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Hey guys..Is Romo clutch or not?

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At ABC, I wrote about the stupid 180 so many writers and analysts perform regarding Tony Romo’s ability in the clutch:

It’s amazing how quickly the narrative can shift in the NFL. If the Cowboys’ defense hadn’t managed to stop the Vikings on their second-to-last drive, writers across the great state of Texas and nationwide would have blasted quarterback Tony Romo for choking down the stretch.

Actually, because we live in a world of real-time updates, Romo’s late-game interception against Minnesota was indeed used as more evidence that he chokes down the stretch.

Look, I’ve already showed that the “Romo-folds-under-pressure” argument is one that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny; it either needs to be accepted on faith or, at best, on anecdotal evidence, i.e. which arbitrary games or moments can I recall?

If that’s how we’re going to examine and define “clutch play”—by handpicking games because they stand out in our minds (which typically ends up being the most recent ones)—it’s going to create a pretty flimsy foundation on which to stand.

It transforms into a situation in which every time Romo leads a game-winning drive, he just turned a corner. When he doesn’t, it’s this…

The Final Drive

With 2:44 remaining in the game, Dallas had a first-and-10 at their own 10-yard line, down by three points. Before breaking down any plays, I want to note that the Cowboys might have actually been in a better position if they were down by four.

Yes, you read that correctly. Teams play overly conservatively when they’re down by just a field goal, thinking “all we need is three points” when, in reality, “all they need is three points” to potentially force overtime and have around a coin flip’s chance of winning.

Down by four or more late in games, offenses play with far more urgency because they know they need a touchdown. And the numbers back it up.

Since 2000, teams in situations similar to the Cowboys—down by three inside of three minutes—have won 14 percent of the time. Teams in the exact same situation down four points, though, have won 25 percent of the time! That’s nearly double the win rate for teams down by four points instead of three.

It’s not that being down by four points is inherently advantageous, of course, but just that NFL teams are really horrible at understanding percentages. As we’ve seen with Jason Garrett time and time again, coaches freeze up in those late moments, opting to go conservative for the “sure thing” of overtime when they should press on.

And to be honest, the Cowboys looked like they were headed that route before a big catch from wide receiver Dez Bryant. But let’s start with the first play of the drive.

Read the rest.

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3 Responses to Hey guys..Is Romo clutch or not?

  1. Santiago says:

    Hi Jon,

    This brings up a thought I’ve been having, that of “playing to preserve the lead.” Is there any data to suggest that is a bad move? Run the clock and all that, but if you’ve been playing better than the opposition is it really a rational move to adjust your offense (which has been winning)?

  2. Yeah, there’s lot of data that suggests teams get too conservative with a lead. They’e just really bad at understanding when to play the normal offense, i.e. when the game is primarily a point-maximization contest, and when they should play safe to truly preserve a lead. Basically, they just get into that latter stage too soon.

  3. Santiago says:

    Is there anywhere where someone breaks down the numbers for that in a way I can understand? I’m not a physics major but I’m fairly comfortable with statistics and fairly sports nerdy.

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