How bad have Tony Romo’s defenses been?


I hate the “Quarterback Wins” stat. Although the quarterback is the most important position in any sport, he is just one of 22 players on the field at a time. He is one person on a 53 man roster. In my opinion, Tony Romo gets far too much blame considering the defenses that he has played with. He is consistently having to overcome a porous defense. So today we are going to look at how Tony Romo’s past defenses compare to other elite quarterbacks in the NFL. Here are the things in the chart that you need to know:

– I took the four major defensive stats (Yards/Game, Points/Game, Red Zone Efficiency, and Turnovers) and listed the team’s rank in each year.

– I also took the QB’s total turnover numbers (interceptions + fumbles) and added them to the end of the chart. The reason being is that I have heard multiple arguments about how Tony Romo turns the ball over so much that he puts his defenses in bad situations, therefore, creating the illusion that they are worse than they really are.

– I then took the average of each stat over all the years that the quarterback started to show what their average defensive rank was in all four categories.

– The years that are highlighted in purple are years in which that team made the playoffs

Got it? So let’s look first at Tony Romo:

Tony Romo Chart


As you can see, Romo has had a below-average defense for the majority of his career. Romo also averages about one turnover per game, which isn’t as high as you may think. We will get to that later. The fascinating thing about this chart is that it shows that anytime the Cowboys have had a defense that is even slightly above average in Points-Per-Game that they have made the playoffs, even despite the lack of turnovers in both years. But it’s hard to get a feel of how Romo compares to the rest of the league without showing him relative to other quarterbacks. We have a lot of examples to show, but let’s see him compared to Russell Wilson:


Russell Wilson


Wilson averages one less turnover per game, but his defense has been the best in the league in Points-Per-Game in both years that he started. Ok, so maybe this isn’t a fair comparison because he has only played two seasons, so let’s look two different players who are considered elite quarterbacks who have a longer resume.


Joe Flacco Chart


Flacco has had the luxury of playing with four top three defenses (Points-Per-Game) and three different times a Red Zone defense that was the first or second best unit in the league. Flacco also gives the ball away on average four more times a year than Romo. When Flacco’s defense wasn’t elite in Points-Per-Game or in red zone rank, his team did not make the playoffs. Look at it this way. Flacco’s worst defense (2013) would’ve been comparable to Romo’s second best defense of his career (2007). This next one should be very eye-opening to Romo haters:


Ben Roethlisberger's Chart


In six of Ben Roethlisberger’s 10 seasons as the Steelers starting quarterback, he’s had either the number one scoring defense or the number one defense in total yards. And in three years, he had both! Take a look at Ben’s turnovers as well. His 16.2 turnovers per year are eerily similar to Tony Romo’s 16.7. How can you expect Tony Romo to succeed as well as Ben Roethlisberger when Romo’s average defense is 13 spots lower than Ben’s? And again, let’s look at Ben Roethlisberger’s worse defense. In 2013, Ben’s defense was just slightly above-average in Points-Per Game and Yards-Per-Game. That season would compare to Romo’s 2007 defense. Again, his second best defense of his career.

So who is Tony Romo’s best comparison in terms of his average defensive ranking throughout his career? Well it’s actually Eli Manning. Take a look:

Eli Manning Chart


Eli and Romo’s defenses rival each other in PPG , YPG, and red zone rank. But there are two major differences in their charts. First, Eli averages nearly eight more turnovers per year than Romo and Eli’s defenses are 10 spots better in the red zone than Romo’s. But this is the closest comparison I could find to Romo. Maybe we should give Eli more credit for getting his team into the playoffs more than we do.

I think it’s only fair to adjust expectations of quarterbacks and their team’s expected wins based on what type of defense they roll out onto the field. If Romo was given even Ben Roethlisberger’s worst defense of his career in 2013, they would’ve easily made the playoffs. That is just sad. Sure, Tony Romo has made his share of mistakes, just like all quarterbacks. But his career has been largely wasted due to his below-average defenses. If you are interested in seeing another quarterback’s defense, feel free to email me at or tweet me @Marcus_Mosher

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  • Martin

    What about the pass attempts vs. completion rate, when he does not follow the game plan and just wants to throw it, and how many 3 and outs per game cause by just throwing the ball , you know when the offense gets 3 plays and the defense gets to be out there for the next 20, then we get the ball back for 3 more plays and our defense gets to be out there for the next 20 plays….what about that stat? Cause if I remember correctly when our offense plays more then 3 plays our defense plays a whole lot better, an example was the games we won the last 3 yrs. I aint no professional writer…but when a defense plays more then 75% of the game they could get tired…just saying!

