Earlier today, I presented a piece on the process of evaluating a quarterback. A short time later, the always compelling Greg Cosell released his analysis on Tony Romo’s 2011 season. Romo’s play through out his time as the Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback has spawned polarizing debates. Some point to his amazing ability to make plays on the move as an intangible that can not be discredited and places him near the top of the QB pecking order. Others point to his lack of playoff success as a reason for him not to be mentioned among the elite.
Romo has been in the NFL for nine seasons, but has only started four full years. He was signed by the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent after the 2003 Draft. He earned the starting reigns in 2006 from the ineffective Drew Bledsoe. His 2008 season was interrupted by an broken finger (on his throwing hand) late in the year. Romo would miss three games due to this injury. He returned just in time to lose a matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, which effectively killed their playoff hopes. His 2010 season was cut short due to a broken clavicle he suffered in a matchup against the New York Giants early that year. And just this past year, Romo suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung in a Week 2 matchup versus the San Francisco 49ers. Romo missed no games, but he was forced to play wearing a protective kevlar vest. His production was hurt over this period.
Cosell reviewed the game tape of Romo and came away with these thoughts:
I have watched almost every game Romo has played in the NFL, and there’s a certain profile to his play that has been established over time. There have been instances when Romo has been aggressive and decisive, attacking down the field with confidence and conviction. He’s made plays outside the pocket, showing the ability to avoid pressure, find an open area, re-set and deliver at the intermediate and deeper levels with accuracy. The 27-24 win at Washington in 2011 was a clear snapshot, highlighted by the 59-yard touchdown to Jason Witten in the fourth quarter and the 26-yard completion to Dez Bryant on third-and-15 in overtime.
There have been other times Romo has overreacted to pressure, perceiving/anticipating it when it was not really there. The result is that he moves when he doesn’t need to, abandoning the pocket without allowing the route combination to fully develop. The phrase I often use to describe that is “playing fast,” and when that occurs, you have a tendency to leave plays on the field because you don’t throw the ball to receivers that break open. That speaks to a pattern I have observed studying quarterbacks over the last 20-plus years. Those, like Romo, who can make improvisational plays with their legs, walk a fine line between random playmaker and precise pocket passer. Playing outside of structure is a positive when it’s the only option; doing so before it’s the only option is a negative. Too many plays are missed, and the offense loses sustainability and consistency.
Cosell goes on to state that “There’s an inconsistency to Romo’s play that still needs to be cleaned up as he begins his ninth year in the league”. I think the argument can be made that Romo is what he is at this point – slightly above mediocre, but maddeningly inconsistent. I think the time he’s spent rehabbing his various injuries plays a huge role in this. I’m sure it has hurt his progress as a player. I just do not see him growing out of his negative habits at this stage of his career.