Stats & Info: Tony Romo
Below are some of the key statistics about the favorites for MVP:
Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers could add to the MVP award he won in 2011. A key component of his performance was his ability to be highly productive and avoid mistakes.
Rodgers threw 25 touchdown passes without an interception in home games. That is the most in one season in NFL history -- 2 ½ times as many as No. 2 on this list, Steve Young (10 in 1987).
Rodgers threw at least two touchdowns and had no interceptions in all eight of the Packers' home games. That streak of eight is two games longer than anyone else’s. Peyton Manning had a six-game streak of two touchdown passes without an interception comprising the final two home games of 2010 and his first four home games in 2012 (he missed 2011 after undergoing surgery).
Rodgers has a record streak of ball security at home that is still alive. He has thrown 418 passes at Lambeau Field, dating to 2012, without having one intercepted, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. No. 2 on this list is Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, 288 passes from 2002 to 2004.
Rodgers had 38 touchdown passes and five interceptions this season, the best ratio in the NFL and the best of his career.
Tony Romo led the NFL in Total QBR this season (82.7), and the QBR leader has won the MVP in three of the previous four seasons.
Romo led the NFL in completion percentage this season (69.9 percent). He passed less often than in 2013 and was more effective, aided by the Cowboys’ improved rushing.
Romo had career highs in completion percentage, Total QBR and touchdown-to-interception differential (plus-25).
In contrast to Rodgers’ effectiveness in home games, Romo led the Cowboys to an 8-0 record on the road this season and had a Total QBR of 88.9 away from home. His Total QBR, completion percentage (70.6) and passing touchdowns (20) on the road led or tied for the lead in the NFL this season.
Romo was the best quarterback after halftime this season, with a Total QBR of 89.6 in the second half and overtime, by far the highest in the NFL.
After throwing four touchdown passes in his first four games, Tom Brady threw 28 in the next 10 games and posted the highest Total QBR (85.2) in the NFL in Week 5 through Week 15. In the 12 games after the Patriots' 2-2 start, Brady threw 29 touchdowns (to seven interceptions) and had an 80.8 Total QBR.
Brady has won the AP MVP twice (2007 and 2010), and his statistics this season weren’t far off those from 2010.
Brady attempted more passes to Rob Gronkowski than to any other receiver this season, and the two connected for 11 touchdowns.
Brady led the NFL with a Total QBR of 87.8 against the blitz this season.
Andrew Luck had the most touchdown passes in the NFL (40) and the third-most pass yards this season (4,761; Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger had 4,952 each).
Luck became the eighth player in NFL history to throw 40 touchdown passes in one season.
He accounted for 77.4 percent of the Colts’ offense this season, the fifth-highest percentage in the NFL.
Luck was 6-0 against the AFC South this season and was more effective in divisional games than games against other opponents.
DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing this season with a franchise-record 1,845 yards. Before this year, the most in Cowboys history was 1,773 by Emmitt Smith in 1995.
Murray rushed 392 times, 80 more than any other player this season and tied for the seventh-most in one season in NFL history.
He accounted for 36 percent of the Cowboys’ yards from scrimmage, the highest percentage in the league. Second was Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears, 34 percent.
Murray rushed for 100 yards in each of his team’s first eight games, the longest streak to begin a season in NFL history. That broke the record of seven, set by Jim Brown in 1958.
With Murray doing most of the work, the Cowboys ran the ball on a league-high 48 percent of plays this season, compared with 34 percent in 2013.
The last running back to win the AP MVP award was Adrian Peterson in 2010.
J.J. Watt makes his biggest impact on defense, but the Houston Texans’ star scored three touchdowns on offense this season. Watt became the first player in NFL history with at least three offensive touchdowns, two defensive touchdowns and a safety in one season.
His 47 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage led the NFL. Watt had 20.5 sacks this season, the same total he had in 2012. He is the first player with 20 or more sacks (a stat that became official in 1982) in two seasons.
Watt recorded 53.9 percent of the Texans’ 38 sacks this season. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that only Tim Harris of the 1989 Packers accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s sacks.
Watt had 30.5 disrupted dropbacks, the most in the NFL. Disrupted dropbacks include sacks, interceptions, defended passes and batted passes. Second to Watt is Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs with 27.
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesTony Romo mounted his 28th game-winning drive in the win over the Lions.
The Cowboys ended that streak, though, by beating the Detroit Lions, who remained winless in wild-card playoff games when Dallas rallied for a 24-20 victory.
Sunday’s win was tied for the second-largest comeback by the Cowboys in the postseason and their largest in more than 30 years.
Romo excels in second half
A strong second half from the Cowboys’ offense shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Tony Romo had a second-half Total QBR of 89.6 this season, best in the NFL. The next closest was Ben Roethlisberger (78.7) of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Romo has 28 career game-winning drives (according to the Elias Sports Bureau), tied with Eli Manning for the most game-winning drives in the regular season and playoffs combined since Romo's first season as a starter in 2006.
