Is Matthew Stafford the Real Tony Romo?

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IDecember 18, 2013

Dec 16, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) throws a pass during the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Save for being polar opposites on the draft scale, Matthew Stafford and Tony Romo aren't all that different quarterbacks.

Both are big-armed, risk-taking gunslingers. Both have huge contracts indicative of elite players at their position. Both pile up passing yards, touchdowns and interceptions. Both either have or are growing a reputation for crumbling at the most inopportune times.

Yet one, Romo, spends every week in the sweltering heat of the national spotlight. The other, Stafford, toils away in the football outpost known as Detroit, seemingly immune to the kind of criticism Romo deals with at every turn.

A big factor in that reality is that Romo plays in Dallas, where the Cowboys are one of the game's most popular and heavily covered teams. There is a certain sense of star power derived from simply wearing the star on your helmet. Detroit and the Honolulu blue lion do not have the same kind of prominence in the NFL.

However, plenty ties the two quarterbacks together.

And let's not forget: Stafford was once a No. 1 overall draft choice. Romo is an undrafted quarterback who came up the hard way. Their paths to this point are very different, but each one's present is similar.

Look no further than Week 15 for evidence.

Romo has been once again vilified for his role in the Cowboys' most recent stunning collapse. He threw two fourth-quarter interceptions that were vital to Green Bay's comeback win.

His first, and most damaging, came on a play when he threw on a run-pass option, only for Packers cornerback Sam Shields to intercept him. On the play, Romo initially ducked under a sack attempt and threw across his body with his hips open. It's far from ideal mechanics, even though the throw wasn't exactly a poor one. Shields made a terrific play on the ball and prevented a sure touchdown.

Here's a screen shot of Romo releasing the pass:

NFL Game Rewind
NFL Game RewindNFL Game Rewind

As expected, most of the national media ripped Romo a new one for his ill-timed mistake. He certainly deserved blame: All the Cowboys needed to do was execute two more run plays and kill the clock. Romo's pick gave the Packers a chance to win the game.

A day later, however, Stafford made a similar mistake in a similar situation.

In Stafford's case, the Lions were trailing by two with 38 seconds left. On first down, Stafford threw falling off his back foot, and Ravens safety Matt Elam intercepted his pass when it sailed over the head of an outstretched Calvin Johnson.

Here's a screen shot of Stafford's delivery:

NFL Game Rewind
NFL Game RewindNFL Game Rewind

The narrative wasn't nearly as harsh on Stafford, who only needed to go 45 or so yards—with a full complement of timeouts—to give his team a chance to win the game. Instead, the Lions were one-play-and-done when Stafford airmailed a vertical route on first down.

Poor mechanics in a big situation led to an interception. Same script, different narratives. But the Stafford-Romo comparisons go much deeper than just one play.

You want passing yards and interceptions? These two have you covered.

Stafford has thrown for over 14,000 yards since 2011. He also has 71 picks in 59 career games. Romo has thrown for nearly 13,000 yards over that same span, with 100 interceptions in 107 career starts.

You want big offense? These two also have you covered.

The Lions have been in the top five in total yards in each of the last three seasons. Twice they've been in the top 10 in points. The Cowboys were sixth in yards in 2012 and are now fourth in points this season.

What about contracts? Both signed mega-deals this past offseason.

In July, Stafford put his name to a deal that will pay him $76.5 million over the next five years. A whopping $41.5 million of that deal is fully guaranteed. Four months earlier, Romo signed a seven-year, $119.5 million deal. His contract contains $55 million in guaranteed money.

Are collapses your thing? Check it off for both.

This season, Stafford has a 53.4 passer rating in December, five interceptions with the game within seven points and one win in the last five games. Romo's Cowboys have blown four double-digit leads. And his reputation as a choker—fair or not—precedes this season.

Of course, the overwhelming talent is also there.

