Despite what the general consensus may be, Tony Romo is a very good quarterback. He has a career 95.8 passer rating. He’s completed almost 65% of his passes for 7.8 yard per attempt. He has an impressive 208 TD passes in 108 career starts. For context, Peyton Manning had 211 TD passes through his first 108 starts. Tom Brady had 192. Yet no one would be caught dead comparing Romo to Manning or Brady, and there is a clear reason for this – Romo makes too many bad mistakes.
It’s unfair to hold Tony Romo’s playoff record and lack of playoff appearances against him. Those are measurements of team success more so than individual success. As cliché as it sounds, football is a team sport, and too often quarterbacks are judged by wins or team accomplishments. Even though winning is the only thing that ultimately matters, a quarterback can’t just go into a game saying to himself, “I’m just going to do the thing where we win today.” If that were the case, practices would be really easy.
Instead, a quarterback has to take it one snap at a time. He has to go through his reads play after play. He has to do his job and hope that the rest of the team is doing theirs at the same time. Quarterbacks certainly impact the game more than any other one position in football, but they need help. They need good defenses or running games to win. You’d be hard pressed to say that Romo has had that regularly during his time in Dallas.
For the most part, Romo does do his job. He has good anticipation. He’s accurate. He has a strong enough arm to make all of the necessary throws. He can win late in the down from the pocket as well as when things break down. One of his biggest assets is his ability to improvise after the design of the play has failed. If a quarterback can do this as a contingency it can be deadly, and Romo does generally only resort to a sandlot-style of play as a last option.
Romo is also one of the best in the league at moving defenders with pump fakes and shoulder rolls. He does this from the pocket as well as when he’s making it up on the fly. The ability to hold and move defenders is an absolutely vital skill for a quarterback to have.
Romo’s decision-making is most often the thing that gets him into trouble. You’ve seen enough of this throughout his career to not just have to take our word for it. He can also be had with blitz pressure. This isn’t something that necessarily has defined his career. He isn’t awful against the blitz or anything. However, when pressure is in his line of vision, either up the middle or to his right, he gets more frenetic in the pocket. Instead of sticking with the play and making the proper read, he’ll look to escape first. Often times he does escape because he has enough athleticism to do so, but other times he misses plays that would not only keep the offense in rhythm, but would also deter the defense from blitzing as much in the future. Sometimes he’ll take a sack or throw an errant interception when his hot read or sight adjust was open quickly. He can be fooled by disguised coverages and blitzes, and this is how defenses have had the most success getting him to make mistakes throughout his career.
Ultimately, Romo is a very good quarterback without many flaws. Unfortunately, those flaws show up in big ways and at awful times. He also hasn’t really had the type of team around him to mask or make up for his flaws. Judging by how the Cowboys look at the moment, it doesn’t appear likely that 2014 will be much different.