Is it Tony Romo Time?

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

TIME RUNNNG OUT FOR TONY ROMO
TO HAVE BIG IMPACT IN NFL

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

For awhile, he was 'the next big thing.' Tony Romo entered the starting lineup for the Dallas Cowboys in 2006 with much more authority than you'd expect from an unheralded quarterback from a small-time university like Eastern Illinois.

*Most new quarterbacks struggle, Romo posted a Passer Rating of 95.1 in his first season. He was a star off the bat!

*Most new quarterbacks are interception prone. Romo only had 13 in 16 games, which is a decent number considering how aggressive the Cowboys were in the passing game.

*Most new quarterbacks emphasize short passes and managing the game. Romo averaged 8.6 yards-per-attempt in 2006, which is still his high-water mark for a season.

If THAT is what a QB does in their first season...in their mid-20's...well, the classic learning curve would suggest that the sky was the limit. Romo was destined for a superstar career. If he just kept putting up those same kind of numbers, he'd be an impact player in the league for many years, and the Cowboys would be annual championship hopes.

Something happened on the way to the Hall of Fame. Romo and the media got caught up a bit too much in the TMZ kind of stuff. Romo dated Jessica Simpson for awhile, and FOX made it their personal responsibility to show every single reaction shot she might think about having for hours on end. Simpson had to hide from the TV cameras. Romo had to hide from his critics because he wasn't able to progress at an age where QB's almost always progress.

Let's look at a few key stats:

PASSER RATING
2006: 95.1
2007: 97.4
2008: 91.4
2009: 97.6

Remember that the NFL liberalized holding rules a couple of years ago. Passing got EASIER because quarterbacks had more time. Romo got worse right after that, but settled back into historical norms in 2009. Those are solid numbers. Hey, we're not talking about Cleveland Browns quarterbacks here! But, Romo wasn't getting better. It's like he started at A-minus, and stayed at A-minus while many other signal callers were posting A-plus seasons. You want to win a championship these days, an A-minus isn't going to get the job done.

YARDS-PER-ATTEMPT
2006: 8.6
2007: 8.1
2008: 7.7
2009: 8.2

A decline for three seasons, with a disturbing drop just after it got easier to pass. Romo did bounce back to better form last season.

You longtime readers know that we've blasted Romo's decision-making over the years. He had many BADLY timed interceptions that ruined the Cowboys chances to win big games. He always seemed to try and force things when they weren't there. He was fumble prone too, holding onto the ball when he needed to bail out on a play and move on.

Most of you are surely aware of TD/INT ratios, comparing TD passes to interceptions. We're going to add in fumbles with Romo so you can see the negative impact of his poor decision-making:

2006: 19 TD's, 19 interceptions plus fumbles (net zero)
2007: 36 TD's, 26 interceptions plus fumbles (plus 10)
2008: 26 TD's, 22 interceptions plus fumbles (plus 4)
2009: 26 TD's, 13 interceptions plus fumbles (plus 13)

Again, 2008 was a big problem, as if all the distractions led to a minor implosion. But, 2009 showed signs that Romo was finally getting things figured out in terms of the percentage game. He had the fewest high impact mistakes of his career, and the best differential in this stat we just invented. Sure, 36 TD's is better than 26. But, superfluous touchdowns in blowouts don't have a lot of value, while miscues in big games are a disaster. Romo's cut down on the disasters, and is posting quality numbers in everything else.

As you watch Romo and Dallas tonight on the road against the Houston Texans on CBS, think about the storylines facing the Cowboys this season.

*They're long overdue to reach the Super Bowl. We showed you yesterday how hard it is to repeat as NFC champions in our discussion of the Saints. Nine different teams have won the NFC the past nine seasons. Dallas isn't one of those nine!

*They're on the verge of wasting what was expected to be the Tony Romo era. He's 30-years old now. This isn't a sport where people peak at age 35! It's a little dramatic to say it's 'now or never.' But, it's surprisingly close to that.

*They're poised to get Romo's best year ever based on recent trends. He showed true signs of maturity last season on the field and off it. Who he's dating is still in the headlines, but it's not ridiculous like it was a few seasons ago. There are fewer mistakes. The per-play production is back. COULD THIS BE THE YEAR?!

It's amazing how many interesting storylines are about to play themselves out this season. It's also amazing that Dallas ISN'T on the tip of everyone's tongue when talking about the possibilities. NFC conversation has focused mostly on New Orleans, Minnesota (thanks to Brett Favre) and Green Bay on the discussion shows. In the AFC, everyone's talking about the Jets (thanks to Rex Ryan), the Colts, and the Patriots...with a dash of T.O. and Ochocinco thrown in for some spice.

Where did America's Team go? Maybe coming from off the radar is the best way for the Cowboys to make a splash. The target is off their backs. If we're looking at a Passer Rating of 100 or more this year...and a TD ratio of 30-12...and more than 8 yards per attempt again...then Dallas is in the championship mix.

What a fun year to be an NFL handicapper!

JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK leaves no stone unturned when it comes to picking winners against the Vegas spread. Our SCOUTS, our SOURCES, our STATHEADS, our COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS, and our WISE GUY CONNECTIONS cover all the storylines, subplots, numbers, and angles to find the best money-making options each and every week.

We know you're excited about the start of the regular season coming up. Just remember that the BUSIEST DAY of action during DRESS REHEARSAL weekend typically features a GAME OF THE YEAR caliber selection from NETWORK! This is when Vegas is at its most vulnerable in the month of August. Don't sit on the sidelines waiting for the regular season to get here when a MONSTER is on tap tonight!

Among the games we're paying close attention to:

*Dallas at Houston on CBS, for all the reasons (and more!) listed above.

*Cincinnati at Buffalo, with T.O. and Ochocinco in full dress rehearsal mode against a team with a new head coach who's tired of being a doormat.

*NY Giants at Baltimore, as the Super Bowl hopeful Ravens try to show the world they're ready to take a step forward this year.

*Arizona at Chicago, where Derek Anderson takes over as the new starter for the Cardinals, and Jay Cutler of the Bears tries to get the hang of the new Mike Martz offense in the most important game of the Preseason.

You can purchase this evening's action or longer term packages online. Make a few clicks with your mouth and have your credit card handy. For more details about what's available this month and this year (don't forget about baseball!), call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

We'll have something special for you Sunday Night as well in the Pittsburgh/Denver game on TV...then it's just a matter of days before college football is underway. Football season is here!

The Dallas Cowboys may or may not still be America's Team. AMERICA'S #1 HANDICAPPER HAS ALWAYS BEEN JIM HURLEY!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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