Romo was 8-of-12 for 195 yards and two touchdown passes on third and fourth down. He produced first downs on 8-of-14 passes (57 percent) in those situations. Entering the game, the Lions’ defense allowed a 35.6 Total QBR on third and fourth down this season, seventh-best in the league.
Early trends not sustained
The Lions called runs on 50 percent of their first-quarter plays, helping them to a 14-0 lead. In the final three quarters, they called runs on 24 percent of their offensive plays and scored a total of six points.
Matthew Stafford completed his first pass thrown more than 10 yards downfield for a 51-yard touchdown. The rest of the game, on passes thrown more than 10 yards downfield, Stafford was 3-of-10 with an interception.
After taking care of the ball in the first half, Stafford committed three turnovers after halftime. Quarterbacks are 0-12 this season when committing three or more turnovers in the second half.
On both of the Cowboys’ second-half touchdown drives, they went for -- and made -- a fourth-down conversion.
The first was DeMarco Murray’s 1-yard touchdown run that pulled the Cowboys within 20-14. The second, on fourth-and-6, was a 21-yard pass from Romo to Jason Witten that set up the go-ahead touchdown.
The Cowboys hadn’t gone for it on fourth down needing four or more yards this season, and they beat the odds when they made it on fourth-and-6: NFL teams had converted on 26 percent of fourth downs needing six or more yards in the regular season.
The only other playoff game in which the Lions led by 14 or more after the first quarter was the 1957 NFL Championship, when they led the Browns 17-0 and won 59-14 for their most recent NFL title. Sunday’s loss made the Lions’ record in wild-card games 0-8.
This game was the second time the Cowboys trailed by 14 or more at the end of the first quarter in a playoff game. In the 1994 NFC Championship, they trailed the San Francisco 49ers 21-7 before losing 38-28.
The Cowboys advanced to a divisional playoff game against the Packers in Green Bay. Dallas has played in Green Bay in the playoffs once before: Dec. 31, 1967, in the "Ice Bowl." Current forecasts are for a high in Green Bay next Sunday of 18 degrees.
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports
Dez Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys face the Detroit Lions in the NFC wild-card round Sunday.
Matchup to watch No. 1
It all starts with the Cowboys’ dominant run game against a stout Lions rush defense, with first down being the key to victory.
The Cowboys did not make their first-down plans a secret this season. They ran the ball on 68 percent of their first-down plays (71 percent with DeMarco Murray on the field). That is 8 percentage points higher than that of the next closest team and 18 percentage points higher than the NFL average.
Dallas ranked first in yards per rush (4.9) and sixth in yards before contact per rush (3.0) on first down this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Cowboys’ 1,573 yards rushing on first down is the highest total by a team in a single season since the 1981 Cowboys (1,633). Nine teams, including the Lions, rushed for fewer yards on all downs combined than the Cowboys did on first down alone in 2014.
On the other side of the ball will be a stingy Lions defense that allowed an NFL-low 3.3 yards per rush on first down. Only three teams have allowed fewer yards per rush on first down in a season in the last five years.
The decision by appeals officer Ted Cottrell to overturn Ndamukong Suh's one-game suspension could have a huge impact on first-down rushing in this game. The Lions allowed 2.95 yards per rush on first down with Suh on the field this season. They allowed 4.59 yards per rush on first down without him.
Overall the Lions allow 0.8 fewer yards per rush and pressure opposing quarterbacks significantly more often with Suh on the field (30 percent of dropbacks vs. 20 percent in 2014).
Matchup to watch No. 2
Sunday’s game features two of the best QB-WR duos in the NFL.
Since the beginning of Dez Bryant’s rookie season in 2010, no QB-WR duo has more touchdowns than Tony Romo and Bryant’s 53. The next closest pair is Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson with 47.
Johnson has a history of torching the Cowboys' secondary. In three career games against the Cowboys, Johnson has 26 more targets and 354 more receiving yards than Bryant had in the same games.
Much of that is buoyed by Johnson’s performance in the Lions’ thrilling win over the Cowboys in Week 8 of the 2013 season. Johnson caught 14 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown in that matchup, including six receptions for 134 yards during a fourth-quarter comeback. The performance was 7 yards shy of the NFL record for receiving yards in a single game (336 by Flipper Anderson in 1989).
Despite the huge difference in targets, Bryant has the edge over Johnson in touchdowns when these teams play. Bryant also led the NFL and set a Cowboys single-season franchise record with 16 receiving touchdowns this season.
Romo, the top quarterback in terms of total QBR in 2014, will need to be at his best targeting Bryant against the NFL’s No. 4 QBR defense.
Top stats to know
1. This is the third meeting between the Lions and Cowboys in the postseason. The home team won each of the previous two meetings. Detroit won in the 1991 divisional playoffs while Dallas won in the 1970 divisional playoffs.
2. The Lions have not won a playoff game since that 1991 divisional game against the Cowboys. They have lost seven straight playoff games, one shy of the longest postseason losing streak in NFL history.
