Since taking over the starting quarterback job of the Dallas Cowboys in 2006, Tony Romo has put up all kinds of numbers. Some of these numbers are good and others are bad, but what matters most is what the entire sum tells us.
Some will point to Romo's yardage.
Others will undoubtedly point to interceptions.
Many simply count playoff victories.
Personally, I like to refer to team rushing yards in attempting to define the 11th-year veteran from Eastern Illinois. More on that in a minute.
I also look at the fact that, starting in '06, Romo has never thrown for fewer than 4,000 yards in any season unless he was injured and missed games or simply didn't play, as was the case the year he unseated Drew Bledsoe as the Cowboys' signal-caller.
Heading into 2013, Romo has thrown 177 touchdowns to 91 interceptions. Simply put, he throws nearly twice as many touchdowns as he does interceptions, part of the reason he boasts a quarterback rating of 95.6.
Could Romo be a better quarterback?
Of course, but at this point in his career, this idea necessitates other elements that don't only pertain to Romo himself.
Back to the Dallas running game: In the one season during the Romo era that the Dallas offense has compiled over 2,000 yards rushing, the undrafted quarterback led the franchise to its first and only playoff victory since the 1996 postseason. In sharp contrast, the Cowboys plummeted to just 1,265 yards rushing as an offense last season—obviously there was no postseason.
The real lesson here is that running the football matters. As Dallas hangs around 1,500 to 1,800 yards rushing as a team, the Cowboys are nothing more than a marginal playoff contender. When Dallas gets close to or surpasses 2,000 yards, the team is much stronger and much more capable of winning games.
So, you can choose for yourself which numbers matter the most, but it's important to consider more statistics than just touchdowns and interceptions.
Romo has performed like an elite quarterback when he's had the same essential ingredients that other winning quarterbacks have, like a strong running game and top-notch pass protection. Those elements were more prevalent during Romo's first few seasons starting, but they've been pretty weak over the last four years.
There's also an intangible that can't really be counted as a stat. I refer to Romo's ability to buy time and extend plays, generally due to lousy protection. While injuries have certainly minimized Romo's impact on the franchise in recent seasons, I would argue that his ability outside the pocket is about as good as any other passer in NFL history.
Romo also has the benefit of having played in the same offensive system since his second year under center. While I've never been much of a believer in head coach Jason Garrett's offensive philosophy, I'll at least acknowledge that Romo knows the playbook as well as he can, and the minute he has a dependable ground game and better pass protection, he'll instantly become a contending quarterback.
Food for thought: Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman amassed 32,942 yards passing during his 12 years with Dallas, and he was the starter in each and every season.
Romo, in just six and a half seasons, has already tossed the football for 25,737 yards. By the end of the 2014 regular season, Romo will likely become the franchise's all-time leading passer in yardage.
Romo's 177 touchdown passes already outranks Aikman's career total of 165.
Now, this is not to say that Romo is a better quarterback than Aikman. But I will say that Romo is better at some things than Aikman was, even if those superior qualities have not translated into the kind of success that Aikman achieved.
Some felt as though Aikman was going to be a bust prior to the championship season of 1992. It was said that he threw too many interceptions and couldn't stay healthy.
Have some not said that same things about Romo, despite the fact that he has never had the supporting cast that Aikman did for the last two-thirds of the former quarterback's career?
Yes, they have.
But the same thing that turned around the career of Aikman will have to come into play for Romo to have any chance to lead Dallas to at least one Super Bowl—offensive balance.
The numbers say that Romo is a stud quarterback that definitely deserves the massive contract extension he received last March from owner and general manager Jerry Jones.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.