Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Is Tony Romo 'clutch' or isn't he?" That kind of misses the point.

Dallas fans tend to blame Tony Romo for all of the team's lack of playoff success in the Romo era.  It is a gross oversimplification to be sure, but the rash of recent articles defending Romo as being clutch also miss the point... in my opinion.

Tony Romo is a victim of his own skill set and Jerry Jones blowing his evaluation of Romo.

Let's briefly touch on clutch and then take a deeper look at the previous sentence.

Being a "clutch QB" is a pretty wide ranging concept.  Some believe a clutch player is a guy who can bring a team from behind with creative magic and carry a team to a victory.  By that definition Tony Romo is certainly a clutch player.  He has skills in that regard that match up with the greats --- Elway, Farve, Montana, Staubach, etc.

Some define being a clutch player as not making a mistake that costs a team a win in crunch time.  By that definition, guys like Troy Aikman would be considered clutch and guys like Elway, Farve, and Romo (and even our beloved Roger Staubach) might fall off the list.

Romo isn't Montana or Brady.  So if your definition of clutch is both, it is a very small list.  As Dallas fans, I think it is important to get that.

With no clear shared definition of "clutch" and as multiple superbowl winning QBs would not qualify on either list, the question of whether Romo is clutch or not seems very pointless.

To me, Romo is clearly a good QB who has moments of brilliant play.  That should be enough to allow a team to win a superbowl.

So what happens to Romo that leads to these costly late game mistakes?  The vast majority of Romo's late game errors seem to originate from two causes:

1) Being asked to do to much.
2) Offensive line breakdowns.

I think both of these situations point back to the core problem of Jerry Jones not understanding what he has in Romo.

Just prior to Tony Romo taking over, Dallas was quarterbacked by Drew Bledsoe.  Bledsoe had progressed from "lacking mobility in the pocket" to being statuesque.

Now I love tough QBs who will stand in to make a tough throw, but by time Bledsoe was starting in Dallas he was the equivilant of a punch drunk old heavy weight.  He was slow to deliver the ball, had no escapability at all, and had lost his feel for sensing the rush.

Dallas had a mixture of rapidly declining old vets and scrubs signed off the street blocking for him.  The result was a mostly open pathway to sacking Bledsoe.

Enter Romo.  Romo combined an uncanny knack for sensing the backside rush and buying time with great field vision.

With Romo on the field, suddenly Dallas's offensive line could buy their QB enough time to find an open receiver.

I contend this lead Jerry Jones to believe that his offensive line was better than it was and to believe he can afford to pinch pennies on the Oline because Romo can create his own time.  I think Mr. Jones also oddly seemed to believe that all Romo needed to iron out his mistakes was for Jones to back him unconditionally (or maybe Jerry Jones just absolutely needs to have a love-fest with his current QBs.)

Eventually Jason Garrett had to break it to Jones that expensive vets on the Dallas offensive line were not much better than guys off the street and certainly weren't worth the money they were being paid.  Jones purged the expensive vets off the line.  One has to think that Garrett expected Jones to burn a number of 1st, 2nds, and 3rd round picks on offensive linemen to rebuild the line or sign some top offensive linemen in free agency, but up until the draft day meltdown that lead to the drafting of Travis Fredrick this year, the only OL of note brought in was Tyron Smith.

Instead Jones brought in an undrafted guy rated one of the worst starting OLs in the league the previous season (Nate Livings) and a former 7th rounder Carolina fans nicknamed the turnstile for his inability to reliably pass block (Mackenzy Bernadeau).

Jones' logic clearly seemed to think that new OL coach Bill Callahan would teach these two strong but mistake prone vets not to make as many mistakes and the assumption was clearly that any blown blocks would be covered by Romo scrambles.

This was again a big mistake.  Romo can escape an end on the edge, but pressure up the middle is very disruptive to his game.  Jones blew the evaluation on Romo there.

Predictably, it didn't work.

Neither did all of Jones's series of "Romo hugs" --- ie. Making the team "Romo friendly", Meddling to give Romo access to play calling, etc. ---- haven't changed who Romo is as a QB. 

As Bill Parcells quickly figured out, if you give Romo too much rope, he will hang himself with mistakes.  The best Romo is one reined in by a demanding coach.  Romo needs to be constantly challenged to play his best.

Today he status quo continues.  When Romo feels fat, dumb, and happy his game is sloppy.  When Romo feels under fire, he plays disciplined ball and is often brilliant.

Luckily the fans in Dallas are likely to keep the heat on Romo for the rest of his time in Dallas --- overcoming all of Mr. Jones's hugging.

Jones followed up last season's offensive line debacle by not signing any competent free agent guards this offseason.  When the Oline feel apart in the pre-season under the weight of injuries and abysmal guard play, Jones was finally forced to lure Brian Waters, a competent guard, out of retirement to prevent a fan rebellion.

It makes one wonder why Jones could not see how poor line play was killing his QB and his team's chances when it was plainly clear to all Cowboy fans.

The answer seems to be rooted in an underestimation of the effect poor line play has on Romo and an overestimation of Romo's ability to overcome it.

Romo has had a crappy OL throughout his career in Dallas.  For him to achieve what he has accomplished statistically is really astounding.

And it explains his end of game meltdowns.   When a game is on the line, good players dig deep to make plays.

When these players are on the defenses playing Dallas they are going against a tired and at best an average offensive line with several weak spots.  Invariably the Dallas OL gets exposed and a worn down Romo gets pressured or sacked adding more pressure to the next play.  We have seen it over and over.  When the pressure comes next, Romo can't square his feet and get off a good pass, and that's ballgame.

Jerry Jones needs two good starting guards more than an expensive CB, linebacker, or wide receiver.

Hopefully he gets it before Romo's career is over.

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