3. Romo is 1-3 as a starter in the postseason. Should the Cowboys lose, Romo’s 1-4 record would be tied for the worst among the 73 quarterbacks to start at least five playoff games since the 1970 merger.
Did you know?
Including the playoffs, Stafford is 0-17 in his career in road games against teams that finished the season over .500. The most recent examples are a 10-point loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 17 and a 25-point loss to the New England Patriots in Week 12.
Below are 10 need-to-know facts about the 2014 regular season from the perspective of ESPN’s Total QBR.
(1) Tony Romo finished the regular season with the highest Total QBR in the NFL. This is the first time since 2006 (the first year of Total QBR) that Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady did not lead the league in Total QBR.
(2) Aaron Rodgers finished 0.1 points behind Tony Romo for the top spot in Total QBR, marking the closest race for No. 1 since 2006.
(3) Experience matters in today’s NFL; Every player ranked in the top 10 in Total QBR has been in the league at least seven years. Conversely, four of the bottom five qualifying QBs in Total QBR are either in their first or second year in the league.
(4) Seven of the top eight players in Total QBR have won at least one Super Bowl. Tony Romo is the only player in the top eight without a Super Bowl ring, and Russell Wilson is the only player ranked outside of the top eight (he ranks 12th) that is a champion.
(5) The top eight players in Total QBR have combined for 60 postseason appearances (includes this season) and 68 playoff wins. The other 22 qualified players have 31 postseason appearances as starters and 20 playoff wins.
(6) Eli Manning had the largest increase in Total QBR (+34.4) from 2013 to 2014 among players with at least 200 action plays each of the last two seasons. Manning ranks seventh in Total QBR this season after ranking 27th last year. He set career highs in Total QBR, completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception differential in 2014.
(7) Josh McCown had the largest decline in Total QBR (-49.4) among that group of players. After throwing 13 touchdowns and one interception last year, McCown was one of two players with at least three more interceptions than touchdowns this season (Blake Bortles was the other).
(8) The average Total QBR this season was 56.0, the highest in a season since QBR was first calculated in 2006.
(9) The team with the higher Total QBR won 85.7% of its regular season games this season. That is higher than the comparable mark for teams with the advantage in total yardage, turnover differential and NFL passer rating.
(10) Looking ahead to the playoffs, defense wins championships. Since 2006, three teams that went on to win the Super Bowl had a quarterback ranked in the top 10 in regular season QBR. All but two of those Super Bowl Champions were ranked in the top 10 in opponent QBR, including five in the top 5. The Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks are the three playoff teams ranked in the top five in opponent QBR this year.
USA TodayTony Romo leads the NFL in Total QBR, but a stat accounting for usage favors Aaron Rodgers.
After three straight December victories, including a 42-7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, the Cowboys have clinched the NFC East and their first playoff appearance since 2009.
Tony Romo has been at the center of the Dallas resurgence, leading the NFL in Total QBR and jumping into the NFL MVP discussion.
Looking deeper into the numbers, Aaron Rodgers should have the edge over Romo for NFL MVP because of his total value to his team and consistency throughout the season.
QBR vs. QB PAA
A strong argument in favor of Romo centers on his NFL-high 82.3 Total QBR and clutch play in December.
As an all-encompassing barometer of quarterback success, Total QBR is a great measure of efficiency.
However, looking purely at Total QBR to evaluate a player’s MVP candidacy can be misleading. Total QBR is calculated on a per-play basis, meaning it does not account for the number of plays in which a quarterback is involved. A player can post a high QBR without having a large impact on the game.
Last season, Josh McCown played eight games, and had he been involved in a few more plays, he would have led the NFL with an 85.1 Total QBR. No one would have claimed that McCown was more valuable than Peyton Manning (82.9 Total QBR), who set the NFL single-season record for touchdown passes.
A better measure of a quarterback’s total contribution to his team is a metric called quarterback points above average (QB PAA). QB PAA, which is calculated from QBR, measures total production of a player by accounting for both efficiency AND the number of plays in which he is involved. In 2013, Manning led the NFL in QB PAA by a wide margin and McCown ranked fourth, 52.8 points behind Manning.
Rodgers’ total value
It makes sense that a quarterback who is both efficient and has a high usage rate would receive strong consideration for MVP.
Rodgers leads the NFL with 65.6 QB PAA. That means that over the course of the season, Rodgers has added about 66 more points to his team than an average QB would have with the same number of action plays.
Romo ranks third behind Rodgers and Manning, and even accounting for the fact Romo missed a game with a back injury, he trails Rodgers on a per-game basis.
The main reason for the disparity is that when compared with other top players, Romo is not asked to do as much for his offense.
With the NFL’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, averaging an NFL-high 25 rushes per game, Romo is averaging the third-fewest action plays per game among qualified NFL QBs.
