So we’re seven weeks into the great Tony Romo Experiment at CBS. What have we learned?
1. He’s really good.
2. He predicts several plays a game, or where the ball is going, before the snap.
3. He knows when to be excitable and when to be analytical.
4. He can speak in the five- to eight-second bites that a game analyst must be able to do, because often that’s all the time you have between plays.
We spoke late Saturday night, before Romo did Cincinnati-Pittsburgh on Sunday. Romo was Romo. This is the way I’d describe him: He loves football. He loves talking about football. He loves opining about football. He loves putting himself in the shoes of the defense and trying to figure out what the defensive coordinator is going to call. He’s been like this for years—just listen to my 2016 podcast with him to find out how he thinks. When you’re done with that, you’ll believe he had the chops for TV, and the only thing you’d wonder is whether he could be economical with his language, and could he speak to those who don’t know football as well. So far, he’s done both.
“I know how to get ready for a football game,” Romo said. “I always knew how to prepare. Preparation for this has not been hard—I love doing it. What it comes down to is, I think about the game a lot. Even when I was playing, I was trying to figure the game out.”
The latest example: With 41 seconds left Thursday night in Oakland, the Chiefs led 30-24. Fourth-and-11 at the Kansas City 42. Listen to Romo from the broadcast.
“It’s the game. Fourth-and-11. I suspect Kansas City’s gonna run what they like to do, which is to rush three … at the most four, play two-man super-wide. [The two safeties deep, playing wide to try to limit the throws Derek Carr can make to either sideline.] You [the Raiders] gotta go to the middle of the field.”
Pause. Slight chuckle, looking at the Chiefs’ front. “They don’t pressure here, do they? First time all game?” Carr calling signals from the shotgun. Safeties very wide, outside each hashmark. “It’s man-to-man. Two high guys [safeties].”
Romo telestrates in yellow how wide the safeties are. Then he draws a circle around the middle of the field, with the center right around the 31-yard line—where the Raiders must reach for the first down. The area is empty. Totally devoid of Chiefs.
“The area to throw to is right here in the middle!” Romo says, voice rising to the importance of the game, the season, for Oakland.
The amount of time it takes to go from “They don’t pressure here, do they?” to “The area to throw to is right here in the middle!”: 7.34 seconds.
Jim Nantz: “Here we go, everything on the line …” Carr throws to Jared Cook, right where the center of that Romo circle was. Right there. Nantz: “Right at the spot, Tony!” Gain of 13. First down, Oakland.
Romo: “They need to attack that every time on each play with different plays right there … Then, as soon as that safety comes down, you take your shot outside the numbers.”
What I liked about the sequence is Romo made it sound so simple, so that even sportswriters can understand it. On Saturday night, asked about calling plays before they happen: “That’s a tough question to answer. I don’t think I do it that often. I know the viral sensation of the world we live in, with social media everywhere. But I only do it maybe three times a game. I’m just trying to think along with the game, to say what I see. It comes down to years of experience, knowing the defense as well as the offense. It’s been natural for me to feel what the quarterback is thinking and feeling at the moment.
“As far as what I say … I want people to feel when the game’s on the line how important the play is. It’s like, you’re at dinner or in the bar with your buddy, and you look up at the game on TV and say, ‘You gotta see this!’ That’s the way I want do the games.”
Some of what Romo was told before his TV life started has been right on the money. Other things, not so much. Like this: He hasn’t struggled with the amount of time he needs to make his points. “The thing coming in, what everybody was talking about, was you can’t educate, you can’t communicate everything you need to do. Not enough time,” he said. “I get the point, but I’m not sure about that. You gotta be symbiotic with the play-by-play guy, and Jim [Nantz] is so good at his job. Jim has the ability to exactly understand the situation and how much time he needs, and how much time that leaves. To me, it’s been far easier to understand the subtleties of timing.”
And about being too complex in his explanations? “People want to learn football,” Romo said. “People are passionate about their teams, and they want to know exactly why something just happened. So I try to tell them. I don’t think it’s that tough to tell them in a way they can fathom.”
“You miss playing?” I asked. “Ever think about playing again?”
“I don’t really think about that,” he said. “When I make a choice—and I bet it was the same with [Cris] Collinsworth and [Troy] Aikman—you know how much effort goes into it. You gotta give everything you got to this. You can’t fake things. You gotta be yourself. You always hope people enjoy it. The goal is to talk to the guy having a beer next to you, just explain the game. And if I can do that, I’ve done my job.”
So far, so good. Now for your email...
GOFF FOR MVP
Although you were more restrained, the rest of the NFL intelligentsia left Rams QB Jared Goff dead and buried after last season even though he was playing under the offensive albatross that is Jeff Fisher. If Goff gets the Rams to a double-digit win record and into the playoffs, he's the league MVP, regardless of whatever any other player does this season.
—G.M., Silver Spring, Md.
Goff is an incredible turnaround story. I truly appreciate it, because I had little regard for him at the end of his 0-7 rookie season, and the distance the Rams have traveled is great. But my MVP through seven weeks is Carson Wentz. More accurate, more yards, more touchdowns (17 to 8), better yards per attempt, better rating (by 13.7), more wins.
