escobar down the field in order to complete the pass. 

Finally, it was not just Romo's teammates that were getting separation and making plays on their own. On one of the biggest plays of the game, Romo set it up beautifully by manipulating the safety with his shoulders.

The Broncos are in man-to-man defense with a single high safety (Cover 1). The middle linebacker drops to take the hook/curl route across the middle and everyone else is in man-to-man coverage. Just out of this first screen is safety Rahim Moore, who's responsible for the third player in line from the outside, which would be tight end James Hanna. 

This play was soon after Chris Harris' injury that brought Tony Carter in at cornerback for the Broncos. 

As soon as Romo drops back and recognizes man-to-man he knows that someone is going to have to cover Hanna in the left flat. It's not going to be the middle linebacker who's dropping and the nickel cornerback is all over Witten with Carter opening and running on the outside. 

Romo turns his shoulders and takes his hand off the ball as to say he's going to throw it to Hanna in the flat. Moore reacts to this movement. 

As you can see it clears out Moore from the deep safety position and allows Romo to lead wide receiver Terrance Williams down the field without worry of a safety being there to pick it off. The play goes for an 82-yard touchdown and was just another big play down the middle of the field in this game for Romo and the Cowboys offense. 

It's such an underrated skill or ability, to manipulate defenders with your eyes, shoulders, feet, hands or whatever. Romo's plan all along was to hit Williams deep and challenge Carter, who had just come into the game.

Hanna was open in the flat and if Romo had really planned on throwing it to him when he adjusted his shoulders and feet, he would have actually thrown it because Moore was a good 15 yards deep when Romo did that. Hanna was open but Romo just simply wanted Moore out of his way in throwing to Williams. 

Romo was clicking on all cylinders against the Broncos and outplayed Manning in the game, but it was the one costly interception at the wrong time that people will remember.

The good news for Cowboys fans is that Romo is having the best season of his career and that didn't change against the Broncos because of one pass. If Romo continues to play at this level, he'll continue to have opportunities to change any perception out there of him. That's all he can ask for at this point. 

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