There's been a lot of news about the Cowboys recently, most of it bad. Between injuries, suspensions, and a lackluster defensive showing at San Deigo, there's a lot of gloom in the air. So I've put off this article, trying to decide if current events have changed my initial analysis. Ultimately though, nothing has changed. There is one player who, ultimately, can make or break this team. And that gentleman is the one, the only:
Let me start with this - I am a firm believer that quarterbacks don't win games by themselves. It is a team game, and winning is a team stat. That being said, no other position has a greater individual impact on winning or losing than quarterback. When a quarterback plays poorly it can sink an otherwise great team effort, (the 2011 game vs. Detroit comes to mind), and when a QB plays great he can overcome poor play from the rest of his team, (although it was a losing effort last year's game against Denver is a great example).
Which brings us to Tony Romo. In an earlier article I wrote that "If the Cowboys offense were a car, DeMarco Murray would be fifth gear". To run with that overworked analogy, DeMarco Murray is fifth gear, but Tony Romo is the engine. He's what makes the entire offense hum. Brandon Weedon may be a perfectly capable backup, and we may rely more on the running game more this season, but make no mistake, this is Romo's offense. When he's at his peak, the offense runs smoothly, quickly and efficiently. When Romo is off, the offense sputters.
And the 'Boys are going to need Romo to be at his best. Let's face it, this season is going to rest on the offenses shoulders. If Henry Melton returns to form, if Bruce Carter lives up to his potential, if Brandon Carr regains the form he had at Kansas City...well the 'Boys defense might be middle of the pack. But that's a lot of if's to overcome.
Let's take a look at some numbers shall we?
|DYAR Rank||DVOA Rank|
For those not familiar with Football Outsiders stats, this is from their website, "The simple version: DYAR means a quarterback with more total value. DVOA means a quarterback with more value per play." DYAR is a counting stat like yards or touchdowns. The more snaps you play, the higher the count. DVOA is an efficiency stat like Y/A or QB rating. The more efficient you are, the higher the score.
What this tells us is, throughout his career Romo not only puts up great numbers, he is very effective doing it. And he's amazingly consistent; in his seven years as a full-time starter he has only twice fallen outside the top 10 in either category, and both years he missed significant time with injury. By all means, listen to the controversies about Tony Romo. Listen very closely, then laugh at those who doubt him, because the numbers don't lie. Tony Romo is a top 10 QB in this league, and has been his entire career.
There is really only one question about Tony Romo; have age and injury finally caught up to him? Everyone knows about the back injuries, and this off-season has raised questions on whether that surgery has affected Romo's arm strength. In an offense predicated on the big play, any loss in velocity is a serious concern. And even if you believe that Romo is completely recovered from his back surgery these numbers should concern you:
In nearly all these categories that measure yards/attempt, Romo's numbers the last two years are the lowest of his career. And while his numbers do tend to fluctuate from year to year, there is a general downward trend that should be alarming.
What It All Means
If Romo is healthy, I'm not terribly worried about Romo's declining yards/attempt stats. While those are generally an indicator of overall performance, we don't see that reflected in other statistics. As shown in Romo's DVOA numbers his general efficiency has stayed relatively steady, despite a lower Y/A.
What does worry me is this:
2012 was Romo's best year according to PFF's grading system. But as the table above shows, he wasn't consistently good, with five games scored in the red. And while his performance didn't necessarily correspond to wins or losses (remember it's a team game!), if Dallas is going to be a contender in 2014, Romo is going to have to be consistently good.
And I think he will be. I believe the coaching staff and front office when they say that his injury is healed and what we're seeing in training camp so far is a thought out process to bring Romo back into shape slowly and carefully. I don't think reduced arm strength is going to be an issue, and I'm not worried about the downward trend in Y/A as there has been no corresponding drop in either counting or efficiency stats. I believe that a fully healthy Romo will consistently play up to his abilities, and put us in a position to always be competitive in every game we're in. Call it a boom, and a little bit of good news amid the doom and gloom.