The Dallas Cowboys are getting closer to having to make a decision about playing rookie Dak Prescott or veteran Tony Romo. All indications are it will be Romo, given his long history with the Cowboys and exceptional play. After all, one is a 10-year veteran with the third highest passer rating of all time. The other is a rookie quarterback taken with the 135th pick in the 2016 draft who came into training camp competing with a former practice squad player to be the third-string quarterback going into the season. They can’t compare, can they?
Well, sometimes, reality has a way of interfering with preconceptions.
It is only four games into Dak Prescott’s career. To say that’s a small sample size would be more than correct. Tony Romo, meanwhile, has a W-L record of 78-49 over his 127 NFL starts, spread over 10 seasons. So it’s pretty hard to make comparisons between the two. Certainly such comparisons would not stand up to any type of statistical rigor.
But, as fans, we don’t always have to follow those limitations. We can take a look, and make comparisons just for the fun of it. So let’s compare Dak Prescott’s statistics and performance over his first four games with the first four games of Tony Romo’s 2014 season, which was easily Tony Romo’s best year.
Raw Stat Comparison
Here are Dak Prescott’s stats.
Here are Tony Romo’s stats.
Look at that! Putting those stats side by side, if you didn’t know the names, you’d have to give the edge to Dak Prescott. I mean, wouldn’t you?
The key stat - ANY/A, or Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt, factors in touchdowns, sacks and interceptions to the standard yards per attempt metric. A touchdown is like adding 20 yards, but an interception subtracts 45 yards. So, in this case, Romo’s four interceptions more than negate his seven touchdown passes. That’s why Prescott is a yard per attempt ahead of Tony after our four game comparison.
Tony Romo is ahead by the tiniest of margins in traditional passer rating because this stat does not factor in sacks, and Tony took eight sacks for 61 yards in the first four games of 2014.
As for QBR, though we don’t have the totals for Romo after four games (ESPN’s proprietary formula doesn’t allow us to plug in four games from 2014), it’s pretty clear that Prescott is ahead in this category. We know Dak’s total after four games - 86.6 - because ESPN gives a running total for each season. In Raw QBR, that puts Prescott second in the NFL at the moment behind Matt Ryan. Just looking week-to-week, Prescott has the first-, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-highest totals. Romo is second, third, seventh, and eighth.
What About The Games?
As you can see from the stats, both Dak and Tony had their worst game in the first contest. Let’s do a little side-by-side comparison.
Dak’s Game 1. Giants 20, Cowboys 19 at home.
Dak lost by a point at home to the Giants, 20-19, after being let down by some of his veteran receivers, who could have caught two TD passes they dropped. The running game also couldn’t get going. Still, Dak could have played better.
Romo’s Game 1. 49ers 28, Cowboys 17 at home.
This game was out of reach at halftime, as Romo had thrown three interceptions and a DeMarco Murray fumble was returned for a TD.
- Comparison. Between these two, Prescott’s game was better, as he kept Dallas in it until the last second. The opponent was also probably tougher for Romo, but that’s no excuse for appearing not ready to play.
Dak’s Game 2. Cowboys 27, Washington 23 on road.
This game required a fourth quarter comeback by Dak Prescott and some key defensive stops to pull out a win. Dak didn’t throw a TD, but he did rush for one. The ground game was better, but not clicking yet, and two Elliott fumbles nearly cost the Cowboys dearly.
Romo’s Game 2. Cowboys 26, Titans 10 on road.
Tony Romo didn’t really need to do much in this game because DeMarco Murray went off for 167 yards rushing. Romo also wasn’t clicking as well as he did later in 2014, with his ANY/A number down at five yards, or where Dak was in his first game.
- Comparison. Between these two, you’d have to give the edge to Dak Prescott again. Dak Prescott’s stats are better across the board, the opponent had won the NFC East the year before, and Dak had to execute a fourth quarter comeback of the kind Tony Romo is noted for.
Dak’s Game 3. Cowboys 31, Bears 17 at home.
This was Dak Prescott’s most dominant performance so far. His stats were tremendous. He was helped a lot by a breakout performance from Ezekiel Elliott, which allowed Dak to throw his fewest passes on the season. This was the formula Romo executed so well in 2014.
Romo’s Game 3. Cowboys 34, Rams 31 on road.
The Cowboys fell behind 21-0 in this game, and yet Romo did not have to air it out 40 times in the comeback. He passed only 23 times, completing 18. DeMarco Murray added 100 yards on the ground. One of the keys was a late game interception by Mo Claiborne to snuff out the Rams’ last-ditch attempt to rally.
- Comparison. These two games don’t make a great comparison. What would make a great comparison is Dak’s fourth game and this game, because both required comebacks from at least 14-0 deficits, and featured Mo Claiborne interceptions. If you put these games head to head, you have to give it to Dak Prescott, who played a nearly flawless game. Romo made a great comeback, but his pick-six helped put Dallas in the hole to begin with.
Dak’s Game 4. Cowboys 24, 49ers 17 on road.
This game showed even greater resilience by Dak Prescott, as he had to come back from a 14-0 hole on the road. The key was that his defense stiffened, allowing him enough time to execute the rally. He again got great help from Ezekiel Elliott and the running game.
Romo’s Game 4. Cowboys 38, Saints 17 at home.
This was a beat down of the Saints, and payback for the humiliating defeat they had administered to Dallas in 2013. Romo’s stat line is tremendous, perhaps the best out of any of these eight performances (though not tops in all categories).
- Comparison. It would be better to compare this game to Prescott’s Bears game, where the stat lines are very similar - Romo throwing one more TD and therefore winning the passer rating; Dak winning ANY/A and QBR. If compared to Dak’s Niners game, Romo clearly wins.
So, that ends our fun little interlude in the ongoing Dak Prescott v. Tony Romo debate.
It’s only four games, but Prescott more than held his own against the first four games of Tony Romo’s best year. Can you draw any conclusions from that? Sure, but they will be at your own peril!