Stafford has one of the NFL's biggest arms, capable of making any throw to any part of the field. He was the first pick in the 2009 draft for a reason. Romo's arm isn't as strong, but he too can make every throw. And he's one of the game's great improvisers in and outside the pocket.

Comparing Matthew Stafford to Tony Romo, 2011-2013
Passing Yards14,21612,689
Completion Percentage60.565.3
Passer Rating87.596.1
4th Quarterback Comebacks810
Source: Pro Football Reference

Yet for all the similarities, stark differences are evident.

Glancing over the two quarterbacks' career accomplishments, it's a wonder that Romo takes all the heat and Stafford remains relatively unscathed on a national scale.

Romo is currently the sixth-highest-rated passer of all time. His 95.8 career passer rating is just 0.1 behind Tom Brady and 0.7 ahead of Drew Brees.

Through five seasons, Stafford has a career passer rating of 83.5. It ranks 32nd all-time. His career-high rating came in 2011, when he finished at 97.2—or just slightly better than Romo's career average. Three times in five seasons, including 2013, Stafford has been below 90.0.

Passer rating isn't a perfect statistic, but it does encompass much of what a quarterback does throwing the football. And historically, it has a high correlation with playing winning football.

What about wins?

Stafford has now played 59 career games. That's a large enough sample size to begin making conclusions.

Over those 59 games, Stafford is just 24-35 overall. He has just one winning season—in 2011—plus a 2-8 year as a rookie and a 4-12 finish in 2012. His lone playoff trip in '11 resulted in a Wild Card Round loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Romo, on the other hand, is 62-45 overall. He has four winning seasons, three seasons at .500 and one year when he played just six games and was 1-5. He's been to the postseason three times and currently controls his destiny to make a fourth playoff appearance.

This season hasn't been much different for either quarterback.

Stafford's 2013 season has come tumbling down.
Stafford's 2013 season has come tumbling down.Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Romo has 29 touchdown passes, Stafford 28. But any comparison probably ends there.

Romo is completing 64.0 percent of his passes with nine interceptions and a passer rating of 96.6. Stafford is six points down in completion percentage (58.0) with 17 interceptions—including 10 in the last five games—and a passer rating of just 85.8.

About those last five games: Among quarterbacks with at least 75 attempts since Week 11, Stafford ranks 32nd in interceptions (10), 31st in completion percentage (51.1) and 30th in passer rating (69.2). And this run has come with the Packers and Bears, who have passed the Lions in the NFC North standings, missing their starting quarterbacks.

Maybe this should be expected from Stafford late in the season. The Lions have lost seven straight games in the month of December, which is the longest active losing streak in the NFL. Since 2009, Detroit is 7-15 in December or January regular-season games.

Why again is Romo labeled one of the game's biggest underachievers, while Stafford is called one of the bright young quarterbacks? These two are the same player, only Romo has the numbers and wins. Stafford has 2011. And that's really it.

Matthew Stafford, 2011 vs. 2012-13
December W-L3-10-7
Completion Percentage63.559.0
Passer Rating97.282.4
Source: Pro Football Reference

Over the last two seasons, Stafford has 11 wins, 19 losses, a completion percentage of 59.0, 34 interceptions and a passer rating of 82.4.

Can you imagine if Romo had put together two consecutive seasons with those numbers? In Dallas? He'd be run out of Texas.

Stafford escapes national criticism mostly because he has a head coach who takes on a majority of the blame, but also because he's the best quarterback in franchise history. Now, his faults are starting to become more obvious.

Calvin Johnson, who dropped two of Stafford's passes Monday night, came to his quarterback's defense.

“Matt’s doing good, man," Johnson said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. "Like I said, it’s on us. It’s a team effort."

Football is a team game, and quarterbacks generally receive too much of the credit and too much of the blame. But that's the way it goes for quarterbacks once drafted No. 1 overall and now making nearly $80 million.

Deliver big and consistently, or receive the wrath. Romo knows the dance all too well.

Stafford is just learning the steps—but he's just as deserving of the criticisms persistently leveled at Romo.


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