Is Tony Romo really a poor big game QB?

The question of whether Romo should start over Prescott when healthy is the hot topic amongst Dallas Cowboys’ fans and other sports talking heads. I have my own opinions on that subject, but one of the points for Dak Prescott is Tony Romo’s futile resume in big games. I always thought the narrative of Romo may be skewed so I decided to do some stat digging and see how Romo actually plays in big games.

Tony Romo, when healthy, is one of the better regular season quarterbacks I have ever seen. He has a 78-49 record (.614), 65.3 completion percentage (4th all time), 97.1 QB Rating (3rd all time), and has a strong 247:117 TD:Int ratio. As previously stated, the cloud that looms over his head is that he does not play well in big games. Many Romo supporters point to his strong postseason numbers: 61.6% completion percentage, 93 QB Rating, 8 TDs/2 Int. I decided to look a little further and add “play in” games that had playoff implications to show how Tony, his offense, and his defense play in these games with dire consequences.

2006: Seattle Seahawks 21, Dallas Cowboys 20

This was the infamous dropped snap game where Romo was serving as the holder for kicker Martin Gramatica. He was the holder to begin the season and kept the duties after taking over for Drew Bledsoe as QB. The offense scored 13 points in this game and defense allowed 19 points. (Miles Austin had a KR TD for DAL and Seattle had a safety).

Romo’s stat line: 17/29, 189 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT

2007: New York Giants 21, Dallas Cowboys 17

The 13-3 Dallas Cowboys were 7 point favorites against the eventual Superbowl Champion New York Giants. Romo’s offense was good for 17 points, while his defense allowed 21 points. The game ended with an RW McQuarters interception to seal a win for the G-Men.

Romo’s stat line: 18/36, 201 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int

2008: Philadelphia Eagles 44, Dallas Cowboys 6

The winner of this game would advance to the playoffs as the NFC Wild Card. The Cowboys were never really in this game with their offense putting up a paltry 6 points. Their defense “only” allowed 30 points as Philly’s D has 2 fumble recovery touchdowns.

Romo’s stat line: 21/39, 183, 0 TDs, 1 INT

2009: Dallas Cowboys 34, Philadelphia Eagles 14

In a rematch in Dallas, Romo found retribution for last year’s Week 17 loss with a 20 point triumph over the Eagles in the Wild Card round. The Cowboys topped the Eagles for the 2nd week in row, however the Week 17 game was a NFC East Title game for two postseason teams. While this game was a “win or go home” game. A strong performance by the Dallas O and D.

Romo’s stat line: 22/35, 244, 2 TDs, 0 INT

2009: Minnesota Vikings 34, Dallas Cowboys 3

Romo’s first playoff win was followed by a loss in Minnesota. The Dallas offense was non-existent scoring only 3 points, Favre and the Vikings were drove all over Dallas’ D finishing with 34 points. The loss dropped Romo to 1-3 in the playoffs and sent Minnesota to an NFC Championship appearance.

Romo’s stat line: 22/35, 198 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT

2011: New York Giants 31, Dallas Cowboys 14

The winner of this game in New Jersey would advance to the postseason as NFC East champions. The Dallas offense got off to an incredibly slow start and fell into a 21-0 hole. Their offense was unable to climb out of this scoring only 14 points with their defense allowing 31.

Romo’s stat line: 29/37, 289 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT

2012: Washington Redskins 28, Dallas Cowboys 18

The 8-7 Cowboys would win the NFC East if they were able to defeat the 9-6 Washington Redskins. Romo had 3 interceptions, and an Alfred Morris touchdown run with a little over one minute left put the Redskins up 10 ending all hope for Dallas in the postseason.

Romo’s stat line: 20/37, 218 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INT

2014: Dallas Cowboys 24, Detroit Lions 20

This game came with controversy as a Pass Interference Call that would have given the Lions a critical first down late in the 4th quarter was oddly changed, forcing the Lions to punt. Regardless, aided by strong running game Romo was able to grab his 2nd postseason win tossing an 8 yard TD pass to Terrence Williams with 2:32 to go.

Romo’s stat line: 19/31, 293 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT

2014: Green Bay Packers 26, Dallas Cowboys 21

The controversial football gods giveth and they taketh away. After an odd PI call helped the Cowboys advance, they lost this game to the Packers after a successful fourth down conversion put them at the 2 if not 1 yard line. Romo with a gutsy pass play on 4th down to Dez Bryant put the Cowboys in line for a TD and possible advancement to his first NFC Championship game. However upon review the pass was called incomplete as Dez Bryant did not control the ball as he hit the ground (“The Calvin Johnson Rule”). The call allowed Green Bay to grab the win and put Romo at 2-4 in the postseason in a game where he attempted less than 20 passes.