    • DDubb

      The 3 and out stat has nothing to do with it! All QB’s have 3 and outs! If you want to compare his offensive performance, just look at how many yards he’s thrown for, and how many td’s he’s passed for! I think you’ll find he’s among the league leaders. You also forget Romo hasn’t had a 1000 yard rusher till last year, well take that back, Felix Jones did early in his career. Anyway, Romo has had to try and make stuff happen on his own to compensate for the lack of a running game and has done pretty damn good considering. You give him a good defense, and he would have won multiple Superbowls. The offense has scored enough points every year to do that.

      • Martin

        All this great stats come for Romo when he plays more then 3 plays at a time, and yes ur right he has not had a 1000 yard rusher in a while, but that’s on Romo he loves changing the plays from a run play to a pass play. This happens a lot when we get behind they forget about the run game and just throw the ball, If I was a PI I could prove that Romo has a lot persuasion with that, and Jason Garret is no fool his not going to leave an 8million dollar salary to go against Jerrys little boy(aka Romo). And yes don’t kid yourself 3 and outs have a lot to do with a game if an offense plays 3 series of 3 an outs (total of 9 plays)and our defense is out there for 3 series of 20 plays(a total of 60 plays) you really think that doesn’t affect the way they play? come on get serious . Don’t get me wrong I been a Cowboy fan all my life, but some one has to point this out, we cant keep blaming the defense for the offense not playing there best, we got rid of Phillips, then we got rid of Ryan, and this year we moved things around for marinelli. Look at D-Ware he called out Romo last year to play better and this year they got rid of Ware. Just think the offense should pick it up!

  • Dan

    I’ve been a staunch Romo defender for years, but it’s not even a battle that’s worth fighting. I agree with you 100%, but you’re never going to convince anyone who doesn’t already agree with you that you’re right. Anyone who has their mind made up that Romo is the problem and needs to be gone isn’t open to having his or her mind changed. The only evidence they’ll listen to is evidence that backs up THEIR (incorrect) point of view.

    But great writing and analysis. As a fellow Cowboys blogger, I appreciate the research and time you put into this.

    • jim

      look there are ok QB that win and there great QB that lose. and there are great QB that win. the problem is that you guys are stat fans. stat don’t win super bowls. Romo,
      Randall Cunningham, Danny white, warren moon. these guy are just chokers. stat fan fall in love with there chokers. Dan Marino and Fran tarkinan, even Jim Kelly, these guys lost because of bad defense also Dan fouts. Those other guys had the chance and choked Mcnabb is a choker too. Its really all jerry jones fault anyway.
      Jimmy Johnson said he could have had troy throw for record yards but his goal was supper bowls stats wins. learn to recognize chokers. when dan green picked Cunningham over brad Johnson in Minnesota. Green chose a great stats mobile QB
      who choked like he choked with the Eagles Brad left and won a superbowl elsewhere.
      the Cowboys have a bad football GM who choose a choker for a QB. As it goes, Eli manning is the ugliest QB I’ve ever seen but he did not choke. stop falling in love with chokers, its like having a hooker as a girlfriend. ha ha ha

      • Jim D

        Danny White a choker? You do realize that he had the team ahead before the defense gave up ‘the catch’? This just shows what the article is trying point out about how wierd people are when they label these QBs. Danny White is not a choker, dude.

  • Michael Sisemore


    Unfortunately by your standards Marino, Fran, and Jim Kelly are all chokers too. “Choker” is the dumbest term in all of sports. It doesn’t have measurables or validity because it’s not factual. It’s just one person’s opinion of the player involved. “Choker” and “Clutch” are two words that should have never been created. You can’t measure “Clutch” or “Choker” so in-turn it means nothing. Fans are ridiculous is their ridicule of Tony Romo or other QBs for that matter. You believe what the analysts say on ESPN and instead of finding the information to prove your arguments invalid. Your not interested in facts or information, you formed your opinion based of guys like Stephen A. Smith and others. The truth is that Romo didn’t get that snap down, he’ll live with that. More importantly though in ’07 Crayton dropped an easy catch-and-score, ’09 Flozell left the game and the line couldn’t keep Romo off the turf. But yeah, I guess all of that is all on Tony, not the rest of his half-assed team.

    • Anonymous

      Clutch and choker can be measured by performance in the winding moments of the game, but to me the label doesn’t stick (it’s more of a verb than adjective).

      Romo is not only impressive but he’s stayed in the top half of players at his position long enough to watch hundreds of other guys take a shot at being an NFL QB. Almost all of the hype that made the Cowboys overrated as a contender is because of Romo (and a little help from Witten).

      When the Cowboys come to my town I’d rather see Weeden behind center. Schaub or Freeman would have been fine too.