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Tony Romo’s Best Targets

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Passer rating measures attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions.  It was developed by the NFL's statistical committee in the early 70s as a way to judge a passing performance beyond just total yards.  Since passers can pile up yardage easily against defenses that have a big lead late in a game, high passing yardage totals don't lead to wins.  Passer rating, then, was designed to reward the kind of passing that wins football games.

Since Tony Romo started his first game in 2006, he's finished the season ranked among the league's 10 highest-rated passers in every qualifying year.  Seven seasons.  In the entire history of professional football, only Joe Montana (13) and Tom Brady (11) had more consecutive top-10 seasons to start a career.  Brady will not catch Montana because his streak of top-10 seasons ended last year.  The Patriots just didn't have the targets for Brady's rating to get into the top 10.

That's why I think "passer" rating is a misnomer.  What's really being rated is not the passer or the receiver, but the pass itself.  And the pass depends, at the very least, on both.  The target does matter.  Remember when some suggested Romo was in decline when his pass rating fell 12 points from 102.5 in 2011 to its lowest in his career (90.5) in 2012?  That wasn't a QB in decline, it was all about the inability to replace Laurent Robinson.

2011
to Robinson:
47 of 72 for 787 yards 11 TD 2 INT 130.3 rating
to everyone else:
299 of 450 for 3,397 yards 20 TD 8 INT 96.3 rating

2012
to Ogletree/Beasley/Harris:
61 of 102 for 750 yards 5 TD 8 INT 66.2 rating
to everyone else:
364 of 544 for 4,153 yards 23 TD 11 INT 95.3 rating

Nobody was talking about this at the time, but when you factor out 3rd WR, Romo's rating dropped only 1 point from one season to the next.  Not bad for a QB who was playing with one legitimate target less than he had the year before.  The player on the receiving end of the pass does matter.  It's true for Brady, Romo, or any other quarterback.  Let's move on and look at Romo's best (and worst) targets in 2013.

All Romo's Passes in 2013

  • Bryant 85 of 142 1150 yd 8.1 ypa 12 td 3 int 105.1 rtg
  • Witten 61 of 93 716 yd 7.7 ypa 8 td 0 int 117.5 rtg
  • Williams 42 of 69 679 yd 9.8 ypa 5 td 2 int 105.9 rtg
  • Murray 48 of 55 311 yd 5.7 ypa 1 td 0 int 96.3 rtg
  • Beasley 38 of 49 361 yd 7.4 ypa 2 td 2 int 94.0 rtg
  • others 68 of 127 611 yd 4.8 ypa 3 td 3 int 64.8 rtg

Spikes and throw aways where there was no discernible target are not included.

Although he went as an alternate, Witten was absolutely deserving of his 9th Pro Bowl selection.  Among tight ends, only Graham and Olsen had such a high rating on at least that many targets.   Bryant continued his streak of 100+ seasons.  Of receivers with a minimum of 6 targets per game, only Dez and Wes Welker have finished in the top 10 each of the last four seasons.  Williams had a promising rookie year on his 69 targets, which was less than half of Dez's total, but there were situations in which Williams was a detriment to the team.

Red Zone Only

  • Bryant 13 of 21 68 yd 3.2 ypa 10 td 0 int 106.7 rtg
  • Witten 9 of 16 73 yd 4.6 ypa 6 td 0 int 107.6 rtg
  • Williams 4 of 10 42 yd 4.2 ypa 2 td 1 int 52.9 rtg
  • Beasley 6 of 7 35 yd 5.0 ypa 2 td 0 int 127.1 rtg
  • Murray 5 of 7 33 yd 4.7 ypa 1 td 0 int 120.8 rtg
  • others 3 of 8 27 yd 3.4 ypa 1 td 0 int 87.0 rtg

Romo-to-Bryant has been unstoppable in the red zone, with 19 TD and 0 INT since 2010.  Witten had one of his best red zone years.  Beasley's potential to help his team inside the 20 is immense.  Of the five top targets, the obvious weak link was Williams, and these numbers don't even show his red zone fumble in San Diego.

3rd Down Only

  • Bryant 16 of 31 207 yd 6.7 ypa 5 td 0 int 112.5 rtg 14 fd (45.2%)
  • Witten 14 of 27 155 yd 5.7 ypa 2 td 0 int 93.9 rtg 12 fd (40.7%)
  • Williams 11 of 22 157 yd 7.1 ypa 0 td 2 int 35.6 rtg 8 fd (31.8%)
  • Beasley 14 of 18 146 yd 8.1 ypa 1 td 0 int 119.0 rtg 11 fd (61.1%)
  • Austin 3 of 13 27 yd 2.1 ypa 0 td 0 int 23.1 rtg 3 fd (23.1%)
  • others 5 of 14 43 yd 3.1 ypa 0 td 2 int 5.1 rtg 1 fd (7.1%)

The last number is the percentage of that player's targets that resulted in a first down.

Dallas ranked 26th in the NFL in 3rd down conversion percentage, and Romo had a 76.7 rating on 3rd down.  That's a full 20 points lower than his season rating.  What made Romo so horrible on 3rd down?  That rating was all about the receivers who were the targets of those passes.  The passes to Beasley, Bryant, and Witten resulted in 8 TD, 0 INT, a 113.3 pass rating, and a 49% conversion rate.  The passes to everybody else resulted in 0 TD, 4 INT, a 19.7 rating, and a 24% conversion rate.

The target does matter.



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Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?

Sean Martin

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Despite Late Push in Year One, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See the Field in 2018? 1
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.

These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.

Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.

Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton, DT Maliek Collins (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.

This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.

Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.

The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.

It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.

Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.

As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.

For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.

Tell us what you think about "Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain

Jess Haynie

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La'el Collins

When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.

Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.

La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.

For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.

That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.

But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.

La'el Collins' Position Flex Could Come in Handy for Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys OT La'el Collins

If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.

But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.

If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.

Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.

They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.

While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.

Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.

If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.



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Dallas Cowboys

How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - Randy Gregory Withdraws Suspension Appeal, Cannot Return Until Week 15

Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.

Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.

Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.

You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.

Randy Gregory

Dallas Cowboys DE Randy Gregory

What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.

Or does it?

Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.

As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.

Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.



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