Putting Romo to Rest

Chris Canty's recent comments have re-ignited the old firestorm. Tony Romo is the most irrationally and incorrectly criticized player in NFL history. It's truly mind-boggling.

On September 18, 2011, Tony Romo walked into a football game with 0:37 to go in the third quarter. His team was down 21-14. His defense had given up TDs to noted playmakers Delaney Walker and Kyle Williams </sarcasm> and was making dink and dunk specialist Alex Smith look like the second coming of Tom Brady. He was facing a top flight defense (#4 in yardage, #2 in scoring). He had Kevin Ogletree as his #2 receiver and Jesse Holley at #3. And he had a broken rib and punctured lung, suffered in the first half of that same game. By the time Dallas had run 5 more plays from scrimmage, they had incurred two holding penalties and a personal foul (for leverage against Brooking), Tashard Choice had fumbled (which Romo recovered-- imagine how that felt on broken ribs), Romo had been sacked again... and the score was 24-14.

Romo then proceeded to complete 5 of his next 7 passes to lead an 80 yd TD drive. After a booming 64 yd punt by the 9ers. Romo went 5 for 6 to bring the Cowboys within field goal range and Dan Bailey tied the game with a 48 yd kick. And Miles Austin tore his hamstring.

With Jesse Holley and Kevin Ogletree as his receivers Romo hit Holley for a 77 yd catch and run that allowed Bailey to make a chip shot field goal and win the game.

When confronted with this performance, which should be legendary in team history (in fact the only thing that comes close is Emmitt Smith's Fabled 4th quarter against the Giants for the NFC East Championship-- and this is coming from someone who was AT Roger's 1979 comeback against the Redskins), the typical Romo critic immediately responds "but he cost them the game before with that Revis pick." And then the person saying that immediately begins talking about the irrationality of Romo defenders (or "apologists" as they will often say, trying to be more pejorative).

This whole Digression is only to explain Why I'm writing. I propose to show, once and for all, that the facts indicate Tony Romo is NONE of the things his critics claim he is.

Myth #1 – Tony Romo is "unclutch" and the last QB you want with the game on the line. He melts down in the 4th quarter.
Romo is the winningest QB in franchise history with the ball in the 4th quarter and the game within 8 points. As coldhardfootballfacts put it:

Career records for fourth quarter comeback opportunities: Staubach was 15-23 (.395); Aikman was 16-34 (.320); Romo is 13-19 (.406).

"It is what it is", except when it isn’t apparently.


And that leaves out the three times Romo put his team in position to win in 2011 (against NE, Ari, and The Giants), only to have the outcome go south while he was on the sidelines.

In attempting to provide a metric for "clutchness", Football Outsiders came up with a metric called ACE (adjusted comeback efficiency). In February 2010 (when they compiled this metric) Romo was a very respectable 9th on the list. There's little doubt that 2011 would improve his status on this list, with his franchise record 4 comebacks.

Romo is the highest rated QB, all time, in the 4th quarter of games.

Myth #2 – Romo can't get it done when it counts. He melts down and turns into an interception machine in December and the Playoffs.

While the December criticism was legitimate for his early career, his last two Decembers have been outstanding. I mean off-the-charts good:
Romo 2011, December (1-4 Record)
101/142 71.1% 1158yds 10TD (7%) 1 INT (0.7%) 115.9 rating
Romo 2009, December (2-2 Record)
107/157 68.1% 1239yds 8TD (5%) 1 INT (0.6%) 106.1 rating
Total performance last two Decembers:
208/299 69.5% 2397yds 18 TD (6.0%) 2 INT (0.7%) 110.7 rating
(edited: originally typo'd to 2937)

at what point do we put it on the team for not performing? When your QB has 2 turnovers in 9 games, scores 18 Tds, averages 8 yards per attempt, nearly 70% completion rate and your team is 3-6 in that stretch, your problem might be elsewhere. I'm just sayin'...

As for the Playoffs. Tony's Playoff game rating is a very average 80.8, nestled in neatly between Donovan McNabb (below Romo) and Matt Hasselback (above him) as of the end of the 2010 season.

As you look further through that source, however, you begin to see some things. Specifically, Romo has had the third longest field to play out of these Qbs. In other words, he's not getting much help from his defense and special teams. The researcher then goes on to show that Romo is pretty good at making those large drives, having made two 90+yd drives in four playoff games. Only Farve, Elway, Young, and Aikman have more, and of course, those guys had a few more playoff games to compile them.

But the real nail in the coffin of the wildly incapable playoff-melting Romo-ception machine is the next-to-last table. Only Drew Brees throws fewer Interceptions in the playoffs, per drive, than Tony Romo. Not either Manning. Not Brady. Not Rodgers. Not Aikman, Elway, or Montana. Just Brees.

Myth #3 – Romo is a gunslinger. You get masterful performances (usually against bad defenses) and then you get complete disasters against tougher teams.
Romo's decision metric from last season was top 5 in the NFL. Two of those ahead of him were Alex Smith and Tim Tebow, whose offenses are predicated on throwing the ball away if the play isn't wide open. The other Two are Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, who both set NFL records for the seasons they had last year.

As for the take advantage of weak teams and lose against tougher defenses, this chart shows that it is not a major factor with Romo. He has a positive rating differential in every class of defense. While he does do significantly better against weaker teams, so does everyone else. he doesn't crush top 5 teams like Brady and Brees, but he's a very respectable 6+ points above the rest of the NFL against those teams, on average.

Finally, I want to address the inconsistency bugaboo. Romo is actually quite consistent. There exists a stat whose entire purpose is to measure the consistency of data: the standard deviation, denoted by the Greek letter sigma (when people talk about "six sigma black belts", this is what they are discussing) . When people talk about Qbs, they always go to Brady, Brees, Manning, and, more recently, Rodgers, but the Gold Standard for consistency over a Hall of Fame Career is Tom Brady. Let's compare Romo to Brady in terms of sigma, or how wide their performances vary. (Edit to Clarify: I never actually said, but the following is the career standard deviation in quarterback rating for Tom Brady and Tony Romo)

(corrected. Original #s in parentheses)

Brady Sigma – 27.3 (27.4)
Romo Sigma – 28.1

So, over their careers, Romo's bell curve is roughly 1.6 (1.4) QBR points wider than Tom Brady's. Hardly the Romo-coaster of fable. Source on this one is me. I calculated them all up, one by one, leaving out Romo's 1st game ever (2 for 2 and a TD against Houston in 2006) and the Philly game in 2011 (0 for 2, 0INT) as not statistically relevant as "games". If I made an error, let me know. (I removed Brady's first appearance, which was only 3 attempts, for consistency with the two 2 attempt games I pulled from Romo).

To summarize, if you want to point to his playoff record, his December record, or the critical mistakes he has made and say that is what defines him, that's your prerogative.

Just be aware that the facts say otherwise before you run around calling us Romo apologists
"irrational" or "unrealistic".

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.