Oh boy: Stats say Romo is a top-five QB

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
10:00
AM ET

One thing I have learned in my nearly one full year of running this blog is that everyone is in complete lock-step agreement on how good a quarterback Tony Romo is and on his value to the Dallas Cowboys. Every time I write about Romo, all of the comments are exactly the same, and there is never any dispute about Romo's ability, his worth or his future prospects. We have our share of controversial topics here on the NFC East blog, but when the topic is Romo, no one ever argues or gets upset.

Yeah, right.

Romo's as reliable a lightning-rod topic as this blog has, and hoo boy do I have a doozy for you guys. You might have seen this when it went up Monday afternoon, but it bears a bump this morning: K.C. Joyner has a piece up on the site that says, according to several statistical measures, that Romo is one of the five best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Now, if you're still reading, and you haven't already rushed to the comments section of this post to fight with each other about this, or to K.C.'s Insider post to argue directly with him, I'll give you a little synopsis of the man's points. (And I guess I might as well remind you that K.C. was about the only analyst last summer who was predicting the Giants to win this division, so it's not as though his often-controversial opinions have never been right.)

K.C. tells us that Romo's ranking is based on the following, mainly statistics-based reasons:

-Superior route-depth metrics (tied for fifth last year in yards per pass attempt)

-Low bad-decision rate, or "BDR" (fifth-lowest last year among quarterbacks with at least 175 pass attempts)

-High Total QBR (finished fourth in the NFL in 2011)

-A long history of top-level statistical performance (tied for fifth in NFL history in career yards per pass attempt)

-Ability to raise the level of play of those around him (Romo averaged double-digit yards per attempt to his third and fourth wide receivers in 2011)

-Changing of the elite guard at the quarterback position (i.e. disappointing 2011 seasons from Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger, and injury concerns about Michael Vick and Peyton Manning)

-No signs of letting up (still in his prime and surrounded by big-time offensive weapons)

I think what's interesting is that a lot of these areas in which the numbers show that Romo excels are areas of his game that often fall victim to easy criticism from his detractors. "BDR," for example. K.C. acknowledges that games like the Detroit loss last season contribute to a perception that Romo is a reckless gunslinger, but he says the numbers don't back it up:
BDR is a metric that gauges how often a quarterback makes a mental error that leads either to a turnover or a near turnover, like a dropped interception or fumble that is recovered by the offense.

The nine-year track record of this metric shows that a 2 percent or lower BDR is an above-average mark for a dink-and-dunk passer, while gunslinger quarterbacks can take pride in a BDR under 3 percent.

...

As poor as that [Detroit] performance was, Romo still posted a 1.8 percent BDR for the season. That total ranked fifth-best among qualifying quarterbacks (minimum 175 attempts) and is doubly notable because it's quite rare for a risk-taking quarterback to post a BDR under 2 percent.

In the end, though, the issue with Romo remains unchanged. Those who are inclined to dislike him will find plenty of reasons to do so, and will hang their hats on the fact that he's only won one playoff game ever. They'll go back to the botched snap, and the playoff loss to the Giants four years ago, and they'll bellow that he doesn't have what it takes to be great because he hasn't come up big in a big game. And until and unless he does that, no statistical analysis will convince those who don't want to be convinced.

The fact is that Romo is an excellent quarterback who hasn't won yet. And while in this day and age, all that matters to anyone about a quarterback is whether he's ever held the Vince Lombardi trophy up over his head while confetti fluttered down around him, it is in fact possible to be exactly that. Doesn't mean it's fun to be that, but it also doesn't mean Romo's worthless. Two-thirds of the teams in the NFL would trade their current quarterback situation straight-up for the Cowboys' quarterback situation, whether the guy's won or not.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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