Romo’s stat line: 15/19, 191 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT

Romo’s stat line in 9 win or go home appearances: 2-7, 184/298, 61.7%, 12 TDs, 7 Int, 85.2 Rating

Points By Offense Average: 14
Points Allowed by Defense Average: 23

Conclusion: Romo is not a good big game quarterback, aside from the 2-7 record, his offense’s average 14 points per game. The narrative that he has a poor defense may be true, but possibly exaggerated as Romo’s defense has averaged only 23 PA over these 9 games. It should be noted that there have been 5 games where Romo’s defense has allowed more than 21 points. This stat would usually defer blame to that unit, however in those five games the Dallas led offense led by Romo has scored the following points: 6,3, 14, 18, 21. The average allowed by the defense in those five games is 29.2 points, which is very poor. However Romo’s offenses have been equally as poor averaging 12.4 PPG in over those same 5 games. 

Tony has been a very good regular season QB and had a strong 2014 postseason but his resume as a whole shows a QB of an offense that has played poorly in big games hence the 2-7 record.

Barry or Babe?

It is the eternal question amongst most baseball fans: Who is the best player to ever play the game? The answer of course is subjective. The beautiful part of statistics in baseball is it allows us to compare players against their comrades, to form an answer. Of course doing this across different eras is much more difficult, but stats have yet to fail us. Adjusted stats like OPS+, WAR, etc have helped us while adjusting for eras and ball park effects. All stats are misleading of course, and many will be taken into consideration in this next comparison. The comparison is: Who was better? Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth. This comparison is solely number based and will not penalize Bonds’ for suspected steroid use.

Raw stats
Bonds: .298 /.444 /.607 /1.051
Ruth: .342 /.474 /.690 /1.164

I am not a big average guy but Ruth does have the lead for OBP & SLG.

OPS+ and WAR
Bonds: 182 OPS+, 162.4 WAR
Ruth: 206 OPS+, 163.1 WAR

200 OPS+ Seasons
Bonds: 6
Ruth: 11

8+ WAR Seasons
Bonds: 11
Ruth: 12

Best 10 years:
Bonds: 268, 263, 259, 231, 206, 204, 188, 188, 178, 170[Avg: 216]
Ruth: 255, 239, 238, 225, 225, 220, 218, 217, 211, 206 [Avg: 225]

Bonds: 11.9, 11.8, 10.6, 9.9, 9.7, 9.6, 9.2, 9.0, 8.1, 8.0 (Tot: 97.8, Avg: 9.8)
Ruth:14.1, 12.9, 12.4, 11.9, 11.7, 11.5, 10.3, 10.3, 10.1, 9.4 (Tot: 114.6, Avg: 11.5)

Of course, Ruth played in a much different time when many hitters were not slugging HR and more focused on getting hits. In 1920 Ruth hit more homeruns than every team in the AL. Bonds never came close to doing this. In fact the differences in the leagues seemed to have inflated his adjusted stats to an extent with respect to SLG.  In 1920 the AL SLG was .387, while in 01 the SLG for the NL was .425.

Other interesting facts: These two men were two of the most dominant players we will ever see. Bonds’ OBP exceeded .500 5 times (he went over .600 in 04) and he slugged over .800 twice (one year at .799). Ruth also had an .OBP that exceeded .500 5 times and slugged .800 twice. Bonds walked over 150 times 4 times and almost had 2 200 walk seasons (232 in 04, 198 in 02). Ruth walked over 150 twice. Aside from Ted Williams, Eddie Yoast and Mark McGwire are the only other people besides Ruth and Bonds to walk over 150 times in one season. No one besides Bonds and Ruth have slugged over .800, in fact the closest was Lou Gehrig in 1927 slugging .765 (Bonds and Ruth eclipsed this mark 3 times each). If all of Ruth’s HR in 1920 were converted to doubles, he would have still slugged .611 (good for second in the league). If you took away half of Bonds’ hits from 04 he still would have had a .500 OBP and led the league in OBP.

Conclusion: When compared to their eras, Ruth was more dominant. Of course Ruth almost played a different game compared to Bonds, the fact that he could out homer teams shows this. Pitchers in the 20s logged 300 innings and likely threw in the low 80s. Bonds faced more specialized pitchers who could hit 100 and didnt pitch every day. I think if you swapped players and put Bonds in the 20s/30s and Ruth 90s/00s. Then Bonds would perform better. However, that is impossible and we can only compare them for what they did against their peers and for that Ruth was better.

This of course this excludes what Ruth did as a pitcher. Which is a another story itself.