It hasn’t been the greatest NFL season. Between the injuries, the controversies and general lack of elite teams, the 2017 campaign has left some things to be desired.
One of the great revelations, however, is the emergence of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo as arguably the best color analyst in the sport. Romo, who’s working alongside Jim Nantz on the top CBS crew, is a fountain of knowledge every week.
Romo and Nantz called the New England Patriots’ blowout win over the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City in Week 11, giving Patriots fans the chance to hear Romo gush about their team, and there was no shortage of gems. And if you’re willing to listen, there was plenty to learn.
Here’s some of the best from Romo on Sunday.
On the Raiders’ game plan
“Well, you’re seeing a concerted effort out of Oakland right now. That off week that I talked about, the bye week, you study yourself and say, ‘What are we good at? What are we not good at? And what do we have to get better at? Oakland is coming out to run the football. They have got to run the ball better to be the same offense they were last year, and then today it helps because it keeps Tom Brady on the sideline.”
The Raiders had success moving the football on the ground during their first drive, much to Romo’s delight. He said it was a key to their success. After three rushes for 12 yards, the Raiders went pass-pass-pass as the drive stalled when Seth Roberts dropped a sure first down.
On the Patriots stopping the opposition’s best player
“Here’s Mack. You’re never going to block him one-on-one. Chip and then you’ve got your tackle on them. The Patriots will not let your best player beat them. Ever. For them, that’s just something they’ll never allow.”
On the right of the screenshot above, you can see Gronkowski chip Raiders pass rusher Khalil Mack before running his route to give Cameron Fleming some help on the elite pass-rusher. As Romo points out, it’s just one example of Bill Belichick and his staff making sure they control Mack, the Raiders’ best defensive player. He had a relatively quiet game with just one sack.
On Tom Brady using the timeout to prepare his offense
“Brady’s gotta be excited, that’s exactly what he came out of the timeout (trying to do). When you go into the timeout, you can tell your guys, ‘Listen, if anyone jumps offside…’ You can just yell at them in the huddle: ‘What is it on? What is it on? What is it on?’ No one will ever jump because you can be like, ‘Joe, are you gonna do it? Are you gonna do it, dude?’ “
Facing a third-and-5 to start the second quarter, Brady extended the drive by getting the Raiders to jump offside. Romo explains in the quote above how Brady sets the table for that during the timeout in between quarters.
On Tom Brady’s deep ball
“Talking to Tom, you know what’s he worked all offseason on? Not overthrowing go routes. Because what happens as a quarterback, you don’t wanna overthrow — you wanna play it safe — you don’t wanna throw an interception. But the problem is you never throw interceptions on go routes. You have to let your guy touch it. It’s the No. 1 rule. Tom really tries to do that a lot and he’s done it well this year.”
With Cooks in the fold, the Patriots are throwing the ball deep more than they have in a long time this season. Romo explains how quarterbacks approach the deep ball, and it falls right in line with what we’ve heard about Brady’s offseason attack in which he pinpoints one or more things to improve upon and works tirelessly at getting better. The results, in this game even, speak for themselves.
On Tom Brady’s presnap communication
On the Patriots’ improved defense
“What happened in early in the year, you have the new guys — Ninkovich isn’t there, the guy who does everything in different ways. As the season goes on, you’re detailing throughout the first month what you’re good at and what you’re not good at and you’re trying to figure it out. You make a concerted effort to say, ‘Hey we can’t stop teams left and right, three and out, we’re gonna stop them situationally: in the red zone, on third down,’ so you practice that more.”
Later in the game when talking about a conversation with Belichick: “One of the things was just about improving your personnel through the year. Everyone thinks it’s in the offseason. They do it during the year. It’s about this young guy getting better and learning the system. ‘Where are your eyes looking? Don’t get caught looking at the wrong thing. Do your job. Put your hands here in the run game. Set the edge. Force the ball carrier back into somebody else.’ All the little things. That’s how you get better on defense.”
The Patriots still give up the most yards per play of any team in the NFL, but they don’t give up a ton of points. The New England defense is the NFL’s 12th-best in terms of points allowed per game. The red zone defense is 13th but sixth-best over the Patriots’ last three games. Given the Patriots’ offensive dominance, they don’t need the best defense in the league, they just need to be able to come up with stops when they need them, and as Romo points out, they’re always working to find those answers.
On Malcolm Butler’s slip-up leading to the Raiders’ lone touchdown
“We just talked about (this) on the last play. so you had inside help with the safety. Now watch right here: You have inside help. The safety is right here.”
“Do not let him beat you to the outside. Watch the receiver. Cooper’s gonna go in and out — Butler’s going to bite to the inside and he gets beat outside.”
“… If you have help, just always lean to the side. That’s the difference between giving up a touchdown and not. The coaches are going to be saying, ‘What are we doing?'”
It wasn’t all good, of course. Romo’s breakdown of the Malcolm Butler breakdown that led to the Raiders’ only score also was fascinating, detailing a relatively simple concept that Butler failed to execute. It’s exactly the sort of thing Belichick and the coaching staff will detail in meetings as the Patriots prepare next for next week and further prove — as Romo mentioned earlier — that the Patriots are a work in progress from week to week … in all phases of the game.