There has been a lot said about who should be blamed for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo's two fourth quarter interceptions last Sunday against Green Bay Packers, mistakes that led to a 37-36 loss.
The answer is: Romo deserves a lot of blame on both of them, especially the game-ending interception to Packers cornerback Tramon Williams.
It looked like intended receiver Cole Beasley stopped his route, and that led to the interception, but Beasley did what he should do. Romo made the mistake by misreading the defense.
The Packers' defense on that play was "Cover 2 Trap." The safety, Sean Richardson, intentionally muddied his alignment. You can't tell what coverage he's in because he's not deep, and he's also not close to the line of scrimmage. From that midpoint he's giving no defined coverage to read. He could do anything from that spot.
But the slot cornerback, Jarrett Bush, is obviously lined up inside Beasley, the slot receiver to Romo's right. It's clearly defined. That was a strong indicator Bush had help to the outside. You wouldn’t line up that strongly to the inside of the receiver, especially on second down and 1, if you didn’t have help to the outside.
The ball was snapped and the coverage defined itself. Richardson retreated. Bush stayed inside. That’s clearly an indicator that Williams, the outside cornerback, was sitting outside and looking inside. That’s the "trap" part of the play. Instead of running with the wideout and carrying him, Williams sits looking inside.
A lot of teams use this coverage; this isn’t something the Packers pulled out of the sky. Asante Samuel, for example, had a ton of interceptions in this coverage when he was with the Patriots.
As a veteran quarterback, Romo needed to recognize that. When you see the slot cornerback that far inside, an alert has to go off in your head that it has to be "Cover 2 Trap." It’s a tough coverage, but it’s not uncommon. It’s in most teams' playbooks.
Based on the initial pre-snap positioning of the safety, Richardson did not appear to be in position to play over the top of the outside receiver. And Romo probably felt the Williams would have to run with and carry the outside receiver because the safety wouldn’t get over the top of that. And if the outside cornerback runs with the receiver, he’s not in a trap position and Beasley is open. But that's not what happened.
Beasley came out of his break and saw Williams' body position, sitting there looking back inside in trap position. So instead of continuing to run right into Williams, Beasley throttled down. He slowed down out of his break; that's clear to see on film. Beasley recognized the defense. Romo did not. Romo threw the ball to the outside. Williams intercepted the ball. Game over.
This coverage is designed to bait the quarterback. You’re showing "Cover 2," and you want the ball thrown right where Romo threw it, because the corner is sitting right there. This couldn’t have worked out better for the Packers. They got exactly what they wanted.
I’m not knocking Romo, but he didn’t read the coverage on that play. He’s played a lot of games and taken a lot of snaps. If you saw 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick do that you say, "He’s still learning the position.” I think Romo needed to be aware of that coverage.
Romo's earlier interception, which set up Green Bay's go-ahead touchdown, is also worth a closer look.
It was a called run. Many runs are tagged with a word, whether it's "smoke" or something else, and the quarterback and receiver know the tag and they're the only people it affects. Everyone else carries out the run play. This was going to be a zone run to the right, with tight end Gavin Escobar crossing the formation to seal Packers linebacker Clay Matthews from the backside. That’s a very common zone run play. The offensive line goes one way, and you pull a tight end back across the formation to seal the backside, because many 3-4 outside linebackers are so fast they run down your play.
Packers cornerback Sam Shields was in press coverage on Miles Austin to Romo's left. They can throw a slant or a fade against that coverage. The problem is, if you’re going to throw that ball, there’s no one to take care of Mathews. There’s no way Escobar can get there. You’re throwing the ball into the face of an unblocked defender. Romo started to get ready to throw it, and there’s Matthews right in his face.
Austin did a great job winning the slant. He was open. But Romo had to throw it right away, and he couldn't because he had to move away from Matthews (he did an unbelievable job making Matthews miss, by the way). Then Romo threw it anyway, and threw it a little behind.
Romo deserves some criticism for changing to the "smoke" in the face of an unblocked defender, but Austin deserves blame too. He drifted upfield, allowing Shields to undercut the route. He needed to angle more sharply inside so at worst the play is incomplete. But he drifted and gave Shields a chance to catch it.
As for Romo, there were two issues on this play. He changed to a play in which there was nobody to block Matthews. And Romo should know that will be the case because of the original play call. Regardless of when it happens in the game, that's a problem.
But in this particular instance there is also the issue of game management. At this point in the game it’s fair to ask the question, "Why you would do this?" You’re winning the game, you have a run play called, you have the blocking mechanics taking care of it ... run the ball. At worst the clock runs or you make the Packers call a timeout. That’s the game management question. Why at this point would you throw the smoke? And it doesn’t matter what the Packers' front is. The Cowboys ran the ball against the exact same front earlier in the game. The argument the Packers were in a bad front for the run that was called doesn’t hold water.
At that point in the game, with the Cowboys leading and about three minutes to play, it’s more important to eat clock or make the Packers use timeouts.
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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.