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Tony Romo Under Pressure - Why Travis Frederick Is So Important To The Cowboys

Pro Football Focus did one of their mega-detailed looks at quarterback performance, and it makes clear why Dallas was committed to getting interior offensive line help early in the 2013 draft.

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Tom Pennington

Before we begin our regularly scheduled program, I just want to express my congratulations for fellow FPW rabblerousr, who made a little post about some pictures from the Dallas War Room, which in a couple of hours became THE hot topic around the NFL. He may have built a case for a new theme song for Blogging the Boys. (After I did that, I saw that KD had a similar idea for individual players. You may note a very slight difference in our musical preferences.)

Anyway, prior to rabs' excellent bit of investigative journalism (yeah, he scooped 'em all), I was studying some figures from Pro Football Focus on quarterback performance under pressure. They wanted to figure out not only which quarterbacks were good under pressure, but who was most affected by certain types of pressure, specifically how much difference the direction of the pressure makes.

Obviously, my chief interest was to see how Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo does.

This analysis goes back five years (2008-2012), so it is very relevant to Romo, who was the starter in Dallas all five of those seasons. PFF begins by looking at the top performing passers in a clean pocket. Romo comes in at number eleven on this list, which is about where he shows up in most quarterback ratings. PFF's methodology does deduct points for interceptions, so it is not surprising that Romo, with his tendency to have stretches where he accumulates picks, is pushed down the rankings. Also, I don't believe they try to determine if the interception is the quarterback's fault or not.

That is a good ranking for Romo, but as we are aware here at BTB, a clean pocket is something the offensive line has not provided on a regular enough basis the past couple of years. The next segment starts to tell the story of this post. When you look at quarterback performance under all pressure, regardless of source, Romo goes from eleventh from the top, to ninth from the bottom.

This was surprising when I first saw it, because he has the reputation, at least here at BTB, for having great ability to evade pressure. Remember, however, that PFF looks at interception rates as well as completions and yardage, so those bad passes that go the other way wind up factoring in here. It is also a little disconcerting to see that Romo's backup, Kyle Orton, also makes the list, and he is two positions below the starter.

One thing that you notice as well is that PFF's numbers often disagree with popular perception. There are a couple of other quarterbacks on the worst-performing list that had a reputation for being mobile and able to escape the pass rush: Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb. Admittedly, they both had small samples reflecting the ends of their careers, but it does show that we often get wrapped up in reputation more than reality. A few other names that show up on the worst list: Matthew Stafford, twelfth from the bottom, Matt Schaub, tenth, and quarterback of the reigning Super Bowl Champions, Joe Flacco, who very surprisingly is the fourth worst quarterback in the entire league during the period in question.

Besides clearly indicating that this is not necessarily a predictor for how much success a team will have, it reminds us that this is just a measurement of situational performance. As they dig deeper, breaking down pressure by where it comes from, the numbers show other informative details.

First, it becomes clear that where pressure comes from makes a difference. For instance, Matt Ryan is the second best performing quarterback in the league when he is pressured from right tackle, behind only Aaron Rogers (who is the best at handling pressure overall in the league, by the way). But if you rush Ryan from left tackle, he is the absolute worst performing quarterback in the NFL.

Second, a lot of very good quarterbacks have some vulnerability to certain pressures. Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Michael Vick, and Eli Manning all show up in the bottom five or six under one of the categories.

And for Tony Romo, the worst place for pressure to come for him: Right up the middle, rushing over the center. He is third worst in the NFL when it comes up the gut. Only Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Brady are worse.

Yes, that Tom Brady. He performs more poorly than any other QB when rushed up the middle. Which would lead one to assume he must not face it all that often. I think you see where I am going with that.

An even more telling number comes when PFF looks at interior versus outside pressure. If they combine LG-C-RG pressures, then Romo is now the second worst quarterback in the league, statistically.

This runs so counter to what I thought I knew about Tony and his Romodini escapes. It does show that he is probably better at avoiding the outside rush, since he does not show up on that list, or on the list for unblocked pressure (the blitzer that is not picked up). Although it upsets some preconceptions, it is not the first time this idea has been brought up here. Several have pointed out that Romo seemed to take the worse poundings when the rush came from front and center. Orton, sadly, is bad no matter where the rush comes from, being near the bottom for both inside and outside pressure.

Besides the fact that the Cowboys really would prefer to never see Orton have to carry the team for any appreciable number of games, this shows just how important that interior line is to the Cowboys. And it indicates that drafting Travis Frederick was very nearly a necessity after the early first round run on interior linemen. With their evaluation of talent in the draft, he was the only interior lineman left they could possibly justify using a first round pick on. It also explains why the Cowboys, who look to be using more zone blocking for the running game, went with a player who is not seen as the best fit in that scheme. They want a center who can stop the rush. Frederick has some other weaknesses, but when he can get close to his man and lock him up, it is game over.

And if you haven't made the logical connection here, the other part of these numbers is that any time you don't have pressure on the quarterback, whoever he is, the odds go up for success. For someone like Romo, who is on that top performing list in those situations, the odds are even higher.

It would have been great to get more help in the interior of the line, but that stuff was flying off the shelves, and Dallas had to grab the best item they could. They did, and it looks like they came to the same conclusions that PFF did. Tony Romo can be a great quarterback, but you have to protect him, especially right up the middle. If Travis Frederick can live up to his first round pick, and the team can put the best guards from among the available candidates on either side of him, then a high powered offense should kick into overdirve this year. Keep Romo on his feet, and he can be dominant.

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