Thursday, May 19, 2011

Email Bag: Tony Romo vs Jon Kitna

This morning, let's address an interesting email about the Cowboys QB Situation:

Hey Bob

Could you cover the QB production from 2010 from a standpoint of when Tony Romo was playing versus when Jon Kitna was in there? Did the offense do things differently? Who was better at the position? Did different players flourish?



Absolutely Ted. As we get further and further away from 2010, it seems that the memory only keeps a few things in accurate form and everything else blends together. It seems very easy to assume that since the team was losing with Romo and then started winning with Kitna (and a coaching change) that perhaps Kitna and his leadership ability were just what the doctor ordered.

In this city, we love to debate personality and leadership and whether a QB is a proper "field general". The fact is, Romo has never seemed to capture the Cowboys fans with pumping his fist and standing on the bench yelling at the troops. Rather his demeanor has some that wonder if he wants it bad enough, whatever that means.

Since those debates can rage on with or without my assistance, I will leave that to the message boards and the commenters on this blog to sort through for today. Rather, I thought it might be a great idea to discuss things that can be tangible and proven or disproven with actual numbers that should speak to what we are looking to establish.

If the question is: "Who played better QB in 2010" or even the more laughable question of "Who is a better QB to lead this team in 2011" then we should look at a few things that will hopefully settle this question without much debate.

First, allow me to be clear in my feelings for Jon Kitna. I think that you could not ask a veteran QB to handle things any better than he did in 2010. He stepped in Game 6 and was ready to lead the team through some very difficult situations (a team quitting and then a team with a new coach) with a performance that was about as good as you could ask of a back-up QB. He knew what he was doing and he was well prepared. He certainly earned every opportunity to remain this team's #2 QB in 2011. I have no issues with the way he played if he is judged against realistic measures. In fact, it might give me some pause if the team decided that Stephen McGee is ready for #2.

However, beyond that, any suggestion that Kitna should A) be a starter in the NFL anywhere or B) is capable of replacing a healthy Tony Romo is so absurd that I question the wisdom of addressing this issue. However, since email proves that some people think that is a reasonable idea (and public statements from a certain backup Tight End) I thought we could visit and put this nonsense to rest.

Here are the season totals for the Top 3 WRs and your Top TE:

Target Distribution - Season Totals
NameTargetsCatchesYardsFD/TD/INTQB Rating

Now, allow me to split it up between Romo games and Kitna/McGee games. First, here are the totals for those 4 players under Romo:

Target Distribution - With Romo
NameTargetsCatchesYardsTD/INTQB Rating

And, here are the splits for all games under Kitna (and the last start from McGee):

Target Distribution - After Romo
NameTargetsCatchesYardsTD/INTQB Rating

As you should see quite clearly, we have drastic changes in 3 players when the QB changed.

Miles Austin was playing at an absurd level of production that spanned back to 2009 until Romo was injured. When Romo left the offense, so did Miles Austin. The Cowboys did find other ways to use him - WR screens and reverses, but his typical bread and butter routes to the sidelines 18-20 yards into the secondary were simply passes that Kitna does not have the arm to throw at this point of his career. Austin had a QB who could not get him the ball where he needed it. This shows the real difference between the two QBs - arm strength. Kitna may make as good or even better decisions at the position, but the field he can throw to is so much smaller than the field Romo can throw to.

Dez Bryant's production was better with Kitna, but not much. The QB rating was 99 with Romo and 105 with Kitna. We should also remember that Bryant was just figuring things out as he missed the entire training camp with an injury. I recall in the Chicago game in particular that he did not play much in the 3rd Down/2 min drill because they did not think he knew where to go. In fact, they actually ran Martellus Bennett in his spot for much of that game. To suggest that Bryant was superb regardless of QB would not be unfair.

Roy Williams was quite productive in 2010 (seriously) until Romo was hurt. With a QB rating from Romo of 126.9, it appeared that Roy had finally "figured it out". However, with Kitna at QB, again, there was no ability to get the ball to an outside receiver in this offense who runs most routes outside the numbers. His production dropped to about nothing, and with 0 TDs and 4 INTs under Kitna, the QB Ratings was just 31.1 - and he had almost no remarkable moments - save for his long slant catch and run and fumble on Thanksgiving.

And finally, the man who had his production shoot up under Kitna - Jason Witten. Kitna was 71-90 to Witten for 8 TDs and 0 INTs and 732 yards. So much for the idea that Romo and Witten are best buddies and Romo only wants his friends to catch the ball because they stay up late at night at design the offense under the stars. For whatever reason, Romo and Witten were not only not clicking, but actually underperforming in the early part of the season with Chicago, Tennessee, and Minnesota all sitting on Witten routes throughout. But, Kitna found Witten again and again and kept the offense moving with a number of short passes in tight spaces. Kitna should be congratulated for this trick, because it would sure look to me that the opposition should know the throws he can and cannot make. Nevertheless, Witten was unstoppable between the numbers and down the middle in 2010 as much as ever.

Let me show you the stats that separate the men from the boys in the NFL. You can compare their passing numbers on all sorts of sites, but here let's merely look at the splits between the 2 QBs on "NFL Throws". When the draft gurus are asking about a prospect having a "NFL Arm" they mean these throws. Outside the numbers and down the field. If you cannot throw the ball sideline to sideline from 11-25 yards on a rope so that corners cannot undercut the target and take it to the house, then you don't have a prototypical "NFL Arm". Does that mean you cannot play in the league? No. Many QBs in the NFL do not have a prototypical NFL Arm, but the best QBs all have it.

So, here you go. The 2010 splits for Romo and Kitna. Just passes outside the numbers and 11+ yards down the field:

QBAttemptsCompletionsYardsTD/INTQB Rating
Stats from

That should settle the debate. Kitna did complete some deep passes, but they were almost exclusively the lofty bombs. When the throw needed to be a rope to a spot 17 yards to the sideline, he would check down to Witten or Felix Jones. That is not bad, mind you. You want your QB to understand what throws he cannot make. But, it limits the offense, it helps the defense understand how to defend you more easily, and it makes everything more difficult.

He may pump his fist and have a better expression, but when it comes to running an offense like a top QB should, Tony Romo is the clear answer around here. Romo is far from flawless, and even before the injury, the team was 1-4 and in a horrible spot. If he had played better, they should have won the Washington game, the Chicago game, and the Minnesota game. They were in a spot to win all of those games and one better throw here and there could have had them at 3-2 or 4-1 before the injury. The OL was a mess to start the year, and it seemed a matter of time before an injury resulted from not being able to pass protect.

However, there is a significant difference between saying Romo could play better and saying a 38-year old journeyman is the answer as starter.

This entire discussion will seem obvious for many of you, but I thought I would super-serve the minority who debate this issue this morning.

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