Dallas runs on the highest rate of its plays in the NFL (49 percent), and Murray has accounted for the highest percentage of his team’s total yards (38 percent) of any non-quarterback. That leaves less of the offense in the hands of Romo, who ranks 23rd among quarterbacks in percentage of his team’s total yards gained, 15 spots lower than Rodgers.
With the higher usage and similar efficiency, Rodgers has been responsible for 943 more yards and five more touchdowns than Romo, and he has four fewer turnovers. Even after prorating Romo’s numbers to include his missed time, he trails Rodgers in all of those categories.
Although Romo leads the NFL in Total QBR, he has been wildly inconsistent throughout the season. He has an NFL-high four games with a Total QBR above 95 but also has three games with a QBR below 20. Romo has not had a single-game QBR between 40 and 60, meaning he generally has been really good or really bad this season.
In comparison, Rodgers has had one game in which he posted a Total QBR below 40. He has had an NFL-high eight games with a QBR of 80 or higher, which all resulted in Packers wins.
A player’s average Total QBR throughout the season captures consistency and correlates with his team’s expected wins. For example, if a quarterback has an average Total QBR of 50 throughout a 16-game season, his team would be expected to win about eight games.
Rodgers has a slightly higher average QBR (77.3) than Romo does (73.6) and has had less variance throughout the season.
The Cowboys have had a resurgent season and now have the fifth-best odds to win the Super Bowl. But when looking at NFL MVP based on efficiency, usage and consistency, Rodgers has the statistical edge over Romo entering the final week of the regular season.
Why is this even more important this season? Three of the Cowboys final four games are on the road and Romo has been the best quarterback away from home in 2014.
Career in December
Romo's .414 December win percentage is worst in the NFL among the 11 players with at least 25 starts in the month since 2006. But, he is 9-7 on the road in the year's final month with a Total QBR of 63.6 in those games.
Compare that to his numbers at home in December -- a record of 3-10 with a QBR of 48.0.
On the road this season
Romo will lead the Cowboys on the road for three of their four December games, starting in Chicago against the Bears on Thursday. Romo has led the team to a 5-0 road record and his Total QBR of 88.2 away from home this season is not only the highest in the NFL, but on pace to be the second-highest by any quarterback in the last five seasons.
The Cowboys' last two road games are both against NFC East teams (Week 15 at Eagles, Week 17 at Redskins), and Romo's Total QBR of 73.5 in divisional road games in December is fifth in the NFL since 2009.
Chemistry with Dez
Finding Dez Bryant could be key for Romo down the stretch, and his numbers have been better when targeting him on the road. Six of Bryant's nine touchdowns from Romo have come on the road this season and he is completing nearly 69 percent of passes to his top receiver in road games.
The Eagles are now 6-0 on Thanksgiving, the best record in NFL history for any team to play at least five Thanksgiving games.
The Eagles got it done on the ground with a season-high 256 rushing yards, easily the most the Dallas Cowboys have allowed in a game this season.
LeSean McCoy led the way with 159 rushing yards, including a rushing touchdown in consecutive games for the first time since 2011.
On the other side, the Cowboys -- who entered the week ranked second in rushing yards -- struggled running the ball against an Eagles rush defense that ranked in the middle of the pack.
The Cowboys were held under 100 rushing yards for just the second time this season (as was DeMarco Murray, who had a season-low 73 rushing yards). The Cowboys are 0-2 this season when they have fewer than 100 rushing yards and 8-2 when they reach 100.
Murray had just 20 carries against the Eagles, just one more than his season low. When Murray has at least 24 rushes this season, the Cowboys are 7-0. When he has fewer than 24, they’re now 1-4 this season.
The Cowboys as a team had 25 rushes. Since Jason Garrett became the Cowboys head coach in 2011, they’re 14-1 when they have 30 or more rushes, 16-13 with 20-29 rushes, and just 2-14 when they run it fewer than 20 times.
Eagles' rush attack
In Mark Sanchez’s first three starts this season, the Eagles ran six zone-read rushes for 34 yards, including none in Week 12.
But on Thursday, the Eagles had 21 zone-read rushes for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
The strong running attack helped Mark Sanchez on play-action plays. Sanchez was 6-of-9 for 61 yards and threw his only touchdown off play-action fakes, and he didn’t even attempt a non-play-action pass in the second half.
Play action has been vital for Sanchez. The only quarterback this season with a worse touchdown-interception differential on non-play-action passes than Sanchez (-3) is Blake Bortles (-6).
What happened to the Cowboys' offense?
The Cowboys finished with 10 points, their fewest in a game since Week 2 of 2012 at Seattle (27-7 loss) and fewest in a home game since Week 16 of 2011 against the Eagles (20-7 loss).
Tony Romo completed 5 of 10 passes under duress for 60 yards and two interceptions. Romo’s 10 attempts under duress were his most in a game this season. Romo had not thrown an interception under duress since the season-opening loss to the 49ers.
Romo completed 3 of 12 passes with two interceptions on attempts more than 10 yards downfield, his worst completion percentage on such passes this season. Six of his incompletions were off target, including both of his interceptions. Romo’s six off-target throws downfield were his most since Week 12 of 2012 against the Redskins.
