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Is Jon Kitna a more accurate passer than Tony Romo?

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Jonathan Bales

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.

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Note:  I will conduct an analysis of each quarterback’s accuracy based on area of the field (left, middle, right) next week.

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11 Responses to Is Jon Kitna a more accurate passer than Tony Romo?

  1. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Thanks Jonathan, I (and as you mentioned several others) have been waiting for this.

    Your analysis looks like a great start to what might the framework for an very broad (encompassing) study of what makes a QB a good one. Sitting here thinking, of course it’s impossible to include every factor: a couple of major ones not mentioned are weather during outdoor games which will affect footing of the QB and possible ball slippage and pass rush factors of the defenses faced, but think of the down-range application of this.

    Using a scientific (mathematical) model to analyze college QB passing ACCURACY might proved profitable to you…if it’s good!

  2. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    If you build it, they will come.

  3. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Speaking of different variables…

    I’ve been sitting here thinking (obviously from the recent 3 posts) about the O line prospects for next year. Given that there really isn’t an interior lineman worthy of 1st round consideration where Dallas will pick (somewhere around 10-20), what do you think about:

    1). Matt Light (Patriots) at RT for Marc Columbo. I know he’s 32 years old and has lost a step, but perhaps a nice 2 yr contract (w/ an option for a 3rd) might do the trick. For those that don’t like this move, take note of the season Flozell Adams is having at RT for the Steelers.

    2). Pick up a DE in the 1st round – best one on the board at the time of pick. Either that or take a look at Richard Seymour (he’s 31 but is a prototypical 5 technique DE who can get penetration into the backfield far more than any DE we have on the roster now). Pickup Marcus Gannon (TCU) in 2nd round of draft to replace Leonard Davis at RG – he should still be available by then. If not, Chris Weiznewski or might just do the trick for the O line for next year (assuming Gurode is still serviceable).

    3). Acquire Barrett Ruud or David Harris for ILB. Both are young (maybe Harris is a lil injury prone) but are solid.

    4). Consider (just consider for now) Tanard Jackson at FS. He’s a bit of a trouble maker in that he’s violated the league substance abuse policy but his stats speak loudly – he had 60 tkls, 5 INTs and 2 TDs in 2009 (only played 2 games in 2010).

    Those 4 moves are what might solidify a deep run in the playoffs NEXT year. Years beyond that will have to include further O line acquisitions, probably a CB (if McCann, Scandrick or AOA prove to not be adequate replacement for Newmann) and SS help as well.

  4. john coleman says:

    I’ve been laying in wait for this one. I, as you and others got what we expected. Although the disparity is close on this years stats alone. Now comes the next step in this process. Who is the better leader? Kitna seems to have a lot more fire, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is a better leader. Kitna also has had the benefit of playing with a team that seems to be more motivated. Even more, Kitna seems to recognize what he sees a little better. Now all of these things are just what I think I am seeing in watching the games. So maybe you can bear it out and to some extent already have. How much of it all can/should be credited to Romo or Kitna? Which begs the inevitable. Should we be considering a trade of one or the other? Romo has had plenty of time to be accurate and plenty of games to be good at reading what he is seeing. Kitna has a solid team for the 1st time in his career and is taking full advantage. Romo is arguably in his prime and has several years left, but has he reached his ceiling. Kitna is 38, I think, and we are seeing what he offers. I do think he has a season or two left barring injury. So in a QB driven league and with conservatively 6 teams needing one is now the time to trade. Either of these two would be upgrades for a number of teams. Romo would probably have a little more value because of his age and skill set. So would he be worth a 1st and a 3rd? Or worth what? You could have Kitna as a groomer for say an Andrew Luck, and not mortgage your draft to do it. Or ship out Kitna and hope Romo and McGhee are the men. In so doing maybe acquire enough fire power to go up and get say a Patrick Peterson and still not mortgage your draft. How about Cam Newton? In todays league he could be a beast. I see an opportunity arising. Will we strike while the iron is hot. Does Carolina want the 1st pick and the expense that comes with it? Do we value Mr.Luck as the franchise? I personally like either of our guys and see the 3rd(McGhee) as a unknown. I see Luck as having Aikman like skills. Are we really a player or two from being perennial Superbowl contenders? I’m looking for some thoughtful feedback from all here. I know the minds will be oopen enough to see the possibilties. Maybe it’s just Christmas wishes on my part. Merry Christmas to all!

  5. john coleman says:

    TJ-I agree with your assessment of 1st rd oline talent. In fact I think Sherrod is the only legitimate LT prospect. Typically teams don’t draft RTs in the 1st. BTW I was posting while you posted this. I also think that with the exception of the top 3 or 4 guys this years 1st rd is very risky. For the record last year was as well to. I’m not against moving completely out of the 1st. I would desire at least two 2nd rd picks and two 3rd rdrs. Three 2nd rdrs would be exceptional. I honestly feel that the value in this upcoming draft will be in rds 2-4. Cannon would be good in the 2nd. Carimi would be as well. DE Ballard would be good. Ziemba would be good 3rd-5th. Surely he would be no worse than Columbo. We give Columbo help every game, so doing it for a rookie would be no different. At least there is some upside with a rookie. Other guys like Deunta Williams FS, Rashad Carmichael CB, Nate Irving ILB all should be 2nd and 3rd. I’m not a fan of free agency unless it is the final piece of a serious run. Unfortunately, I think we are a little firther away than that, unless we bring in a coach who is a miracle worker. I DO THINK we are better than a lot of people think we are. I’m more of the mind that we need 6-7 contributing players. The DB position both CB and FS are really suspect. The OG and OT are the same. Then with our d-line we have 3 FAs at DE. Olshansky needs to go, so that makes 4 players. Then ILB is still a concern. I agree we need an overhaul. I’m just not sure of the avaiable talent pool in both the draft and free agency. I can’t imagine another offseason of Jerry being idle.

