There’s been so much debate recently about who the superior quarterback is between Tony Romo and Eli Manning. The funny thing is that for those Manning supporters thinking it’s a worthwhile debate, they are actually not doing Manning any favors. The fact that so many are waging the argument between a two time Super Bowl winner and another quarterback who hasn’t sniffed a ring and has only one playoff victory is an embarrassing commentary on Manning. I have not heard one comparison to Rodgers, Brees, Brady or Peyton Manning with another active QB who does not have any rings. It shows that some folks still aren’t entirely sold on Eli Manning and that Romo is a ring away from sealing the deal on this argument.
There is however another more apt comparison: Tony Romo vs. Philip Rivers. Ironically, it was the Manning for Rivers swap during the draft that made these particular debates possible in the first place. Both Romo and Rivers have found themselves in the hot seat for their ability to get to the Super Bowl but their talent and play on Sundays is as good as any quarterback playing today.
Production. Rivers has started for six seasons and has compiled a 63% completion percentage. He throws an interception every 39 passes and has a 95.5 career quarterback rating. He is an iron man having not missed a start since he took over the Charger reins in 2006. Romo has started five and a half seasons and has played about a season’s worth of games less than Rivers. His career completion percentage is 64%. He throws an interception every 36 passes and has a career quarterback rating of 97.
Romo has missed some games due to injuries including the broken collarbone suffered against the Giants that resulted in him missing 10 games in 2010. While Rivers is 3-4 in the playoffs, Romo is 1-3.
Styles. Rivers has been the fire and intensity of the Chargers since he got there and his offenses have not been the primary reason the Chargers have missed out on the Super Bowl under his leadership. His team is completely reliant on his production being at an extremely high level. There is no defense to bail him out when he is not getting it done. He excels with the deep ball and seems to have developed a real synergy with the big receiver. He is fearless in throwing the ball up for his tall receivers to go and get and though it often looks like a hail mary, there is actually a method and proficiency to his madness. He is an accurate thrower of the deep pass and is equally adept at short touch passes. He has a quick release and he is always the primary reason his teams reach the playoffs.
Romo may have the quickest release in football if it’s not Rodgers. Romo is incredibly accurate and is comfortable in tight spaces. He is great at spreading the ball around and can use his feet as well as his arms to move within the pocket to buy more time. Romo has faced more national scrutiny than Rivers and Romo faces a significantly more challenging division and overall schedule than Rivers year after year. Romo is also the teams’ unquestioned leader but it is not leading by fire. Instead, Romo leads by production and by example.
Environment. They both have to fight through the challenges that come with the position but both Romo and Rivers have a bit more to overcome than most other QBs in the NFL. Romo has to navigate the distracting waters created by the owner and GM Jerry Jones. Romo is often fed pretty good talent by Jerry Jones and co. but that talent is arbitrary. Often, the puzzle pieces are impressive themselves but in the context of what the team needs the pieces rarely fit. The Cowboy personnel organization won’t ever be mistaken for the operations of the Ravens, Packers and Giants.
Similarly, Rivers endures a lesser but still significant distraction yearly with what the fate of his coach will be. Many believe that Rivers carries both the burden of leading the Chargers to the Super Bowl and the responsibility of saving Norv Turner’s job yearly.
Romo has played a good portion of his career with little to no help up front. He consistently is harassed and often hit by free runs from the opposing defensive lines and blitz packages.
Rivers has had more of a consistently good line but the injuries and loss of McNeil in recent years have proven to also be a very tough deficit to make up. Rivers has been sacked often and remains a true and unheralded iron man of the NFL while Romo’s display of toughness during and following the 49ers game in 2011 revealed a great competitor and true NFL warrior.
Decision: It’s hard to argue playoff participation and overall playoff record. Philip Rivers has won 65% of his regular season starts against 61% by Romo. The edge goes to Romo on strength of schedule because the NFC East is routinely better across the whole division than the AFC West. However I can’t argue the fact that the Chargers’ offense has Rivers’ personality and style all over it while the Cowboys offense seems to reflect the instability and inconsistency of the offensive line over the last several years.
Until Romo can own and influence production not only in the specialty areas where he is having some influence, but also in how physical and confident the offense is performing as a whole, Romo will continue to look slightly up at Philip Rivers. Romo does not stand alone in this vantage point and there is no shame in being slightly under Rivers. After all, Romo has the company of a two time Super Bowl winner.