Mythbusting: Tony Romo Has Too Many Bad Games Per Season?

"Allergies, man, I got allergies." - Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Some QBs stink it up more than others, but some teams have a knack for bailing out their QBs when the QB is in trouble. We look at 33 active NFL QBs and wonder which QB belongs in which group.

Yesterday, in a post titled "Judging NFL QBs By The Company They Keep", we took a look at games in which currently active NFL QBs recorded a passer rating of 100.0 or more, compared W/L records in those games and looked at 100+ rating games as a percentage of games started.

What we found was that some QBs get a lot more help from their teams when they have a good game than others do, a reflection of the fact that it's not one player who wins and loses games. Today we're going to turn things around and look at poor QB performances to see which teams bail out their QBs when they have a bad day.

In yesterday's post, we saw that when the passer rating was initially developed in 1973, a passer rating of 66.7 was considered average, and everything below that was obviously below average. 40 years later, the NFL average has improved significantly: in 2012, the NFL average passer rating was 83.8. For the purposes of this post, we'll stick to the 66.7 passer rating, except we won't consider it an average or below average performance, we'll call it what it is: a poor performance.

And to illustrate what such a poor performance looks like, here's Tony Romo's stat line from the 2011 7-34 loss in Philly in which he recorded exactly such a 66.7 passer rating:

2011-10-30
CMP ATT CMP % YDS YPA TD INT Rate
Tony Romo
18 35 51.4% 203 5.8 1 1 66.7

Another reason why 66.7 denotes a poor performance is the W/L record of QBs in such games. Pro-Football-Reference.com shows that there are 63 active QBs in the NFL today who have thrown for less than a 66.7 passer rating at least once in their career. The combined W/L record of those QBs in games with a passer rating below 66.7 is 193-656 for a decidedly unimpressive .227 winning percentage.

To find out which of the active QBs in the league have stunk it up the most, we'll look at the 33 active NFL QBs who've started at least 32 games in their career and look at their W/L records in sub 66.7 games and their sub 66.7 games as a percentage of their total games started.

Minor note on the data I'll use below: I received some questions about the accuracy of the data, notably about the accuracy of Tony Romo's data. Some readers correctly pointed out that "games started" for Tony Romo includes the games against Philly (hand contusion) and the Giants (collarbone) which he left early due to injury. This is a correct observation, but fixing those small inconsistencies for all QBs would require me to manually weed through every single game of every QB on the list, and try to figure out if he was injured at any point - not something I'm particularly inclined to do. So yes, the data contains minor inconsistencies, but in the overall scheme of things I think they're negligible.

Similarly, 100+ passer rating games, or in today's case, games with a <66.7 passer rating, could in some cases include games in which the QB did not start. I've fixed it in today's post by - you guessed it - manually going through each QB's record and weeding out the games in which he either didn't start or had five or less pass attempts.

Follow the Pro-Football-Reference link provided above if you want to play around with the base data. For example, you could include all QBs between 1995 and 2012, not just the currently active QBs; you could include playoff games if you wanted to; you could put in a filter for the minimum amount of pass attempts needed to qualify; you can do whatever you want, but do it on your own time, not mine.

With that out of the way, here's the data in neatly laid out in a sortable table:

Poor passer rating games (click on column headers to sort)

QB <66.7 Passer Rating games Games Started <66.7 games in %
of total games started
Win Percentage
Total W L T
Matt Hasselbeck 43 9 34 0 152 28% 0.209
Eli Manning 38 14 24 0 135 28% 0.368
David Carr 32 8 24 0 79 41% 0.250
Michael Vick 31 11 20 0 102 30% 0.355
Peyton Manning 30 7 23 0 224 13% 0.233
Drew Brees 28 6 22 0 169 17% 0.214
Carson Palmer 27 8 19 0 121 22% 0.296
Alex Smith 26 5 21 0 75 35% 0.192
Mark Sanchez 25 5 20 0 62 40% 0.200
Jay Cutler 23 5 18 0 93 25% 0.217
Ryan Fitzpatrick 22 1 21 0 57 39% 0.045
Ben Roethlisberger 21 6 15 0 126 17% 0.286
Tom Brady 20 8 12 0 175 11% 0.400
Matt Cassel 19 5 14 0 62 31% 0.263
Charlie Batch 18 6 12 0 55 33% 0.333
Kyle Orton 18 7 11 0 69 26% 0.389
Joe Flacco 18 6 12 0 80 23% 0.333
Derek Anderson 17 3 14 0 43 40% 0.176
Byron Leftwich 17 4 13 0 50 34% 0.235
Jason Campbell 16 5 11 0 71 23% 0.313
Philip Rivers 15 6 9 0 112 13% 0.400
Tony Romo 14 2 12 0 93 15% 0.143
Trent Edwards 13 2 11 0 33 39% 0.154
Sam Bradford 13 3 10 0 42 31% 0.231
Josh Freeman 13 1 12 0 56 23% 0.077
Matt Ryan 13 6 7 0 77 17% 0.462
Matt Schaub 12 2 10 0 81 15% 0.167
Tarvaris Jackson 12 4 8 0 34 35% 0.333
Chad Henne 11 1 10 0 37 30% 0.091
Andy Dalton 10 3 7 0 32 31% 0.300
Matthew Stafford 10 0 10 0 44 23% 0.000
Cam Newton 7 1 6 0 32 22% 0.143
Aaron Rodgers 5 1 4 0 78 6% 0.200

