Dallas Cowboys: Why Supporting Cast, Not Tony Romo, Is the Problem

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 16, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 01:  Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys warms up piror to playing against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on January 1, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

In Dallas, where the Cowboys—America's Team!—have won only a single playoff game since the Clinton administration, there is indeed a problem. But the problem is not Antonio Ramiro Romo. 

I get it. It's easy to point a finger at the quarterback when you're mired in a Super Bowl drought and a playoff slump, especially when you and your parents and grandparents became so accustomed to the team winning consistently in previous decades. Plus, the standards in North Texas have been warped additionally by the lineage of heroic pivots who donned blue, white and silver in generations past.

So if directing all of your negative energy at Tony Romo helps you sleep at night, be my guest. But the reality is that Romo had very little to do with the Cowboys flopping the last two seasons. 

 Some facts:

  • Prior to breaking his left clavicle in the sixth game of the 2010 season, Romo had completed 69.5 percent of his passes, which would have led the league. That despite the fact the Cowboys were 1-5 during said stretch. In that small window, the running game gave Romo only a single effort of 105-plus yards and the Cowboys lost despite getting 20-plus points from the offense on four occasions.
  • Last year, only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady posted higher passer ratings than Romo (102.5). He also had the third-highest completion percentage and the seventh best yards-per-attempt average in the league. Romo had fewer interceptions than Brees and Brady and more touchdown passes than Eli Manning. The Cowboys lost despite scoring 30-plus points on two occasions and also fell short in a game where they scored 24.

Can you tell where I'm going with this? 

Let's take it a step or two further. ESPN statistics guru K.C. Joyner stated in a column this week that Romo is a top-five quarterback. Some of Joyner's conclusions:

  • Romo is even better when he goes deep, ranking in the top three in the league in yards per attempt on passes travelling 20 yards or more.
  • Despite being known as a gunslinger, Romo's "bad decision ratio" ranked fifth among qualifying quarterbacks in 2011.
  • His high YPA number when throwing to lesser receivers indicates that Romo is able to successfully raise his level of play to those around him.

But Romo stumbles in clutch situations, right? Not so. At least not chronically or to more of a degree than other elite quarterbacks. With the score within seven in the fourth quarter in 2011, Romo's passer rating was 99.8 and his overall fourth-quarter rating was 104.4. Only two of his 10 interceptions came during those periods. His fourth-quarter numbers were abysmal with a small sample size during his shortened 2010 campaign, but in 2008 and 2009 Romo threw a grand total of three fourth-quarter interceptions.

The country just feels like it sees Romo fail more than anyone else because it sees Romo play more than pretty much anyone else. 

The Pythagorean theorem isn't required to conclude that the Dallas defense and running game have let Romo down a hell of a lot more than he has failed his teammates. Recently, I believe two weaknesses have hampered this team, and neither involves Romo.

1. The defense gave up 23.1 points per game after rushing the transition to Rob Ryan's scheme last season. The secondary was torched to the tune of a 100.1 opponent passer rating and the pass rush didn't get enough pressure to compensate for poor coverage.

2. The running game has lacked consistency. The final 2011 numbers (4.4 yards per carry, 112 yards per game) weren't too shabby, but those were distorted by two or three monster performances from DeMarco Murray. The coaching staff has also taken heat for ditching the run too quickly.

The good news is that they've taken some extreme steps to fix the defense (Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr should immediately upgrade the secondary) and Murray's healthy again. He and Felix Jones could make up one hell of a one-two punch. 

The 32-year-old Romo is still smack dab in the middle of his prime, and his supporting cast is finally looking legit. Ryan will have a full offseason to install his defense properly. Miles Austin will presumably be ready this time around. Two shiny new potential stars are penciled in at corner, and a stud left tackle will anchor Romo's blind side. 

There's a lot of time for excrement to hit the fan, but the circumstances in Dallas could give Romo a chance to finally silence his hilariously myopic doubters and win some playoff games. 

Of course, then, they'll probably give all the credit to the same supporting cast that struggled to help Romo in years past.