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:
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:
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.
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:
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @Marcus_Mosher