Answer to N.F.L. Viewers’ Prayers: Tony Romo, the Play Predictor

“We made the decision to hire him and then made the decision to make him the lead analyst, which was a bit of a risk,” McManus said. “But it was calculated.”

Beyond the generous paycheck, sportscasting is usually a thankless job. Twitter, the digital sports bar for millions of fans watching games, is awash in unflattering critiques of whichever poor announcer just misspoke. Even top announcers like Joe Buck, Al Michaels, Aikman and Collinsworth elicit contempt week to week. Romo, at least so far, is the rare sportscaster who draws near universal raves.


Romo played 13 seasons for the Cowboys, leading them to the playoffs four times. After he lost his starting role last season he decided to move into the broadcast booth.

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Avid football fans have embraced him because he is giving them what they have long desired: insightful analysis from someone who has firsthand knowledge of what happens on the field.

“Some games, with other broadcasters, even after the play, it seems like they have no clue what happened,” said Billy Howell, 32, a Jets fan from North Carolina.

N.F.L. games command audiences in the tens of millions, so the broadcasts generally cater to casual fans, rather than those who want minutiae.

“We gear our broadcast toward Grandma,” said Collinsworth, whose “Sunday Night Football” games typically draw football’s largest audience. “If Grandma is on the couch watching, we don’t want her to leave. We want to be as inclusive as possible.”

Romo achieves inclusivity through infectious enthusiasm, and he rarely uses clichés. His analysis goes much deeper than most broadcasters’. In the Green Bay-Cincinnati game, he talked about chip blocks, rat players, RPOs and A-gaps. He might have lost some Grandmas and Grandpas.

He sometimes forgets to explain these concepts — it took until his eighth or ninth usage of “chip” to explain that it entails a tight end or running back helping to block before running a route. But Romo is already adept at calling for replays and teaching viewers about what happened on the previous play.

After Cincinnati scored an easy touchdown, Romo explained that responsibility for picking up the running back coming out of the backfield belonged to two linebackers. “And you see two rookies have to play in and out on him, and they couldn’t pass that off because they didn’t communicate,” he said. “They’re two rookies.”

Such a moment happens a dozen times during a Romo broadcast. During the Week 2 game, he explained how the New England Patriots rushed five defenders — not for any advantage on the field, but rather to confuse advance scouts charting their tendencies.

He has at least one critic. Brent Musburger, the longtime ESPN and ABC broadcaster who retired last year, speculated that Romo will lose his keen understanding of teams’ tendencies the longer he’s out of uniform.

“Listen, Tony, O.K.,” Musburger said recently on his radio show. “Tony, get off it, O.K. First of all, you’re intruding on your play-by-play man Jim Nantz. We like to watch the game, O.K.? Here’s a memo to all of you people, ‘Oh, this is great.’ Nuh-uh.”

McManus declined to directly address Musburger’s criticism, or to make Romo available for this article. But he made some of the same points as Musburger, albeit more mildly. “I think it has been a little bit overblown,” he said about attention paid to Romo tipping plays. When asked what Romo needed to improve on, he said, “His timing with Jim will continue to get better.”

Collinsworth, who last played in 1988, as a wide receiver, does not think football has evolved all that much since he was playing, suggesting that Romo’s ability to call plays will not diminish the longer he is out of league. Collinsworth said he tries to tell viewers things like the defense dropping a safety on one side, and how the offense is likely to run away from that, before mentioning something really interesting.

“In theory, we are not supposed to talk about what we hear in the broadcast,” he said. “The calls that were made at the line of scrimmage, the kill calls, some of the other calls.”

He added, “That’s the one thing the teams really complain about, that their signals and calls are captured on television and teams are studying those.”

In 2011 the N.F.L. added an “enhanced audio option” to broadcasts, putting microphones on either the starting and backup centers, or both guards. That is why you can increasingly hear quarterback audibles on television, as in 2014 when Peyton Manning’s repeatedly yelling “Omaha” was widely noticed and discussed.

Brian McCarthy, an N.F.L. spokesman, said broadcasters are allowed to comment on anything. The only restriction is that broadcasters cannot isolate audio from those microphones near the quarterback and sync it up with replays. “That’s a competitive issue we look to avoid,” he said.

McManus said he hadn’t heard from any teams complaining about Romo’s commentary.

“I had high expectations, and he has exceeded those,” Jim Rikhoff, CBS’s lead N.F.L. producer, said before noting that Romo is still early in his broadcast career and needs to continue improving. He attributed Romo’s success to a combination of charisma and smarts.

“I think people like him,” he said, “but you are also getting good football information.”

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