Is Jon Kitna a more accurate passer than Tony Romo?
For those of you who live up north and are suffering through the winter (with a storm of gigantic proportions possibly on the way), I figured I would anger you before I dive into this post by showing you where I am writing today. . .
Okay, now that you are in a terrible mood, here we go. . .
A lot of readers requested that I conduct an accuracy comparison between Jon Kitna and Tony Romo. Most of you believe that Kitna seems to be far more accurate than Romo, particularly in straight drop-back situations. Just from watching the games, I would tend to agree with you.
Assessing accuracy is incredibly difficult, however. We can take a look at completion percentage based on throw length, as I did last week with this chart. . .
The merits of this approach, however, are questionable at best. First, even though we’re dividing pass attempts into different categories, the parameters are still too broad. How many of Romo’s throws of 10+ yards, for example, were actually closer to 20 yards (as compared to Kitna)?
Further, we don’t know what sort of routes are being thrown and how. We know that since Kitna has taken over as quarterback, the team’s rate of Shotgun snaps has been cut in half. How does this affect quarterback accuracy? Would Romo be just as effective with so many drop-backs?
Instead of using completion percentage, tallying each quarterback’s off-target passes is a superior way to determine accuracy. Although judging a pass as “off-target” is certainly subjective, it isn’t as though I’ve had 14 different guys make the determinations for each game. I personally have noted every off-target pass, and I feel confident in the consistency of my judging.
When I label a pass as being off-target, I am assuming a couple of things:
- the quarterback missed a receiver who was relatively open
- he was giving his best effort to acquire a completion.
Thus, spikes, throw-aways, and passes that were on-target but knocked away by a defender do not constitute ‘off-target passes.’
You can see above that Kitna has been slightly more accurate than Romo this season, missing only 15.4 percent of passes he’s attempted. Romo isn’t far behind, but I think the numbers are somewhat misleading.
First, we must not forget the difference in improvisation skills between the two signal-callers. Although Kitna has surprised me with his mobility this season, he is far less accurate then Romo when on the run. He is at his best when he completes a five or seven-step drop and the ball is out. Romo, on the other hand, loves to freelance and can make a lot of great things happen outside of the design of the play.
I wouldn’t say either style is inherently better than the other, but Kitna’s approach does make his throws more difficult. While Romo can buy time to allow receivers to get fairly wide open, Kitna often must use his accuracy to thread the needle.
There’s more evidence that Kitna is a naturally more accurate passer than Romo as well. Take a look at Romo’s off-target passes from a year ago. . .
Romo’s 2009 sample size of 550 passes is far greater than that of 2010. Although the offense is a bit different now, I don’t think it would significantly compromise our results. Thus, combining Romo’s 2009 off-target passes with those in 2010 might give us a more accurate understanding of Romo’s, well, accuracy.
Romo threw 115 off-target passes a year ago. When we combine that with his 35 from 2010, we find he’s missed on a total of 19.7 percent of his throws in 2009-2010–not extraordinarily higher than Kitna’s 2010 rate, but still significant enough to make an impact on games.
Of course, there are a lot of attributes that define a great quarterback other than accuracy. While Romo may not possess the pinpoint passing ability of Kitna, his improvisation skills allows more time for his teammates to get open and create big plays downfield. That may be the reason for the disparity between Romo’s deep pass efficiency and that of Kitna (shown in the first chart above).
I personally would yield a bit of accuracy for the big-play ability that has and will continue to define Romo’s career.
Note: I will conduct an analysis of each quarterback’s accuracy based on area of the field (left, middle, right) next week.