Is 2014 Tony Romo's Greatest Season Yet?
Shhh, stop reading so loudly. If you listen closely, you may be able to hear the Tony Romo detractors. Those that remain are a lot quieter this year, and they're muttering words of frustration in the corner.
Whether or not it's justified, the team success the Cowboys have had has left the critics without much ammo. People are calling this Romo's greatest season yet. Is that actually the case, or are they blinded by the record?
Well, waddya know. We have the power. We can answer this question using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP). This measures a quarterback's efficiency based on the expected points he adds to an individual drive each time he drops back or runs. This should give us a good gauge of where Romo's 2014 stacks up with the rest of his career.
Romo Prior to 2014
In order to establish whether or not this is a career year for Romo, we must first take a look back at what he's done in the past. Despite what the team's record may show you, Romo has been putting up delectable stats for quite some time.
As numberFire's Editor-in-Chief JJ Zachariason wrote back in May, the narrative around Romo is garbage. JJ showed that, not only is Romo clutch, but he has also graded out as a top-tier passer throughout his career. JJ again wrote about Romo's clutchness earlier this week in his "6 Things I Learned in Week 12" column.
I think JJ has a crush. But who can blame him?
So as to not completely rehash his argument, I'll instead present to you Romo's year-by-year stats. The table below shows some of Romo's NEP metrics. Passing NEP per play is the expected points added on a per drop back basis. Success rate is the percentage of drop backs in which Romo increased the expected points on the drive. Total NEP is similar to Passing NEP except that it includes points added or subtracted when running the ball. For the rank column, that is Romo's rank in Total NEP among other quarterbacks that season. I excluded Romo's 2010 season as he only appeared in six games.
|Passing NEP/P||Success Rate||Total NEP||Rank|
For some context on those numbers, the average Success Rate in 2013 was 45.91 percent. The average Passing NEP per play among quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs was 0.06. So, even in his worst seasons, Romo blew the average out of the water. This sets the bar high for making a claim about Romo's "best season ever."
Because simplicity is overrated, let's make things difficult on this year's Tony. Let's take his best number from each category and create a SuperRomo that cannot be tamed by your petty mortal statistics.
In doing this, we'd be taking Romo's per drop back rating of 0.27, which ranked second in 2006 behind only Peyton Manning. We'd also get his 53.51 Success Rate from 2012, which trailed Manning, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. His Total NEP would come from 2007, in which he trailed only Manning and Brady.
This seems cruel to put poor Tony up against such high standards. The little guy will never know what hit him. It would take an elite season for Romo to top himself in each of these categories.
Well, kiddos, prepare to be dazzled by this saboteur of statistical standards.
Why 2014 is Romo's Best Season
I'm hoping we've established that Romo has been a very good quarterback throughout the course of his career. That should make his 2014 even more impressive.
Below is a table that shows Romo's 2014 numbers compared to his career-high numbers in each category. His Total NEP (which currently stands at 88.69) has been multiplied out to reflect his 16-game pace.
|Pass NEP/P||Success Rate||Total NEP|
He's doing all right for himself.
Among quarterbacks that have dropped back at least 200 times, Romo ranks third in Passing NEP per play behind Manning and Aaron Rodgers. His Success Rate is second among that group behind only Drew Brees.
The only category in which Romo is not right at the top is Total NEP. There, he currently ranks seventh. The big reason behind this is that this is the only aggregate stat among those that I picked, and the Cowboys throw the ball less than almost any team.
Through the first 12 weeks, only Seattle, Houston and Kansas City have run fewer pass plays. Only Seattle and Houston have a smaller pass-to-run ratio than Dallas. This hurts Romo in the aggregate stats as he simply has not had the opportunity to pad his numbers.
Romo has recorded 315 drop backs this year. No other quarterback in the top 10 in Total NEP has had fewer than 364 drop backs. This is why the rate stats are more relevant for Romo, as he isn't playing on a level playing field.
Let's compare Romo to two guys in the discussion for the league MVP: Tom Brady and Andrew Luck. Romo out-paces both quarterbacks in Passing NEP per play (his 0.28 relative to their 0.26). He also has a higher Success Rate at 54.29 compared to Brady's 50.46 and Luck's 49.38.
You could contend that Romo's shortcomings compared to Luck in Total NEP would be due to Luck's rushing abilities. Not entirely true. Luck actually has a negative Rushing NEP on the year. Brady's is just a touch north of 1.00. If Romo had as many drop backs as Luck (484) and Brady (432) and he kept his efficiency at its current pace, he'd be right up there with those two.
It's entirely valid to give credit to both DeMarco Murray and the offensive line. There's no doubt that those two entities have helped amp up Romo's stats. That does not change the fact that, when the team has turned to Romo, he has come through in a way few other quarterbacks in the league have done this season.
Considering the way this year started (the three-interception game against San Francisco), I don't think many saw this coming, myself included. But it's time to give Romo the credit he has deserved throughout the entirety of his career.
Tony Romo is now, and has been for some time, an elite quarterback. If a "clutch" trait exists, he possesses it. And it just so happens that this man is having the best year of his excellent career. For a guy who has played as well has he has, that is not small feat.