THE EFFECT OF THE FOG CAMERA ANGLES
I turned on the Pats-Falcons game in the third quarter and was confused why they were showing the game from one camera angle (behind the offensive line 10 feet above/behind the QB). I found out the reason a minute later when they showed the fog. I watched and found the new angle interesting (not the usual sideline view) but I really was surprised at how much more violent the game looked. Did you notice this too?
—Jay T., Green Bay
Interesting point, Jay. When I have been on the field for games, I always think: How is that guy going to get up after that collision? It’s a ferocious game, and it looks ever rougher when you’re watching up-close, which the NBC cameras were able to show Sunday night. On Monday night, I was down on the field in Philadelphia before the game and ran into Ross Tucker, the former NFL offensive lineman, who was there doing the game for Westwood One. When I asked him if he wished he was playing in the game, he looked out at the field to mammoth Fletcher Cox warming up, and said, basically, HECK NO!!!!
CLEVELAND’S QB CARNAGE
We're nearing the mid-point of another Browns campaign tormented by atrocious quarterback play, which means it's time to start thinking of who will be the next name on that stupid jersey. I understand your point in this week's MMQB column about needing more time to assess the college QBs. Let's assume the Browns are not sold on any of them after doing their due diligence. The Browns should trade the Texans' picks (Cleveland has their 1st and 2nd rounders) to the Patriots for Jimmy Garoppolo. The Browns could throw in the Eagles’ second-rounder if they must in order to ensure the deal happens. Then, the Browns could hold an auction for the first overall pick. What are your thoughts? Would the Pats make this deal?
—Kovacs, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Kovacs, I’m glad you asked about whether the Pats would make the deal. You could have offered them the moon last offseason and they would not have traded Garoppolo. So I have no idea, nor does anyone, if they’d do anything with him going forward. Keep this in mind: Garoppolo is going to be a free agent in March. The Pats could franchise or transition-tag him, or let him walk, or sign-and-trade. If they didn’t deal with Cleveland for the 12th overall pick last year, I question whether they’d do anything this year if they really want to keep him. Bill Belichick doesn’t value high draft choices the way most of the league does. Why should he? Of the 11 offensive players on the field during the fourth-quarter drive for the tying touchdown in the Super Bowl, only one was either a first- or second-round draft pick. (It was Nate Solder, first-rounder in 2011, and he was not having a great game.)
THE STEELERS ARE THE BEST TEAM RIGHT NOW
There is a best team in the league right now. The Steelers are coming around on all areas. Ben Roethlisberger is throwing touchdowns instead of picks. Le’Veon Bell ran for 130-plus yards Sunday. The defense had four sacks and two picks … in the best rivalry in the NFL right now. And not 1 peep about them.
The Eagles might beg to differ, Don. But I’m sure you wouldn’t mind a Philly-Pittsburgh Super Bowl.
NFL APPEALS PROCESS
It seems that players have nothing to lose by appealing even the most obviously correct rulings. Given that a player can still be eligible to play while the appeals process is ongoing, why isn’t a mandatory appeal just built into the process? Allowing a player who has been hit with a suspension to look at their upcoming opponents and then use the appeals process to manipulate which game they would sit out seems to take some of the teeth out of the disciplinary penalty.
— Steve M.
Most of the disciplinary hearings occur before the next game, such as this week with the Marshawn Lynch appeal. I would agree that in baseball the process can be manipulated to choose which games to miss, but that’s not often the case in the NFL.
JEFF HEATH, WOW
As a Dallas fan, I don’t have a lot of love for Jeff Heath, the safety. But, Jeff Heath showed the kind of football player he is over the weekend. With Dan Bailey out, Heath steps in and goes 2-for-3 on PATs and adds couple of touchbacks. He is the team’s starting strong safety, for crying out loud! Tremendous. Figure he deserves a little more recognition this week.
You’re right. I owe Heath his due. That was a big miss by me Monday.
CAL RIPKEN AND JOE THOMAS
The Joe Thomas streak is amazing. You mentioned Ripken’s incredible consecutive games streak; however, I think his consecutive innings streak may be even more impressive. He played in 8,264 consecutive innings from June 5, 1982 to Sept 14, 1987. Given the brutality of the NFL I think Thomas’ streak may be even more impressive than either of Ripken’s.
—Brian C., Richmond, Va.
YES! ON OUR WASHINGTON-PHILADELPHIA GAME STORY PODCAST
Mr. King: Yes, more of the game-story podcasts. I really enjoy them and they bring a unique depth to The MMQB’s offerings.
NO! ON OUR WASHINGTON-PHILADELPHIA GAME STORY PODCAST
More writing instead of pods. 10 Things w/Gary and Andy is a must listen but I’d rather read about a game than listen to another pod.
GARY GRAMLING IS GOLDARN GREAT
Just sayin’, Gary is hilarious—with great football insight. Sorry, Peter, but Gary is my favorite MMQB read now. And I bet he drinks good ol' GMO-corn-syrup-boosted PBR—hipsters and high triglycerides be damned—not limp-wristed saisons or shandies, or 1st-degree-felony-assault-on-tastebuds IPAs. Just love his twisted take on covering the NFL, right up my deranged yet dedicated alley.
—Kris K., North Yarmouth, Maine
I happily cede my crown to the maestro of the pre-game column, Mr. Gramling. I love it too. It’s so different, and so necessarily cynical when need be. Couldn’t be happier to have him on our team. He’s the most versatile man in the biz.
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