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Comparing 2010 pass attempts for Romo, Kitna: Are the Cowboys more conservative with Kitna under center?

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Jonathan Bales

At the urging of a few readers, I spent the last couple of days compiling some statistics detailing 2010 pass attempts (by distance thrown) for both Tony Romo and Jon Kitna.  Both fans and media have speculated that Jason Garrett has significantly decreased the number of downfield throws since Kitna has taken over as the starting quarterback.  Some argue that this strategy fits Kitna’s skill set, while others yearn for the offense to air it out.

But are these conjectures valid?  Let’s take a look at the numbers:

Some points of interest. . .

  • 71.8 percent of Romo’s passes traveled less than 10 yards, while 10.8 percent traveled 20+ yards.
  • In comparison, 75.1 percent of Kitna’s passes have been less than 10 yards, while 8.8 percent have been 20 yards or further down the field.
  • Kitna has been superior to Romo on short throws, accruing a 105.8 passer rating and tallying 6.41 yards-per-attempt.
  • Kitna’s passer rating decreases the further the ball travels.  His 60.4 passer rating on passes of 20+ yards is surprising.
  • Romo is a “bizarro Kitna.”  His passer rating increases with distance, peaking at 130.0 on deep throws.
  • The completion percent for both quarterbacks on throws of 10 or more yards is superb, as are the yards-per-attempt rates.

So should Garrett follow the numbers and continue to throw it short with Kitna?  Well, I’m not sure he’s actually made any conscious alterations in his play-calling since Kitna took over (in terms of pass distance).  The rate of throws of less than 10 yards and 20+ yards aren’t that different between Romo and Kitna.  Also, let’s not forget that the Cowboys have been winning more frequently under Kitna, making “risky” deep passes sub-optimal in certain situations.  Thus, Garrett’s intentions appear consistent.

Still, I think Garrett needs to open up the playbook and get the ball downfield.  Here are a few reasons:

  • Kitna’s deep attempt stats could be skewed by a small sample size.  He has thrown two interceptions on just 23 attempts of 20+ yards–a rate that probably wouldn’t remain steady over a longer period of time.
  • There are more benefits to deep passes than completions.  Simply attempting deep throws stretches the defense, opening up the field for underneath routes and big runs.  Thus, if the numbers are even close to equal, a team should side with more deep passes.

Ultimately, the Cowboys’ numbers on short pass attempts will decline as opposing teams catch on to these trends.  The time to make corrections is before a major problem arises, not after.  That applies to play-calling as much as personnel decisions.

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4 Responses to Comparing 2010 pass attempts for Romo, Kitna: Are the Cowboys more conservative with Kitna under center?

  1. Roby says:

    Jonathan must be an error that total of 125 yds for Kitna’s passes under 10 yds ?

  2. Roby–Thanks for pointing that out! My “7” key doesn’t work sometimes–the real total is 1257, and I’ve made the adjustment.

  3. john coleman says:

    Well it’s exactly what I expected. I am surprised that the number of completion and yards are not larger gaps. Other than QB rating it is really close. That would lead us back to the porous o-line and conservative play calling. I also would think if we insist on playing “small ball” , we need a Wes Welker type who can make guys miss and is super quick in confined areas. Felix has done a decent job of becoming the RB for that role. With the limited numbers in the sampling, I’m not sure we can draw any real conclusions. I expected Romo to be far superior and the QB rating is skewed in this sampling, IMO. Thanks for the info.

  4. John–I didn’t bring that up, but I think Garrett is trying to transition to a Pats/Saints-style offense, but he doesn’t have the parts for it. The Cowboys’ receivers are all good after the catch (excluding Witten, of course), but it’s more due to their speed than quickness. Williams, Austin, and Bryant all excel at getting open down the field, making catches on routes like comebacks, fades, and so on. They aren’t great at using their quickness to get open on Welker-type routes, like outs, smashes, jerks, and so on.

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