At first glance, this table doesn't tell you much more than "some guys have more bad games than others." And while this is without a doubt a universally applicable truth, there are a lot more interesting details to be found in the table.

Percentage of poor games

If you sort the column titled "<66.7 games in % of total games started" in ascending order, you'll see the quarterbacks with the lowest percentage of poor games at the top fo the table. At the top of the ranking, you'll once again see some of the more familiar names pop up, and Aaron Rodgers tops the ranking once more.

This is perhaps a good point to reflect on just what a phenomenal QB Aaron Rodgers is. In 78 games as a starter over five seasons, he's only had five games with a passer rating below 66.7, a "poor game" percentage of just 6%. In yesterday's post, Rodgers led all QB with the highest percentage of 100+ rating games.

Right behind Rodgers in terms of low poor game percentages are Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, Tony Romo, and Matt Schaub, almost the exact same names we saw on yesterday's list of great passers. Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan close out the list of top QBs with a poor game percentage below 20%.

One way of looking at these numbers that makes them a little more intuitive is to translate them into average poor games per season. In Aaron Rodgers' case 6% of a 16-game regular season is exactly one poor game per season. Here's what that looks like for the other top guys:

Brady: 1.8
P. Manning, Rivers: 2.1
Schaub, Romo: 2.4
Brees, Roethlisberger, Ryan: 2.7

You know how there's this meme that "Tony Romo is always good for two or three inexplicably bad games per season"? Well, it's true. But those two or three games rival the very best QBs in the league, and are a lot better than guys like Jay Cutler (4.0), Eli Manning (4.5), Michael Vick (4.9), or even Mark Sanchez (6.5). If your QB is going to have a poor game every third game or so in a season, you really don't have much to brag about at the QB position.

Which brings us neatly to the next topic, the W/L record of QBs in games with a passer rating below 66.7:

How teams bail out their QBs on a bad day

If you sort the table above by win percentage, the first thing you may notice is that there's an incredible spread of winning percentages. The Detroit Lions have never won a game when Matthew Stafford had a passer rating below 66.7, thus Stafford's .000 win percentage. Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and Carolina aren't particularly QB-friendly teams either, as the QBs there have only won one of the sub 66.7 rating games.

At the other end of the spectrum, you've got Matt Ryan with a winning record of .462, which is ridiculously high considering that in those games Matt Ryan delivered a dirt-poor performance as a passer. Of note, Matt Ryan also had one of the highest winning percentages in games in which he had a 100+ passer rating. Combined, these two numbers indicate that the rest of the Falcons have a significant positive role in Matt Ryan's career 56-22 record.

Let's do a little Matt Ryan math: The average winning percentage in sub 66.7 games is .227. Applying that to Ryan's 13 sub 66.7 games would result in a 3-10 W/L record instead of Ryan's actual 6-7 record. Similarly, applying the league average win percentage of .810 in 100+ rating games to Ryan's 32-1 record in 100+ rating games would yield a 26-7 record. In total, that's a swing of nine games that would leave Ryan with an "adjusted" W/L record of 47-31.

In other words, Matt Ryan's record is much better than it would be if he were on an average team. It's only because the rest of the Falcons are adept at bailing him out on a bad day, and riding him on a good day that his record is what it is. Which just goes to show that it's not one player that wins and loses games.

Other QBs that have seen their teams bail them out much more often than the average QB include Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers, Eli Manning and Michael Vick (notably for Vick, ten of his eleven wins in sub 66.7 games came in Atlanta, only one in Philadelphia).

It's a good thing that, contrary to popular perception, Tony Romo doesn't have a lot of poor games with a sub 66.7 passer rating, because the rest of the Cowboys have left him hanging more often than not. With a .143 winning record in poor games, Tony Romo ranks near the bottom of all active QBs.

Now consider this hypothetical scenario: If Romo had Ryan's win percentage of .470 in poor games, his record would change from 2-12 to 7-7. Similarly, if Romo had Ryan's .970 win percentage in 100+ rating games, his record in those games would rocket from 37-11 to 47-1. That 15-game swing would give Romo a career record of 70-23 instead of the current 55-38. Think about that. That's the player Romo could be - with the right team around him.

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