Murray had zero rushes of at least 10 yards after having at least two such rushes in each game this season and a league-leading 38 entering the game, six more than any other player this season.
ony Gutierrez/AP PhotoThe Eagles’ quarterback job is Mark Sanchez’s for now with Nick Foles injured
Sanchez handled the blitz -- really
The Eagles will be without Nick Foles for six to eight weeks after he was found to have a crack in his left collarbone. So in comes Mark Sanchez, who Sunday saw his first NFL action since Week 17 of the 2012 season. One area to watch will be how Sanchez handles the blitz, something he struggled with his final three seasons with the Jets (2010 to 2012). He bottomed out in 2012 when his Total QBR was 15.1 against the blitz, which was the worst of any qualifying quarterback, and his eight interceptions in that situation tied Tony Romo for the most.
The early returns were positive. Sanchez was 7-of-9 against the Texans’ blitz Sunday. Both of his touchdown passes came against extra pressure. When the Texans used a more conservative rush, however, Sanchez struggled.
Sanchez was 4-of-4 on passes from outside the pocket, including his touchdown to Jeremy Maclin in the fourth quarter. That one touchdown pass outside the pocket matched the number of touchdown passes Foles has thrown (in 45 passes) from outside the pocket this season.
And throwing to Maclin deep may be a smart plan. Both Foles and Sanchez completed passes to Maclin 30 or more yards past the line of scrimmage Sunday, including a touchdown. Eagles quarterbacks are 3-of-3 with two touchdowns on such passes to Maclin the past two weeks after going 1-of-13 with one touchdown and three interceptions the first six games of the season.
Romo or Weeden ... or Option 3?
The Cowboys travel to London to play the Jaguars on Sunday, but it’s uncertain who will be under center: Romo or Brandon Weeden. Romo’s 64.7 Total QBR over the last three seasons is ninth among 34 qualified quarterbacks. Weeden’s 25.4 QBR ranks last in that time span. Weeden has lost his last eight starts.
The statistics would seem to make it a simple choice, regardless of who plays quarterback: Run with DeMarco Murray and the run game.
The Cowboys ran the ball on 12 of their 26 first-down snaps in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals (46 percent). It was the second time this season that the Cowboys passed more than ran on first down. The other game? A Week 1 loss to the 49ers. The Cowboys’ rush-pass ratio on first down in all other games is at least plus-10 in favor of rushes this season, and they are 6-1 in those games.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
The Cowboys and Redskins meet on Monday Night Football for the 16th time
Dallas leads the MNF series 8-7.
Here are the top stats to know heading into the NFC East matchup.
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray has the NFL record for the most 100-yard rushing games to start a season with seven. Murray's seven 100-yard games are tied for fifth-most in a single season in Cowboys history. The team record is 11, set by Emmitt Smith in 1995. The Cowboys won the Super Bowl that year.
Murray and Smith are the only players in Cowboys history with 900 rushing yards over any seven-game span. Smith had 949 over seven games spanning the 1993-94 seasons.
At his current rate of 26.7 rushes per game, Murray would set an NFL record with 427 rushes for the season. The current record holder is Larry Johnson with 416 for the 2006 Chiefs.
The increased workload helped the Cowboys rack up 423 yards of offense in a Week 7 win over the Giants, marking their fourth consecutive game with at least 400 yards.
Tony Romo has thrown a touchdown pass in 35 straight games. If he throws one against the Redskins, he would tie Brett Favre for the fifth-longest streak in NFL history.
Romo has been the best quarterback in the NFL after halftime this season, leading the league in Total QBR (96) and yards per attempt (10.1) entering Week 8. Romo’s completion percentage (71 percent) and eight touchdowns after halftime rank second in the NFL.
With a win, Romo can get to 70 as a starter in his career. The only two Cowboys quarterbacks who have hit that threshold are Troy Aikman (94) and Roger Staubach (85).
Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy will make his first start since Week 14 of 2011. Among active quarterbacks, only Blaine Gabbert and Brandon Weeden have worse records as a starter.
McCoy will be asked to lead a Redskins team that has not won against an NFC East opponent since knocking off the Cowboys in Week 17 of 2012. The eight-game losing streak within the division is the longest active streak in the NFL.
Moving the football has not been a problem for the Redskins. They entered Week 8 averaging 6.2 yards per play, the second-best average in the NFL. However, their 15 turnovers were tied with the Jaguars for most in the NFL entering this week.
Brandon Marshall caught three touchdown passes to help the Bears catch the 49ers.
For the second time in two weeks, a team that trailed 17-0 in the first half mounted a rally and pulled out a highly improbable victory.
On Sunday night, on the possession after the San Francisco 49ers took a 20-7 lead in the third quarter, the Bears’ win probability dipped to 5.2 percent. The Bears finished that drive with the second of Brandon Marshall’s three touchdown catches, making the score 20-14 and improving their probability of winning to 20.3 percent.
