It's Not Romo's Fault

It's easy to pick on Tony Romo's late game antics, but in doing so, you ignore his incredible statistics.

You want to know what the Dallas Cowboys need?

The Dallas Cowboys need a quarterback.

And not just a quarterback, they need a really good quarterback.

They need a guy under center who will consistently be among the top players at his position, ranking alongside Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

But more than just being productive, they need a guy who’s consistent. A guy who is successful more often than not. When this guy throws the ball to Dez Bryant or Jason Witten, it should gain enough yards to get his team into better scoring position.

If they had a guy like that, they’d be set, right? I mean, after all, Tony Romo is so un-clutch, throwing crucial interceptions and checking out of running plays just to throw awful interceptions. He’s such a frustrating quarterback.

To quote one of the best comedies of all time, Tommy Boy:

“I’m picking up your sarcasm.”

“Well I should hope so, because I was laying it on pretty thick.”

The Cowboys already have the quarterback they need. His name is Tony Romo. And it’s about time we stopped listening to the tired, old narratives about his “clutchness” and started to realize he’s not the problem in Dallas.

A Quick Word on “Clutchness”

When Tony Romo threw an interception against the Denver Broncos in the closing minutes of a 48-48 game, Twitter and Facebook went crazy with NFL fans laughing at yet another game-losing interception for Dallas' quarterback.

USA Today even got in on the act, slapping Romo in the headline for the game as if his one interception was the lone reason the Cowboys lost the game, and including an opinion piece on how “Romo falls short in Romo fashion.”

In that game against the Broncos, Romo had 506 yards (which was more than Peyton Manning had), five touchdowns (again, more than Manning) and only the one interception (which was equal to Manning’s one pick thrown).

But Romo’s running back, DeMarco Murray, gained only 43 yards on 12 carries, and the Dallas defense allowed 34 first downs including 9 third-down conversions.

So while Romo’s mistake may have come during the closing moments of a close game against a tough opponent, he did everything he could to make sure his team wasn’t in a position to lose in spectacular fashion.

Good teams don’t need clutch performances, because they handle their business before the end of the game draws near.

So when Romo threw his interception in the fourth quarter, as opposed to Manning who threw his a bit earlier in the game, it only made it more memorable, rather than “un-clutch.”

Because among active quarterbacks, Tony Romo ranks ninth in game-winning drives, and sixth in fourth quarter comebacks, according to Pro Football Reference.

And in six of his eight seasons as a starter for the Cowboys, his quarterback rating during the fourth quarter of games within seven points has been higher than his quarterback rating for the season as a whole, showing that his production goes up during “clutch” situations (Splits courtesy of ESPN).

Proven Productivity

So now that we’ve proven that Tony Romo is at least as “clutch” as he is “un-clutch,” if not more, let’s set aside silly narratives and talk about how incredibly productive Romo has been during his NFL career.

Here at numberFire, we use a set of metrics known as Net Expected Points to evaluate players and teams. Net Expected Points, or NEP, are best explained as the impact a player has on his team's likelihood of scoring based on his actions on each play. You can get a longer, better explanation by clicking here and heading over to our glossary.

Among quarterbacks who threw over 300 passes (250 for 2013, since it's not quite Week 17 yet), here are Romo’s ranks among NFL quarterbacks since he took over as starter in 2006.

Year PNEP/Play Rank
2006 0.27 2
2007 0.23 4
2009 0.19 8
2011 0.21 5
2012 0.16 10
2013 0.12 9

In other words, Romo has been among the top-10 in quarterbacks during each of his healthy seasons at quarterback, and frequently ranks alongside Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and the other "elite" quarterbacks who draw all the praise on talk radio and pre-game shows.

And since 2000, Romo has three of the top-60 quarterback seasons in Passing NEP per Play, meaning he's easily among the top-20 percent of quarterbacks to play the game over the past decade, at least as far as numbers go.

The Reliable Mr. Romo

But it's not just productivity with Romo. It's also consistency.

Another statistic numberFire uses is Success Rate, and it's based on the NEP data you just saw. When a player has an NEP on a particular play that's greater than zero (in other words, he gained Expected Points for his team), that play is considered a success.

So let's take a look at how Tony Romo has fared in the success rate department in recent seasons, again among quarterbacks with 300 or more passing attempts (250 for 2013).

Year Success Rate Rank
2006 53.35% 2
2007 53.39% 4
2009 49.32% 9
2011 51.88% 4
2012 53.51% 4
2013 50.09% 5

Tony Romo has consistently been one of the most reliable quarterbacks in the NFL since the day he stepped onto the field, as more than half of his plays have been positive and productive for the Dallas offense. He's among the best in the NFL in this category, and that's not something to be taken lightly.

So if Romo is so productive and consistent, what's wrong with the Cowboys? Who is to blame for all of their struggles?

Our Next Huge, Embarrassing Failure

We'll start and end this one with a Tommy Boy quote, because the comical nature of the Dallas defense is right on par with the laughs from that movie.

The Cowboys made the playoffs in 2006, 2007 and 2009. What set them apart in those seasons was their capable defense to go along with Romo's consistency, and a running game to keep defenses off balance.

On the chart below, you'll notice Adjusted Defensive NEP per Play (Adj. DNEP/P), which measures the expected points a defense allows or prevents on a per play basis, and adjusted for strength of schedule. So in this case, negative numbers are better, as they represent a net loss in NEP for the opposing offense. Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points per Play (Adj. RNEP/P) is offensive rushing when adjusted for strength of schedule, and in this case, higher numbers are better.

Year Adj. DNEP/P Rank Adj. RNEP/P Rank
2006 0.01 17 0.01 9
2007 -0.02 13 0.03 8
2009 -0.03 8 0.05 5
2011 0.03 19 -0.05 27
2012 0.08 25 -0.07 25
2013 0.07 24 0.05 6

The table shows us that, when Romo has any semblance of a defense or a rushing attack on his side, and isn't having his team's chances actively destroyed by poor play on defense or in the running game, he's good enough to carry the team to the playoffs.

So in 2013, as has been the case in other seasons in Dallas, the blame is falling on Tony Romo, when it's best directed elsewhere. Romo is simply continuing to play the way Tony Romo plays, which is with an incredible level of consistent production that is seemingly forgotten in a moment when he throws a single interception.

Don't be a part of the ridiculous Tony Romo narrative. He doesn't deserve the blame, because he does more than he should need to for a team that simply isn't good enough to benefit from his ability.