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Tony Romo’s Best Targets

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.

What do you think?

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Written by John Kinnear

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