Starting Dak Prescott Over Tony Romo Is Absolutely the Right Call for the Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys can't win.
Well, that's not true. They've won 11 times this year, beating every team they've faced aside from the New York Giants. But I mean that in a broader sense.
They have fielded solid teams in the past decade, sometimes feeling "one piece away" from being legitimate contenders. For a while, that "one piece" felt like Tony Romo.
Sure, there have been some tough times in Romo's tenure as the Cowboys' quarterback.
There was his infamous botched snap against the Seattle Seahawks in the 2007 playoffs. A 44-6 loss in a do-or-die game against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008. The opening-night meltdown against the New York Jets in 2011. The late-season collapse in 2014, when the Cowboys were 8-3 on Thanksgiving, finished 12-4, and lost in the divisional round to the Green Bay Packers on Dez Bryant's -- also infamous -- "non-catch."
Everyone has his or her own favorite Tony Romo debacle. And so, a narrative that Romo wasn't clutch enough to lead a team arose over the years, but that simply wasn't true.
Regardless, the Cowboys certainly couldn't win in recent years -- literally or figuratively -- with Romo leading the way.
The 2015 season, when Romo played just four games because of numerous injuries, evidenced just how important he was, though. The team went 4-12, cycling through incapable quarterbacks.
A similar situation loomed this offseason when Romo broke a bone in his back in the preseason. Of course, we know what happened: Dak Prescott took over and did his part to get this team to 11-2 through Week 14.
Thank you, Jerry.
Dak's Bad Game
So, Prescott's weak line in Week 14 from a traditional standpoint was obviously not great. The same is true by our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.
A simple way to think of NEP is that a 10-yard pass is much more beneficial on a 3rd-and-8 than it is on a 3rd-and-18. One is going to boost a team's odds of scoring, and one will likely lead to a punt. These plays add up over a year -- and even a single game.
In Week 14, Prescott's 37 pass attempts and 3 sacks led to a Passing NEP of -20.11. That means those plays lost more than three touchdowns of expected scoring. Per drop back, he lost 0.50 points.
The NFL average is roughly 0.14 in a positive sense, and Prescott owned a mark of 0.37 entering the week. That was pretty good compared to the other 34 passers with at least 150 drop backs this season.
Oh, by "pretty good" I mean "better than anyone else." And it's not just all from big plays, as his Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs that add to NEP -- was second behind only Drew Brees' 55.68%.
And when you factor in his Rushing NEP, Prescott led all quarterbacks in points added to his team prior to this week of action. Just five other quarterbacks added at least 113 total points to their teams -- Prescott sat at 164.11.
Sure, the Sunday Night woes dropped Prescott's Passing NEP per play to 0.27 on the year, which would be a top-six mark for the year, but the Giants have been the best defense in football from Week 7 onward by our metrics. Let's not overlook that.
Prescott versus Romo
While we can't compare Prescott to Romo on an absolutely equal playing field, we can look back at Romo's performance as a starter to see how he has fared over the years.
Through 13 games, Prescott has added roughly as many points as Romo did in 16 games in 2007, and Romo has only once added more than Prescott has so far (147.13 in 2014).
On a per-drop back basis, Prescott's 0.27 Passing NEP through Week 14 would trail only Romo's 2014 season. If we were to check this before Sunday Night Football, Prescott (0.37) would have held a considerable edge over Romo's best season.
Even in terms of Success Rate and even with Prescott's down games, he has added positive points on 52.40% of his drop backs, on par with Romo's average in this stretch. And again, Prescott was at 55.59% through Week 13, something Romo never maintained for a full season.
Basically, Prescott's season to date has been just as good as or better than Romo's best years.
Adjusted net yards per attempt? Prescott's posted a 7.79 this year, better than Romo's each year aside from 2014 (8.11).
Quarterback rating? Prescott's 102.7 bests Romo's mark in every year except, you guessed it, 2014 (113.2).
So, Prescott has played better than Romo has -- aside from his best season ever -- and even that 2014 campaign wasn't particularly better than what Prescott has done so far.
Romo would have to come back from injury and play not like his 2015 self, which was his worst season ever, but his career-best 2014 self to justify the move.
It just doesn't make sense.
Before a bad game against the Giants (again, the best defense in football during the second half of the season), the Cowboys had a lot going for them from the quarterback spot.
Prescott had added more points above expectation than any other quarterback in the league. He was the most efficient passer on a per-play basis, and only Drew Brees churned out a successful drop back more frequently than he did. Prescott was also within 0.20 Rushing NEP of being the most productive rusher in the league -- yes, more productive than Elliott.
And one game -- or two, if you want to knock him for a -2.27 Passing NEP outing in Week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings, the second-best defense in the league this year by our metrics -- shouldn't undo all of that.
Especially when, a few months ago, Tony Romo couldn't get the job done for this team.
Really, the Cowboys still can't win, figuratively, unless they win the Super Bowl.
If they fall short, they'll be criticized for leaving Romo, a player with a longstanding reputation of not getting the job done in big games, on the bench during their big games. Or they'll make the switch and be benching one of the best quarterbacks in football because of a bad game or two against some of the best defenses the NFL has to offer.
But before any playoff loss occurs -- if it does -- one thing is certain: Dallas is making the right call by sticking with Prescott.