Is Tony Romo The Toughest Player In The NFL?

November 2, 2014 10:30 a.m.

Tony Romo is questionable with a back injury that he suffered during a Monday Night loss vs. Washington, but now that we know he suffered 2 small fractures in his back and continued to play; Is Romo the toughest player in the NFL?


The Science

Tony Romo is reported to have 2 small fractures to his vertebrae.  The fractures are said to be to his transverse process which are small processes that are on both sides of the vertebrae.  Without the exact location of which vertebrae are fractured, it is difficult to predict how much this will affect his performance or game play status. However, his ability to practice and/or play in this week’s game will help us make some educated guesses.

First off we need to get this out-of-the-way: this injury is not likely to be related to the surgery that Romo had on his back last year.  The two issues would be difficult to correlate with one another as these fractures appear to be a direct result of the hit that Romo took on Monday night.  Now while I don’t think the fractures occurred because of his old injury, I do believe that getting hit with the force that it takes to fracture his vertebrae can not be good news for someone who had a herniated disc issue just last year.  Herniated disc are generally irritated during forward bending activity and on Monday night the hit in question surely looked to violently bend Romo forward.  It is a long season, we will have to wait and see if some of the same disc issues arise as the season progresses, but if Romo keeps getting hit like that, his chances are greater to suffer an exacerbation.

As for the injury at hand; much of Romo’s limitation depend on where the fracture is.  There are different sections to our vertebrae.  The neck or cervical region provides lots of motion and allows us to move our head.  The upper back region is considered the thoracic region and provides very little movement.  The low back or lumbar region can be considered the region which provides us with most of our trunk mobility as it allows us to bend and rotate.  The Sacral region is in our pelvic region and is also involved with trunk movements and can be particularly important in females.  The location of Romo’s injury is not listed, but the general term of “back” would imply that this is either his thoracic or lumbar spine is involved.

Basically, the key factors in this assessment are comparing the inflexible nature of the thoracic spine to the very flexible nature of the lumbar spine.  If this is a thoracic region transverse process injury, there will be pain. However, the pain int the thoracic region would likely occur during contact and possibly during the rotation forces while throwing.  If his injury is in the lumbar region, I believe the severity of pain, the occurrence of pain, and the risk for further injury are all increased based on the fact that the lumbar spine is always active and can be bent and rotated during the game both in a voluntary nature but also in an involuntary nature.  Without getting into a full anatomy lesson,  I will say that there are many structures around the transverse process such as the intertransverse ligament which connects adjacent transverse processes, in the thoracic spine the ribs attach very close to this area, the overlying musculature and soft tissue which will feel pain, and the remainder of the actual vertebrae which is now somewhat at risk.

transverse process
This diagram shows you the Transverse process as well as the many other structures close by.

If Romo plays, it is my guess that the fracture is in the thoracic region.   In this case, he will likely get something for pain and have extra padding.  If he doesn’t play my guess is that the fracture is in the lumbar region and Romo is unable to tolerate the pain during the throwing motion as well as the medical staff not wanting to take a chance at exacerbating the injury.

Ultimately, this will likely be an injury that will bother Tony Romo for a while as bone healing is generally 6-8 weeks.  However, the fact that surgery has not been mentioned and these fractures are described as small tells us that these are likely simple fractures that are not at great risk.  The treatment plan will likely include decreasing his trunk mobility by likely using a restrictive back brace; as well as utilizing pain modalities for Romo’s comfort.  Furthermore, the NFL has long been on the cutting edge of having modalities that minimize healing time and I am sure the Dallas Cowboys are serving these up to Romo on a platter.

Fantasy Implications

I do not expect Romo to play today and if he does I would not be surprised if he did not finish the game.  With Brandon Weeden to fill in I would think he is the logical replacement on your roster.  I would be careful though as the Dallas Cowboys are already a running team and this likely means more runs and less action for the back up.  Arizona is the best run defense in the league though, so you may get a surprise outing from Weeden if Murray gets shut down for the first time this year.  If Weeden is not your preference, then you may want to check if Brian Hoyer is available in your league.  Although he is not someone who would usually be on my radar; my colleague Dr. Starks has convinced me that Hoyer is headed for a big day.

I  expect Romo to return in week 12 .  The Cowboys have the Jaguars in London for week 10 and my guess is they will try to treat this like an additional  bye week as they have their actual bye in week 11.  They likely believe they can beat Jacksonville without Romo but I already have my upset alert ringing.

As for whether Romo is the toughest player in the NFL, the answer is simply NO!  I do think he is tough and old school in his ways.  He always wants to get back on the field and is willing to play through pain, but there are far worst injuries to players who will endure far more contact and pain throughout the game.  Romo’s injury will be sold as a broken back and him gutting it out, but in the end he is dealing with a fracture to a non-functional structure and if he plays he will likely have the miracle of medicine to mask most of his pain.  In Romo’s case, I say don’t believe the hype!

Watch out for that DeMarco Murray injury I predicted (Dallas Cowboys Running Back DeMarco Murray will end up on the bench!).  It is hard to imagine that they can lean on him any harder without him falling; this may just be the week he goes down too.

Dallas Cowboys Running Back DeMarco Murray Will End Up On The Bench!

DeMarco Murray
Cowboy fans close your eyes!…Im sure you don’t want to see this scene again.

October 16, 2014

Fantasy Stud DeMarco Murray is off to a fantastic start; but Fantasy Owners and Dallas Cowboy Fans should be ready for heart-break.

The Science

With Running Back DeMarco Murray on a record pace to have 424 rushing attempts, 56 receptions, and 2,093 yards; there are a lot of excited fans and fantasy owners giddy for more.  I caution you all to push the pause button and get your back ups ready.  By our SEP injury rating calculation, DeMarco Murray rates even lower than the injury poster child Steven Jackson; and we fully anticipate him to be on the sideline as a spectator this year.

