Thus far, I have dissected the 2010 play of the Dallas Cowboys players at every position other than quarterback—I saved the best for last.
Grading the quarterback position is much different than doing so for the other positions in that statistics, while plentiful for the position, are less indicative of a quarterback’s success than for other players.
The primary responsibility of a quarterback is to lead his team to victory, no matter what it takes. Some quarterbacks put up huge numbers, but simply are not winners.
Tony Romo is not one of those quarterbacks. Yes, he has the ability to put up flashy stats, but he is also a tremendous leader. While that statement is far from a consensus opinion, particularly among ill-informed fans, I wholeheartedly believe Romo leads by example and is even more vocal than most realize.
Romo’s detractors will point to the success of Jon Kitna this season as evidence that Romo thrives because of the offense, not any elite ability of his own. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Cowboys were successful with Kitna this season because they made acquiring a top-notch backup quarterback a priority. Kitna is superior to many of the starting quarterbacks in the league, but he’s not on the level of Romo.
Nonetheless, I have compiled a wide range of statistics and analysis on both Romo and Kitna. Some of these numbers are taken from previous articles and some are unique. The stats (representing on-field play) though, will only make up half of my final grade for the quarterbacks. The other half will consist of leadership and intangibles.
On-Field Play: B
There’s no doubt that Romo struggled some during his five-plus games in 2010. He threw seven interceptions—just two fewer than his 16-game total in 2009. Still, it wasn’t as if Romo was horrible. He was on pace to set a career-high for completion percentage (by far, at 69.5 percent). Despite the pedestrian 11:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, Romo’s 94.5 passer rating was on par with his 95.5 career rating.
Here are a few other notes on Romo’s 2010 play:
Romo was the most inaccurate when throwing over the middle of the field this season. That stat seems to be susceptible to fluctuations, as he was actually the most accurate over the middle during the prior season.
His lack of accuracy over the middle is reflected in his location-based passer ratings. The highest passer rating Romo recorded in zone over the middle of the field was just 96.0, compared to 118.2 on the left side and a perfect 158.3 on the right side.
Romo wasn’t very successful with his checks in 2010. The offense averaged 0.72 extra yards-per-pass on Romo’s pass audibles, but a full yard less per carry on Romo’s run checks.
Romo reportedly put in just as much time after his season-ending injury as he did before it. He helped Kitna in any way possible. Let’s not forget this guy also tried to return to the field just minutes after fracturing his collarbone.
On-Field Play: C+
People tend to mold their interpretation of events based on preconceived notions. I talk a lot about how fans tend to overvalue the play of rookies/undrafted players/backups due to low expectations. Meanwhile, high-profile players get devalued because people think they should be at their peak at all times. This phenomenon is why many have written off Anthony Spencer and, inversely, overvalued Kitna.
Don’t get me wrong—Kitna was really good in 2009 and proved he’s one of the premiere backup quarterbacks in the NFL—but he’s not Tony Romo. Not even close.
Kitna put up just a 4:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and an 88.9 passer rating. Let’s be real—if Romo put up those numbers, fans would be calling for his head.
Here’s more of Kitna’s stats in 2010:
Kitna was by far the most inaccurate when throwing to the right side of the field (27.2 percent of passes that way were off-target).
Kitna’s passer rating was generally superior to Romo’s on short throws, and vice versa on deep throws. This seems to fit with the respective skill set of each quarterback. Kitna is a more accurate quarterback who likes to drop back, plant his foot into the ground and deliver the football in rhythm. It’s difficult to be incredibly accurate 20+ yards downfield, however.
Romo’s accuracy and passer rating is best on long throws not because of his arm, but his legs. Romo’s mobility allows him to buy time so receivers can get wide open down the field.
Amazingly, Kitna threw nearly the exact same number of passes to the left, middle and right portions of the field.
Kitna checked into a run the exact same number of times as a pass. The ‘Boys averaged nearly a full yard more per rush on Kitna’s checks, but 0.40 less yards-per-pass.
Kitna’s fire is contagious. Nearly immediately after taking over the starting gig, Kitna became a much more vocal player. This isn’t a criticism of Romo, but it sure is fun to see that sort of energy from your quarterback.
2010 Overall Quarterback Grades
1. Tony Romo: B (85.0)
2009 Grade: A (94.0)
2. Jon Kitna: B- (82.0)
2009 Grade: None
I didn’t hand out a grade to third-string quarterback Stephen McGee, but I did see some positives during the season. He’s very mobile, making things happen with his feet and his arm is of adequate strength. He needs to improve upon his decision-making and must become a more accurate passer when in the pocket, but there are signs for optimism.
Still, he’s not ready for extended playing time. Everyone loves the bench players until they actually have to play. I’ll leave you with the same Michael Irvin quote I posted in last year’s quarterback grades:
"Can we get Drew Bledsoe back out here (for) just a week so you guys can really fall back in love with Tony? Let’s put Drew Bledsoe back out here, because sometimes when you have a pretty girl for awhile, you forget how pretty she is. But when you throw the ugly girl next to her, you say, ‘No, I’m really doing well.’ Maybe we need to bring Drew out so we know we’re really doing well."