METAIRIE, La. — It’s rare to hear a coach say anything bad about a player who plies his trade for an upcoming opponent.
It’s even rarer to find a coach come across as being serious in his compliments of that player.
But this week, when asked about Tony Romo, Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo couldn’t stop talking positively about the Cowboys quarterback.
And it sounded like he truly meant every word of it.
“This guy, in my opinion, is one of the toughest quarterbacks to defend against and to game-plan against,” Spagnuolo said, later adding, “He puts his team in good plays, takes them out of bad plays and puts them in good ones. He is really smart and I think part of the fact that he has gone up against us enough he might have an upper hand.”
Romo has thrown for 4,269 yards, 22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions this season. His 90.2 rating is 11th-best in the NFL and his 379 completions lead the league.
Since 2006, only five quarterbacks have averaged more yards per game than Romo and he’s one only six players to have thrown for 4,000-plus yards in at least four of the past seven seasons.
Historically, he has gotten better as the game moves along. Of his Dallas-record 171 touchdown passes, 53 have come in the fourth quarter, more than any other 15-minute period.
Yet, it’s not what Romo can do with his arm that has the Saints watching extra film. It’s his ability to scramble and keep a play alive that has New Orleans paying extra special attention to Dallas’ quarterback.
“Once he breaks the pocket you have to understand what their scramble pattern is now,” interim Saints head coach and linebackers coach Joe Vitt said. “Is the front side receiver coming back for the ball? Is the backside receiver going deep? And what is the middle receiver doing? That is something, number one, that you are going to work as hard as you can not to let him out of the pocket and to know exactly where he is going and know exactly where his escape lanes are.
“And then once he does break the pocket you have got to get a defender on him and make sure you are defending the scramble pattern down the field.”
In Dallas’ weekly game notes, there are 19 categories devoted to Romo’s passing accomplishments. There are none breaking down his ability to keep a play going or his ability to run.
Since 2006, however, only eight traditional drop-back quarterbacks have rushed for more than Romo’s 510 yards.
“With him, I don’t feel like people give him enough credit for how mobile he is,” Saints middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “When you think of mobile quarterbacks, you think of Michael Vick and RG III, all those guys. But he’s very mobile and makes things happen with his feet. He’s not throwing rockets and he’s not flashy with it, but he gets the ball to the guys so they can make plays.”