At the beginning of the season, several Dallas Cowboys players went on the record stating that they expected Tony Romo to have a career season. Jason Witten and Miles Austin voiced their preseason opinions before anybody could imagine what DeMarco Murray could add to the offense.
Tony has exceeded his career quarterback passer rating (94.9) so far this season with a 97.5 passer rating through Thanksgiving. In addition, Romo has a better winning percentage so far this season (63.6%), than during his career prior to this season (61.5%).
So far, it seems that Miles and Jason were Nostradamus-esque with their preseason prediction. But how much of Tony’s perceived improvement as a passer and as a winner is due to the emergence of DeMarco Murray?
In order to have some measure of Murray’s effect on Romo, it was necessary to examine the effect successful running backs have had on successful quarterbacks. A successful running back was defined as a player that rushed for at least 100 yards during a game. A successful quarterback was defined as one that has won a Super Bowl (sans Tom Brady).
Back in October, Tony Romo’s performance was measured against the active Super Bowl winning quarterbacks (excluding Tom Brady) in the NFL. Here is the link:
It is interesting to see how those same quarterbacks flourish collectively when each has the benefit of handing off to a running back that rushes for at least 100 yards. In other words, how does a 100-yard rusher affect the quarterback passer rating of Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees (which as a group will be referred to as SB QB’s in the post)?
The result is unexpected.
Passer rating of SB QB’s when a 100-yard rusher is absent: 91.4
Passer rating of SB QB’s when a 100-yard rusher is present: 91.0
There is statistically no difference between the performance of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks when a running back runs for at least 100 yards, compared to when nobody exceeds 99 yards rushing. Individually, several quarterbacks (Eli and Drew) actually have slightly lower passer ratings when they play with a 100-yard rusher. Conversely, the other quarterbacks (Ben and Aaron) boast better passer ratings when a back rushes for at least 100 yards.
Roethlisberger is the quarterback that most benefits from a 100-yard rusher, as his rating jumps from 91.7 to 101.9. Manning’s rating drops more than the others, from 81.5 to 76.6, when a back breaks 100 yards rushing. Collectively, however, there is no significant difference in how the quarterbacks play when a 100-yard rusher exists as opposed to when nobody gains 100 yards rushing in a game.
So how does Tony Romo compare to the SB QB’s before DeMarco Murray’s amazing ascension?
Passer rating of Tony Romo when a 100-yard rusher is absent: 96.7
Passer rating of Tony Romo when a 100-yard rusher is present: 79.4
Before Murray’s record breaking performance against St. Louis, Romo had a 100-yard rusher in only 15.8% of the games in which Tony played significant minutes. Only Aaron Rodgers has had a lower percentage of games with a 100-yard rusher (14.8%).
Eli Manning has had a running back gain at least 100 yards in 33.3% of the games in which he has led in passing. Ben Roethlisberger has enjoyed having a 100-yard rusher in 36.9% of the games he has played. Drew Brees is in the middle of the SB QB group, with a running back gaining 100 yards or more in 21.2% of the games in which he has played.
While no other quarterback from the SB QB group varies more than 10.2 rating points (Ben), and Eli has the greatest drop of 4.9 rating points, Tony has an extraordinary drop of 17.3 rating points. That is a drop of 17.9% in Romo’s passer rating that in no way corresponds with the results produced by the SB QB’s.
It would be easy to point to this discrepancy and jump to the conclusion that Romo is clearly not a Super Bowl quality quarterback. If that is the case, however, then one would expect that there would be little, if any change in Romo’s performance with a change in running backs. After all, Drew Brees had LaDainian Tomlinson contribute most of his 100-yard rushing efforts, and although Tomlinson was regarded as an elite running back in San Diego, Brees’ passer rating stays relatively stable, only dropping from a 93 to a 91.8 when any running back gains at least 100 yards.
In games where DeMarco Murray has rushed for at least 100 yards, Tony Romo has a passer rating of 125.3. At no time during his career has Romo had a three game series with a 100-yard rusher that has resulted in a higher passer rating. In addition, only twice has Romo had a four game stretch where Tony has had a higher passer rating regardless of whether a running back has run for at least 100 yards or not.
DeMarco’s emergence as a running back has resulted in a swing of 45.9 rating points for Tony Romo. That is a remarkable 57.8% positive change in Romo’s passer rating, and a significant difference.
As referenced at the beginning of the post, however, there is more to playing quarterback in the NFL than passer rating. Many people measure quarterback play in wins and losses.
This is really where a running back rushing for over 100 yards has an impact. Among the SB QB group, there is a significant difference in winning ratio between games with and without a running back gaining at least 100 yards.
Winning ratio of SB QB’s when a 100-yard rusher is absent: .609
Winning ratio of SB QB’s when a 100-yard rusher is present: .814
Prior to the game against St. Louis, Romo’s winning ratio between games with and without a running back gaining at least 100 yards actually drops: staying in line with Tony’s passer rating.
Winning ratio of Tony Romo when a 100-yard rusher is absent: .619
Winning ratio of Tony Romo when a 100-yard rusher is present: .583
Of course, Tony Romo is 3-0 as a quarterback when DeMarco Murray rushes for over 100 yards. Notice how Romo’s winning ratio without a running back gaining at least 100 yards rushing is slightly greater than the SB QB group. Combine that winning ratio with the fact that only Rodgers gets less productivity from his running game, and this goes back to the theory that Romo has had to carry the team more than other quarterbacks (see the link above): and that Tony has done so successfully.
It could be argued that Tony Romo has been the key to the Cowboys offense over roughly the last six seasons. In an effort to stop (or slow down) the prolific Dallas passing attack, some teams over commit to stop the pass, leaving opportunities for average backs to gain an occasional 100 yards. For that reason, Romo has a dip in his passer rating, and the Cowboys tend to lose more than expected.
It has been truly a case of the passing game creating opportunities for the running game, rather than actually having a threatening running game in place. That argument also passes the eye-test when thinking of all the draws, traps, and counters designed to maximize a generally anemic running attack that play off of the success of the passing game.
So is this a new and improved Tony Romo because of DeMarco Murray?
You tell me…