Tony Romo is not often fooled. Dallas' star quarterback has become adept at reading coverage and throwing the ball accurately to the right receiver. While he occasionally makes a poor decision or throw, rarely is he completely bamboozled. But the Redskins defensive coaching staff and players got him last Sunday, tricking him into throwing a costly interception.
It was late in the third quarter and Dallas trailed 20-17. The Cowboys aligned with three wide receivers: Terrell Owens to the left, Miles Austin wide right and Patrick Crayton in the slot to the right. Owens ran an intermediate in-breaking route at 12 yards, Crayton a shallow crossing route, and Austin a 12-yard stop route.
Anatomy of a Play
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Pre-snap, Washington's coverage appeared to be man-to-man, with corner Carlos Rogers guarding Owens, safety Reed Doughty covering Crayton, and reserve corner Leigh Torrence guarding Austin.
Free safety LaRon Landry was favoring Owens' side -- and why not? T.O. had burned the Redskins for four catches, 48 yards, and a touchdown in the third quarter. Double coverage on T.O. was no surprise and easily eliminated Owens from Romo's thought-process. That left Romo with Crayton and Austin.
Crayton has had some recent problems with dropping the ball, plus he was running through traffic on his crossing route. Those were enough pitfalls for Romo to lean toward Austin. His stop route was an unobstructed throw to a reliable receiver in one-on-one coverage, against a reserve corner with no help. Torrence is a backup, who lacks experience, and he gave Austin a 9-yard cushion. This looked like pitch and catch to Romo.
That's the key to baiting a good quarterback: inviting a throw without making it too inviting.
What sealed Romo's fate was the play action. He turned his back to the defense and faked a handoff to Marion Barber. He didn't have a chance to see Chris Horton dashing toward Austin, part of a disguised double-team. When Romo turned back around, it was only to locate Austin for a split second and make sure Torrence was indeed bailing deep. The stop route appeared to be wide open. Romo didn't think twice about firing the ball confidently to Austin.
Only after Romo released the ball did he see Horton, who stepped right in front of Austin to make the interception. The amazing part, as Romo probably found out after studying the booth printouts on the sideline, was where Horton came from. Horton initially aligned in the box, where an inside linebacker would. At the snap, he turned and dashed toward Austin, to take away the exact throw Romo was preparing to make. The plot was cleverly crafted and perfectly performed by the Redskins. Romo really had no chance.