The first snap after the ensuing kickoff was the game’s biggest play in terms of win-probability swing. Kyle Fuller’s interception of Colin Kaepernick’s pass boosted the Bears’ chances of winning by more than 25 percentage points.
The Bears’ win probability surpassed 50 percent on Jay Cutler’s touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett on the next play, and the Bears never had less than a 45 percent likelihood of winning in the final 13 minutes.
Less is more
Whether it’s because the Dallas Cowboys win more often when Tony Romo passes less, or it’s that Romo passes less when the Cowboys are winning, there’s no denying Romo has performed better when he throws fewer passes. In his career, his win-loss record, touchdown-to-interception ratio and Total QBR are much better when he attempts fewer than 30 passes in a game.
Romo threw 29 passes Sunday in the Cowboys' 26-10 win over the Tennessee Titans. He completed 66 percent of his passes, but he was sacked four times and averaged 6.1 air yards per pass. His Total QBR was 63.
Total QBR is a metric on a 0-to-100 scale, with 50 being average. Even when Romo throws 30 or more passes, he performs at a level above the NFL average.
Don’t blame Saints’ offense
The New Orleans Saints have posted an NFL-high plus-30.3 offensive efficiency this season. But their defense and special teams have combined for a minus-34 efficiency, the worst in the NFL. Efficiency accounts for the impact of each play on a team’s potential point margin.
Five other teams since 2006 have posted a worse defense/special teams efficiency in their first two games, and four of them finished under .500. But there might be some hope for New Orleans -- the 2007 New York Giants finished 10-6 and won the Super Bowl.
AP Photo/James D. SmithA source tells ESPN that Tony Romo will miss the remainder of the season.
The day after throwing a game-winning touchdown to put the Dallas Cowboys in a winner-take-all game against the Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday night, Tony Romo’s luck took a drastic turn.
A source tells ESPN that Romo will miss the remainder of the season with a back injury. Here is a look at how much he will be missed in Big D:
Romo vs. all others
It has been all Romo in Dallas since 2006. He made his first career start in Week 8 of that season. He has missed 13 games since becoming the starter.
Jon Kitna (nine games), Brad Johnson (three) and Stephen McGee (one), have started in relief of Romo since 2006. They have won a combined six of those 13 starts while enjoying far less success throwing the ball.
Romo has thrown 31 touchdown passes this season, tied for the second-highest total in Cowboys’ history and five shy of the team record, which he set in 2007. Romo is the only quarterback in team history to throw for 30 or more touchdown passes in a season. He's done so three times.
The Cowboys have two quarterbacks on their roster – Romo and Kyle Orton. Orton is 35-34 in 69 career starts, but he has not started since Jan. 1, 2012.
Orton signed with the Cowboys prior to the 2012 season and has not been seen much since. Romo has thrown 98.7 percent of the Cowboys’ passes since then – the 11th highest rate for any quarterback in the NFL.
Orton has attempted just 15 passes over the last two seasons and those came in a pair of blowouts when the Cowboys were trailing by 24 points.
In 2011, he started eight games for the Denver Broncos (five) and Kansas City Chiefs (three). Orton had a 59.5 percent completion percentage that season (ranked 20th in the NFL), 7.0 yards per attempt (17th), and a total QBR of 52.4 (18th).
Can they still rely on the pass?
Few teams lean on the pass as much as the Cowboys have this season.
Dallas owns the fifth highest dropback percentage this season at 66 percent. The Cleveland Browns have the highest percentage at 70 percent.
The Cowboys may have to change it up and feed running back DeMarco Murray on Sunday night. This season, 17 running backs have averaged more rushes per game than Murray’s 15.4, despite the fact that Murray is averaging 5.4 yards per rush.
Sunday's exploits only seemed to heighten the perception that Romo is an all-or-nothing quarterback late in close games. Last week, he had a pass intercepted late in the game by Tramon Williams, decreasing the Cowboys’ win probability by 51.1 percentage points, the quarterback’s worst play in terms of win probability differential this season.
Romo’s Total QBR was 99.3 in the 4th quarter Sunday. He finished at 79.4 for the game after starting the 4th quarter at 23.9.
Up Next: Romo faces his 4th career “Week 17 win-or-go-home game” next Sunday against the Eagles. He is 0-3 in his previous 3 games with a 20.7 Total QBR.
After home success, Foles will take to road
Nick Foles’ 96.4 Total QBR in the Philadelphia Eagles' 54-11 victory over the Chicago Bears was the highest in any of his eight career home starts (34.2 home Total QBR in previous seven home starts). But Foles has been much stronger on the road, and he will play in Dallas next week. Foles’ Total QBR is 37.7 points higher on the road over the last two seasons, the best home-to-road differential among qualified quarterbacks since 2012.
