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Reimer: Tony Romo already on his way to becoming best analyst in football

Alex Reimer
September 17, 2017 - 5:16 pm

Tony Romo is doing something revolutionary in the broadcast booth. He’s actually analyzing football, free of cliches and embarrassing malapropisms. 

The fact that Romo has been so widely praised during his first two weeks with CBS is more of a commentary on his predecessor and the current sorry state of sports announcing than him. Phil Simms seemingly spoke in tongue, struggling to articulate sentences –– never mind present cogent analysis. His longtime presence on CBS’ top NFL team, despite his slipping performance, is symptomatic of an industry problem with legacy broadcasters. The high-profile jobs are largely treated like judgeship nominations. They’re lifetime appointments, with analysts sticking around far past the point of lucidness. Tim McCarver is the perfect example of this phenomenon: once an insightful commentator, the ex-catcher spent his latter years blabbering about nonsense and stating the obvious. But the 75-year-old didn’t leave Fox until 2013, when he resigned on his own terms.

CBS deserves credit for making a bold decision this year and replacing Simms before he wanted to leave. The network didn’t have to improve its NFL telecasts –– ratings and announcing quality are mutually exclusive –– but it wanted to. Their proactivity is paying off. 

Last week, CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said he was “pleasantly surprised” with the positive reviews of Romo for his debut call. The former quarterback routinely predicted plays before they happened and showed an intimate knowledge of football schemes. In a perfect world, that would be the standard requirement for national color analysts. But Romo stands above the rest, with the exception of Cris Collinsworth and sometimes Jon Gruden –– depending on whether the energetic coach is breaking down a replay or just fawning over “this guy” and “that guy.”

Romo was on his game again Sunday for Patriots-Saints, thinking ahead of the officials on two occasions, much like Tom Brady. In the first quarter, Romo correctly pointed out the Patriots were allowed to run the screen on the line of scrimmage that set up Chris Hogan’s touchdown reception. The referees pulled back their errant flag after some kvetching from Brady.

Later, when Brady tossed a lob pass into the arms of a Saints defender in the third quarter, Romo theorized the Patriots quarterback might have seen 12 players on the field and wanted to just quickly get a play off. Sure enough, replay showed New Orleans linebacker Manti T’eo jogging off the field after the snap. (Te’o was not invisible, unlike his fictitious college girlfriend.) 

“Who gets in 3rd-and-5 and has one receiver out on the field? Nobody would. Brady gets him on the field because he wanted to do it and get them called for 12 men on the field,” Romo explained.

The most notable moment of the telecast, at least in terms of social media buzz, came when Romo was clairvoyant once again. With 11:55 remaining in the first half, the Saints lined up with two receivers on the left and right. “Looks like a fade to ’16,’” Romo predicted, referring to wideout Brandon Coleman. Moments later, Drew Brees connected with him for a five-yard touchdown pass. 

It’s easy to see Romo’s Nostradamus schtick getting a little tired, especially if CBS insists he do it more often to capitalize on the reaction. But Romo’s precision and awareness are valuable traits. They will almost certainly come in handy once the playoffs roll around, when the importance of every play is magnified. 

Since Romo retired just last year, he owns a deep knowledge of the current players and their routines. He can talk at length with Rob Gronkowski before the game about the difficulty of recovering from back surgery, and share that knowledge with the viewer. While Gronkowski wound up suffering a groin injury, Romo’s commentary was a brutal reminder of how fragile Gronkowski is. Romo was also speaking from a point of experience, since he underwent two back operations as a player.

The biggest challenge for Romo, as it is with most color analysts, is being critical. He started to criticize Brandin Cooks in the fourth quarter, but then appeared to step back, resulting in a jumbled string of sentences that didn’t quite hit on his original point.

“If a Drew Brees is letting you go –– that tells me there’s a little bit he might have wanted a little bit. You saw it today: when I watched the tape, Cooks and Brady aren’t on the same page yet. Everything isn’t clicking,” Romo said.

But that will get better with time, and most importantly, the instinct is there. At this point, any critiques of Romo’s performance is nitpicking. 

Unlike his time as a player, he’s delivered in a big spot.

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