The Romosexuals. These are people who are married to the idea that HE is the only one who can deliver us to the Promised Land. They are also wedded to the notion that no one could or should unseat him as the QB of the team, regardless of what the facts might say. The very idea of someone else playing the role he currently owns is unfathomable. It’s insulting. Or…is it?
Lately, as I’ve been watching Jon Kitna playing superfluous games behind the same (seemingly) overmatched offensive line that Romo started the season behind, I’ve wondered why the passing game FEELS so much more productive under his guidance. Not much has changed other than the fact that Tony Romo has been sidelined with a broken collarbone. The same o-linemen are playing o-line. The same receivers are playing receiver. The same running backs are playing running back(okay, Choice has indeed spiced it up). Yet, even the most ardent Tony Romo supporter has to agree that this offense has not suffered a noticeable decline since his injury. In fact, over the last 4 games, allowing for Kitna’s adjustment period, the team is averaging nearly 34 points per game! While there isn’t a ton of statistical data to rely on, the numbers do say there isn’t a marked difference between 38-year old Jon Kitna and Romo from a performance perspective (Yards, completion %, TD-to-INT ratio, etc. all look very similar). The ball does seem to be getting out more of the QB’s hands more quickly and traveling downfield further in the last several games. It does seem to be arriving in the receiver’s hands while he is in stride. The running game seems to be more prevalent now. What is really going on here?
There are a number of possibilities worth examining in trying to understand the reasons we haven’t seen any sort of offensive downturn;
The Shock Factor
How can you discount the notion that the elevation of Jason Garrett to Head Coach has had SOME kind of effect on the entire team, offense included? Clearly, the early returns say that the new dress code, the notebooks in meetings and the attention to detail that are quickly becoming JG’s hallmarks seem to be having some of the desired effects. Maybe the entire team has elevated their level of commitment and focus so that people have a new sense of accountability. Maybe the change from Wade to Paul P.’s defense is creating more turnovers and better field position for Kitna than Romo had? Maybe the coaching change is the principal reason behind the lack of a drop-off in offensive output. If so, when Romo does indeed return, whether it’s this year or next, what should we reasonably expect when he supplants Kitna? Going from high to Super-high performance from the offense? Increase in points from 34 to 40 per game?
The Kitna Excitation
7 TD’s and only 2 Interceptions for Jon since JG took the helm. The one thing maybe we all failed to realize is that maybe Kitna is THAT good and could actually be starting for teams like Arizona, the Raiders and the Panthers. After having reviewed the tape on him (okay, it’s not tape, no one uses tape anymore, I use a DVR and am not technologically challenged, just so you know), I can safely say that he throws a much different pass than Romo does. Kitna’s balls are flatter (that sounds wrong, doesn’t it?) and spend much less time in the air. His out’s and in’s and slants get thrown earlier in the route, largely because of what looks like an ability to see the open man sooner, and it looks like the receivers are able to do more with those passes in terms of RAC. His swing passes also have a low arc and he tends to throw around instead of over. Finally, you have to admit the guy is a tough son-of-a-gun because he is running up the gut like Randall Cunningham and with reckless abandon. Maybe Kitna is just the best #2 in the NFL?
The Felix Effect
Felix Jones has officially become the #1 RB in Dallas. For the first time in his career, Felix now has more carries in a season than Barber and while his average per carry is down from previously astronomical highs, he’s still getting near to the requisite 4.0 YPC. In addition, he has become more of a weapon in the flat and defenses must account for him, which opens it up for others. One has to wonder if the game-breaking ability that Felix possesses, an ability that Barber clearly lacks, impacts our opponents’ defensive game planning in such a way for Kitna that it opens up things for him in the passing game that Romo never really got the chance to benefit from?
The Rallying Cry
It’s not unheard of to think that the team, and the offensive line in particular, stepped up their play once their main man went down. When I think about Tony Romo, I think about his ability to extend a play when the o-line breaks down and there are some epic highlights of Romo snatching success out of the hands of failure. Could the linemen have realized that Romo’s stand-in lacks the mobility and the ability to make something out of nothing? If so, would that cause them to stay on their blocks just that half second longer? Maybe they paid more attention to their technique because the great “eraser” was no longer under center. It’s possible they knew they had to rally around Jon Kitna…and did.
That Whole ‘Leadership’ Thing
Some people deride this as mysticism. Others say it is what separates the good from the great. From an outside observer’s perspective, it’s pretty easy to see that there are significant differences between Jon Kitna and Tony Romo in terms of how they conduct themselves in the huddle, on the sideline, in front of the press, etc. I was speaking with a friend of mine the other day who mentioned how often he saw David Buehler giving out quotes about the status of the team when Romo was starting. Now, he said, Kitna appears to be the one (and seemingly only) face and voice used by the media as their barometer for the players. I added that Kitna is the one I see going over and talking with the o-linemen and WR’s after a possession ends, good or bad. It’s a different sideline mentality with Kitna in that he doesn’t automatically walk over and sit down next to Wade Wilson and flip through the digital prints of the defensive alignments and coverage schemes they just faced. His first stop is always with his teammates. It’s a different energy level when he’s matching toothy grins with Miles Austin after a big play. It’s a more convivial sideline with him as the leader of the team. I’ve heard it said that football is a game of emotion and if that is true, at least to the naked eye, doesn’t it appear that Jon Kitna has raised Dallas’ considerably?
The “What If” Conundrum
Sometimes you have to talk about things people don’t want to talk about in order to fully understand things we see happening in front of us. To that end, we have to ask ourselves difficult questions and be courageous enough to discuss them without being dismissive or malicious in our discourse. So I ask you; What if we’ve been lulled to sleep because of such horrendous QB play, between the time that Troy Aikman left the game and Tony Romo arrived on the scene, that we’ve created a heightened perceived value of Romo because of the relativistic context he got placed into with Hutchinson, Testaverde, Bledsoe, Henson, Carter and Leaf (sounds like a Los Angeles law firm)? What if he is significantly better than Chad Hutchinson and Quinthy Carther (see what I did there?) but not good enough to get this team over the hump? What if he’s damned good until it REALLY counts and then finds a way to have a sub-par performance in a key game or moment? What if he replaces Kitna this year and the offensive output gets worse? What if it turns out that he’s…just not as good as many of us want him to be?
In the end, it’s not heresy (despite what some might say) to question Romo’s true value to the team. As someone commented recently on another thread, you have to have “cold eyes” when it comes to how you view the players on your roster (or, I assume, in the draft and free agency). As the season begins to wind down, we have to take stock of our team and, with the draft approaching, the question will undoubtedly come up; “what about the QB spot?” I, for one am not deterred in looking hard at Mallett and Locker if we are in a position to take either and they are the BPA on the board at that time. Having quality depth at QB gives a team amazing flexibility in terms of personnel. This is a QB-centric league and, by this time next year, we’ll have a 31-year old QB who isn’t a warhorse like Favre or Manning and has missed time due to injury. In a recent thread, OCC pointed out that QB’s generally begin to see their performance taper off at 32 years of age. He’ll be backed up by a 39-year old if nothing else changes. While an argument could easily be made that the QB position is not one of the biggest current needs on the team, an equally valid argument could be made around why the draft is not about the present, but the future. In the future, this team will in fact need a new QB to lead it. So, he thinks to himself, is Romo at QB the only possible way to get to the top of the mountain or is there some other mode of operation that might yield the coveted sixth bling?