Stafford's fourth-quarter struggles
Matthew Stafford threw his fifth fourth-quarter interception in his last six games, and it was returned for a touchdown in the Lions’ overtime loss. He has a 10.6 fourth-quarter Total QBR in his last six games (the Lions are 1-5), the worst rating in the NFL since Week 11. Stafford had a 90.1 fourth-quarter Total QBR in his first nine games, the second-best rating in the NFL through Week 10.
ESPN Stats & Information
Newton erases rough start on final drive
The Carolina Panthers’ win probability was at 4.8% when the Saints had 3rd down with 1:47 left in the game (see chart above), and Cam Newton had a Total QBR of 3.0 at that point. That was in line to be the second-worst Total QBR in a start in his career until he engineered a five-play, 65-yard drive to take the lead. Newton finished with a Total QBR of 16.6, but it was 99.9 on the final drive.
Russell Wilson posted an 11.5 Total QBR against the Cardinals, the worst rating in any of his 31 career starts. Wilson was 0-8 passing with a 0.1 Total QBR when under duress or hit while throwing. Wilson entered the game with a 78.7 Total QBR under such pressure, the second-best rating in the league.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ defense has contributed -7.2 expected points per game to their net scoring margin since Week 11, 27th in the NFL. The Chiefs are allowing an NFL-high 423 yards per game during that span, while recording a sack on 3.2 percent of opponent dropbacks (second-worst in the NFL). Their defensive EPA was 11.0 per game in their first nine games this season (9-0 start), the best in the NFL.
The Dolphins were shut out, and their offensive EPA was -25.1, meaning that unit contributed -25.1 points to their net scoring margin. It was the fourth-worst offensive performance in terms of EPA by any team this season. Ryan Tannehill finished with a 3.2 Total QBR, his first Total QBR game in single digits this season.
Geno Smith had an 83.1 Total QBR in the Jets’ 24-13 victory over the Browns. Smith has had four games with a Total QBR greater than 70.0, and they have come against teams with a combined record of 18-41 (Bills, Falcons, Raiders in addition to the Browns).
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportssTony Romo (right) got it done when needed on Sunday against the Redskins.
Romo led the Cowboys to a comeback win over the Washington Redskins with his late touchdown throw to DeMarco Murray.
This marked the 12th time that Romo has led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in the last three seasons. That’s the most in the NFL in that span. Romo's 23 career game-winning drives are tied with Roger Staubach for the most in Cowboys history (Staubach's 23 include two in the playoffs).
What did Romo do best on Sunday?
Romo threw both of his touchdowns (including the game-winner to Murray) outside the pocket on Sunday.
Romo has four touchdown passes from outside the pocket in his last three games, with at least one in each game. He only had one in his first 11 games of the season.
The game-winning play
Murray’s touchdown catch was unusual in a number of respects. Entering the day, he’d only run three fourth-down pass routes in his entire career.
Romo had only thrown one fourth-down pass all season (an incomplete one against the Chicago Bears) prior to Sunday.
But there was some indication that the struggles the Cowboys had on those first three plays could be erased.
Romo entered the day having completed 71 percent of his fourth-down passes (and had a completion earlier in the fourth quarter), the highest completion percentage of any active quarterback. He was 20 for 25 (80 percent) on fourth-down throws in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Next Sunday, the Cowboys will play in their eighth win-or-go-home game in Week 17 or the playoffs with Tony Romo as the starting quarterback.
They are 1-6 in the previous seven games, 0-3 in those games that were played in Week 17.
In the seven games, Romo has completed 61 percent of his passes, but has only eight touchdown throws and seven interceptions.
Each of the three Week 17 games was played on the road, with the Cowboys losing by a combined 65 points.
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys have made it a habbit of losing games in which they held a late lead.
Their average win probability across all plays in the game was 81.6 percent. That is the fifth-highest average win probability in a loss since 2006 (as far back as our win probability data goes) and the highest since the Philadelphia Eagles used a DeSean Jackson punt-return touchdown on the final play of the game to complete a comeback against the New York Giants in 2010.
Over the last couple years, the Cowboys have made it a routine of “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” – losing games in which winning appeared nearly certain.
So what is the cause of this problem? Is it the play-calling? The quarterback? Or the defense?
We start with Jason Garrett’s post-game press conference Sunday, where he said “The idea was to run the ball and use clock…it was a run call though, that [Tony Romo] threw the ball on.”
But that was just one play of 15 the team ran in the fourth quarter Sunday. They dropped back 12 times and ran it three times. It’s the third time this season in which a team ran at least 10 plays with the lead in the fourth quarter and dropped back to pass 80 percent of the time. Those teams lost all three times.
How rare is it for teams to pass the ball in the situation the Cowboys were in?
Entering this week’s action, teams since 2001 have rushed the ball 94.7 percent of the time (3,061 rushes on 3,234 snaps) on first or second down when leading by 7 or fewer in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter.
The league average play call when leading this season is 53 percent pass, 47 percent rush. The Cowboys entered Sunday with the second-lowest rush percentage when ahead (37 percent).