  6. JJ says:

    Jonathan- what a life you live.

    I’m not an expert on the draft nor on some the metrics used. What i can state is that Kitna and Jerry took a bunch of ribbing for him being an over the hill back up QB. He shut everyone up. I do not believe he is better than Romo though. Yes, the man is a leader and he does have a strong arm. However, Romo helped make Austin a Pro Bowl receiver and Romo has much better ability to generate the big play. I did not believe earlier this season, and I do not now, that our problems were due to Romo at QB. Kitna is a blessing to have as a backup and is probably a better QB coach to Romo than Wade Wilson (who was not good enough for the Bears). I don’t the think Cowboys trade Romo. It’s real hard to trade players with whom you sink so much signing bonus. Yes, I wish Romo had a bit more fire on the field but there was Joe Montanta and then their is Peyton Manning. Both successful…both very different. The goal is to lead and let’s not forget Romo did that pretty well last year until the Offensive Line disappeared in Minnesota.

    The great thing about all the posts is that everyone sees the glaring needs at DE, OLine, Safety, CB and ILB.

  7. Tyrone–Yeah, the sample size of Kitna’s throws isn’t large enough that we’ve corrected for variables such as weather, but it at least gives us a general idea of where each QB is at in terms of accuracy.

    And I like some of your ideas (Harris is a player I like), but not others (I don’t think Seymour or Light are the proper pieces for a team that is looking for long-term solutions at those spots). Of course, the team won’t be able to solve all the problems this offseason, so they may need to sign a vet or two to “fix” holes until a permanent solution is found.

  8. John–I don’t think there’s any way you can give up Romo, even for a 1st and 3rd. He’s still one of the better QBs in this league, and IMO he has the ability to win a Super Bowl one day. There’s only a handful of QBs in the NFL that can do that. I know Kitna has played well, but he isn’t getting any younger. He’s an excellent option as a backup QB, but Romo is the future.

    I personally think Dallas should keep both guys. It’s so difficult to find an elite quarterback, and about just as difficult to find a backup capable of winning games in abundance. The Cowboys have both, and I don’t think it would be prudent to lose that. I do like the idea of Cam Newton, though. Not sure he fits what JG wants to do on offense, however.

  9. moses says:

    I think we need to look at the scouting dept and how well it rates players that can contribute to the team. I know that it is early but was Sean Lee the best we could do in the 2nd round?

    We could have had Veldheer, who is now the starting LT for the Raiders.
    Terrance Cody, NT, a contributor on the line for the Ravens.
    Spivey plays SS for the Lions and has played every game.
    John Jerry start as G for the Dolphins.
    Corey Peters rotates into the defensive line for the Falcons and has played every game.

    Maybe these players just fit into their team’s scheme better but I am skeptical of the ability of our scouting dept to find quality players. We have had a lot of misses.

    Watching Kitna, it appears that he options down to the safety valve a lot more often than Romo. Romo liked to push the envelope and went to the WRs a lot. It seemed like it was a lot more than Kitna.

    I would rather have Romo.

  10. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Moses, I completely agree. To be honest, when the Boys traded up for Dez Bryant, I thought it was a horrible idea. At the time, we had 5 WRs (Crayton was still on the team I think) and was one of the deepest positions on the team. Given what Dez has done so far, that pick was more than wise (given that he continues to improve). I’m not sure why but Dallas acquisitions have a horrendous tendency to do well for one year then be mediocre the next (ie. Roy Williams, Miles Austin, Keith Brooking, Julius Jones, Marion Barber, etc.)

    At the time, I did think the Boys needed to pick up one of the more talented FS available. All 3 of the S picked within the top 45 picks were STARTING for their respective teams at the beginning of the year (Eric Berry, Earl Thomas and Nate Allen – Allen is now on IR). All have done well. I understand that Wade wanted to give Alan Ball a shot at starting, but had we traded down to early 2nd round, instead of up, we would have better positioned ourselves for Veldheer or Ducasse, and maybe even stockpiled a nice future pick for this draft. We could’ve either gotten a OT or FS then and still possibly acquired a WR later (such as Marty Gilyard, Jordan Shipley or even Jacoby Ford) in the 4th or 5th.

    Basically, two major questions concerning front office for next year are scouting and coaching – not just head coach but all coaching positions.

  11. Moses–I like the improvements that I see from Lee, but I didn’t like the pick at all at the time. I feel his upside is limited because he over-performed in college.

    Tyrone–It sure would be nice to have Bryant AND Allen right now. The way he played in Philly this year, he might have been worth another win or two to Dallas this season over Ball (not that it would matter). Still, it is obvious to me that Ball isn’t the answer.

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