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Protecting The Ball: Tony Romo One Of NFL's Best At Not Throwing Interceptable Passes

Another Cowboys meme takes a hit.

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He also protects the ball better than anyone.
He also protects the ball better than anyone.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In reviewing Pete Prisco's top 100 NFL players, I put forth the opinion that ranking Tony Romo 38th overall, and seventh among quarterbacks, seemed a bit low. In leading the Dallas Cowboys into the playoffs last season, he led the league in several statistical categories, and his performance in December was ridiculously good. This flew in the face of the already disputable perception that he was a choker, particularly as the season wound down. But despite the numbers, there is still a resistance among many to giving him his due as one of the best quarterbacks in the game.

And the numbers keep piling up. The latest attempt to analyze quarterback efficiency is from a blog called Pre Snap Reads. The writer, named Cian Fahey, set out to determine how many interceptable passes NFL starters threw last season. He uses an approach that appears to be similar to that used by Pro Football Focus, where he scrutinizes the plays on video and then makes a judgment call on whether or not the throw put the ball at risk of being intercepted. It admittedly interjects a certain amount of subjectivity into the process, but if he is consistent in his evaluations, then there is some value in his work.

What does he find? Well, on his list, Tony Romo was the second best quarterback at not throwing balls that could be picked off. He only threw one interceptable pass for every 40.4 attempts.

Romo has always been forced to live with an unearned reputation for turning the football over. Interceptions in big moments have played a major role in that while his teammates more often than not contributed to those more than the quarterback did. With the best offensive line in the league, a great running game and receivers who knew where to be in 2014, Romo flourished.

He was able to rely more on his teammates, but he still played the game with unbelievable patience in the pocket while still being aggressive and creative. Watching Romo play with such creativity while still taking great care of the football was simply phenomenal.

What makes his statistics even more impressive, five of his interceptions came in games where he clearly wasn't close to 100 percent healthy. If he had been fully healthy for the full year, it's fair to think he may have had an outlandishly impressive ratio of attempts per interceptable pass.

That puts Romo comfortably ahead of players such as Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Andrew Luck. Not only that, he was second only to Alex Smith - and Smith's lack of risky throws is almost certainly a function of the scheme he played in.

The natural response to seeing Alex Smith atop this list with one interception per 58 attempts is one of celebration for Chiefs fans. However, it shouldn't be. Smith's number is too high and severely distorted by the offense he plays in. It reflect his excessively cautious approach that results in a quarterback who is scared to make throws to open receivers.

Of Smith's 464 attempts last year, 140 were either screens or throwaways. His fear was the primary reason for his receivers not scoring a touchdown in 16 games.

Celebrating a quarterback for not turning the ball over when he is handicapping your offense to do it doesn't make any sense. Smith was a hinderance to his team in 2014 and he lost more games than he won with his approach. Even if most won't acknowledge that because they over-emphasize the importance of avoiding turnovers.

If you accept the premise that Smith's rating was an aberration (and it is hard to argue that Smith is really an elite quarterback), then Romo was the best in the league last year at taking care of the ball.

Not exactly a wild gunslinger. Once again, the data destroys the meme. Romo has had an undeserved reputation ever since that mishandled field goal attempt.

The reputation of a quarterback in the NFL is much more dependent on the team around him than most accept. For most of the years when the Cowboys struggled, Romo was more a factor in keeping them competitive than a detriment to the team. Now that Dallas has surrounded him with offensive talent and is in the process of building up the defense, Romo's true value is becoming clear. Many still have not figured it out, but more and more are realizing this. Hopefully he still has enough good years left to see the rewards his talent justifies.

Oh, and one more thing to add about him.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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