Sam Shields' interception was Romo’s seventh of his career that came in the fourth quarter or overtime with his team tied or leading by one possession, two more than any other quarterback since he joined the league.
Maligned rookie Geno Smith is the only other quarterback to throw multiple fourth-quarter interceptions in the same game when the score is within five points this season.
One week after the Chicago Bears did not punt a single time against the Cowboys, the Cowboys defense allowed the Green Bay Packers to score on all five of their drives in the second half Sunday, excluding the kneel at the end of the game.
In the last two weeks, the Cowboys defense has been on the field for 20 drives where the opponent didn’t have game-ending kneels. It’s allowed 10 touchdowns and four field goals while forcing just four punts.
The Cowboys are 1-2 this season in games in which they score at least 35 points. The rest of the NFL is a combined 51-2.
-Micah Adams, Alok Pattani and John Carr contributed to this post.
AP Photo/James D. SmithTony Romo threw two interceptions in the final three minutes against the Packers
Tony Romo’s interception with 1:24 left in the 4th quarter against the Packers dropped the Cowboys’ win probability by 51.1 percentage points, the 2nd-most costly 4th-quarter interception in his career in terms of win probability (the most costly was Darrelle Revis’ interception of Romo in 2011; see chart below). His interception earlier in the quarter dropped the Cowboys’ win probability by 17.5 percentage points (from 88.6% to 71.1%) and set up the Packers' go-ahead touchdown.
Romo has thrown 7 career 4th-quarter interceptions that have dropped his team’s win probability by at least 20 percentage points (the Cowboys have lost all 7 games). Using that definition of a costly interception, only Matt Schaub (8) has thrown more than Romo since 2006.
Cowboys’ defense non-existent
The Cowboys’ defense contributed -22.8 expected points to the team’s net scoring margin in the 2nd half against the Packers. That is the worst defensive EPA by any team in the 2nd half of a game this season.
The Packers scored a touchdown on each of their 2nd-half drives, excluding their final drive, which was 3 kneel downs. The Packers got first downs on 47 percent of their 2nd-half plays and converted 6-of-7 third downs during that span.
The Cowboys’ defensive EPA is -6.8 points per game this season. Only the Vikings (-8.0) have been worse.
EPA looks at the impact of every play on each team's potential points, attributing those to the actual unit on the field – offense, defense or special teams. When aggregated over the course of a game or season, EPA numbers show how much each unit contributed to the team's final point margin. EPA takes into account each unit’s impact on moving the ball, creating turnovers and scoring points.
Cutler good when it counts
Jay Cutler had a 99.9 Total QBR in the 4th quarter, completing 5-of-7 passes for 71 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Bears’ 38-31 win over the Browns. Cutler's Total QBR in the 4th quarter this season is 95.2, 1st in the NFL among qualified QBs.
Cutler overcame 2 costly interceptions in the game. His 1st interception, thrown into the end zone on 1st and 10 at the Browns’ 14, cost the Bears an expected 4.9 points. Combined with his pick-six in the second quarter, Cutler cost the Bears 11.0 expected points with his 2 interceptions.
Saints leave offense at home
The Saints' offense contributed 6.0 expected points to their net scoring margin against the Rams, almost doubling their offensive EPA on the road this season (now at 13.3, 15th in NFL). Their offense has added 104.9 expected points at home this season, and no team averages more per game.
Drew Brees’ Total QBR was 35.5 against the Rams and is 55.8 on the road (12th in NFL) this season. It is 80.3 at home (2nd in NFL).
Eli Manning’s Total QBR was 2.1 against the Seahawks, his worst Total QBR in a game since the start of the 2006 season. Manning threw a career-high 5 interceptions, and converted one of nine third downs. Manning’s Total QBR this season is 36.0, more than 10 points worse than his previous low (46.2, 2006).
Matt Cassel posted a career-high 96.3 Total QBR (min. 15 action plays) against the Eagles. Brett Favre (97.5) is the only Vikings quarterback to post a higher Total QBR in a game since 2006 (44-7 win in Week 17, 2009, vs Giants).
The Rams’ special teams added 6.4 expected points against the Saints. They blocked a field goal attempt by Garrett Hartley, and Hartley missed another field goal wide left late in the game. The Rams’ special teams unit has added 2.4 expected points per game this season, 2nd in the NFL behind the Chiefs (3.0).
Carson Palmer posted an 86.6 Total QBR against the Titans. His Total QBR is 77.6 since Week 8, 2nd-best in the NFL behind Josh McCown (Cardinals: 6-1 during that span).
The Chiefs’ offensive EPA was 21.2 against the Raiders, their 2nd-highest total in a game since the start of the 2006 season. The Chiefs’ offense added 20.3 expected points from Jamaal Charles’ 5 touchdowns (over 95% of their offensive EPA). Charles’ last touchdown added 6.2 expected points. EPA is measured on a play-by-play basis, taking the difference between what the expected points an average team would be expected to score in that same situation (based on historical NFL data), from their expected points after the play, and adding them up through the course of a game.