Our SEP injury rating system is in the works. The unique injury rating system is currently being fine tuned for accuracy and tested against past evidence, however the rating system is functional enough to show the glaring probability that Murray will miss 3 or more games this year.  The SEP injury rating system combines Science, Evidence, and Performance to rank a players injury probability amongst their peers while also predicting how many games the player will miss due to injury.  Each player is rated on a 100 point scale with a multitude of factors assessed including their height, weight injury history, age, etc.  The end result for DeMarco Murray is an 83.5 rating, which indicates he will miss some time this year.  For comparison purposes, Steven Jackson who is 5 years Murray’s senior and a veteran to the injury report, is scored at an 88.5. Division mate and 2013 rushing title holder LeSean McCoy has a SEP rating of 90.0.  The SEP injury rating system will soon help you pick your fantasy player with your eyes wide open to how much you can depend on him.  We expect this comprehensive injury rating will be a valuable tool for fantasy owners, and all the way up to actual NFL franchise owners.  While we doubt that any system can predict each an every injury in a violent sport like football, there are many factors that allow a reasonable projection of injury probability.  With the skillful use of Science, Evidence and Performance; and our SEP injury rating system will take injury evaluation and outlook to the next level.

Now that we have gotten our SEP injury rating teaser out of the way, lets get back to DeMarco Murray.  The combination of Murray’s touches, his injury history, and even his speed works against him.  For those who payed attention in Physics class, you will remember that f= m x v2 (Force equals mass times velocity squared).  Murray is a not only a big running back at 227 lbs (the average NFL running back is about 215 lbs) but he is also one of the faster running backs with a reported 40 time of 4.41.  While Murray may not stand out as much as a Calvin Johnson or a Julio Jones, he would definitely fall into my category of being a “Freaky Talent”.  The verdict is still out on whether he is also “Supremely Skilled”.  As I have stated in the past, these “Freaky Talented” athletes are like race cars, they are pushing their bodies to the max and need frequent pit stops and repairs.  Now I am no racing expert (although after watching the movie “Rush”, I feel like I know a little bit….good movie!), but right now Murray is circling the track and skipping the pit stops to change his tires and whatever else they change at those stops.  The facts of the matter are that Murray generates a lot of force when he runs, considering his size and speed  (f = m x v2).  At this pace he will generate his force against an opposing defender who likely generates even more force, over and over again throughout the season.  He is on a pace for far greater than 500 episodes of impact with other players and the ground.  If these objective (factual) factors are not convincing enough, just simply watch him run.  Murray runs with the physicality of an Adrian Peterson, while also seeming to be taller than he is with a more upright style like the legendary Marcus Allen.  These are very flattering comparisons to two of the greatest running backs of all time, but in my opinion the mixture of the 2 styles is troublesome.  As you can see in the video below, Murray tends to have to get low to deliver his impact to a defender rather than staying low.  In my opinion, he would be better served to either stay lower with his same physical style or be more elusive with his more upright posture.  On the occasions in which he is getting hit, rather than delivering the punishment; he leaves the defender a wide area of impact based on his upright posture.  There are not many positions in football in which having less leverage is a good thing, and by having a more upright posture than the defender during impact; Murray is likely to lose the leverage battle often.  Despite Marcus Allen having a Hall of Fame career, his statistics tell the story that an upright runner in the NFL has their limitations.  If you look at his career, he failed to go over 1000 yards or get more than 225 carries for 13 out of his 16 seasons.  Thats right, I am telling you that the great Marcus Allen only had 3 – 1, 000 yard seasons and they were within his first 4 years in the league.  Some may look at this as surprising in a league that was more run centered during that time.  I look at it as a sign that a running back with this style and posture is not built to be a work horse, especially when they look for contact.



If your still not convinced, I would finally say that there is no better teacher than history itself.  Look no further than two letters–GP a.k.a. Games Played.  DeMarco Murray has NEVER completed a full professional season.  He has suffered all of the “usual suspect” injuries such as ankle sprains, hamstring pulls, sprained knees, etc.  The more disturbing piece of this is that he has not been a true RB 1 until last years 2013 season (Remember Felix Jones…what happen to him?) and still was unable to stay on the field.

I admit, it is possible that the Dallas Cowboys could adjust their game plan and cause a small improvement in Murray’s SEP injury rating over the course of the season, but that remains to be seen.  Many have applauded the Cowboys tactics of drafting Offensive Linemen and relying on their running game, but I think they are off base on this specific tactic with DeMarco Murray unless the objective is to get him injured.  In a league that has significantly leaned toward the passing game, top running backs are averaging about 225 carries and 45 catches per year.  Even those who hover near these averages are suffering injuries and most teams are well prepared with a 2, 3, or sometimes 4 back approach.  With Murray, on pace for almost double the average rushes, it appears that the Cowboys believe this is the 90’s and that Romo, Bryant and Murray are the new Big 3.  But even the great Emmit Smith never went over 400 carries in a season.  Only 2 running backs have crossed this threshold in the modern NFL and only 5 have gone over 400 carries in a season in NFL history  Maybe Murray is special and can join this group; and joining this group would most definitely mean playing all 16 games.  Those who have achieved this, have not faired well the following year as 3 out 5 did not play a complete season the following year.

Larry Johnson, who was the most recent back over 400 carries is also the all-time leader with 416 attempts during his  2006 campaign with the Kansas City Chiefs.  He never played another full season after his record setting season.  His following year was derailed by a foot injury that cost him 8 games and subsequent years were riddled with injuries and other miscellaneous issues.

Larry Johnson
Unfortunately Larry Johnson’s career dropped off a cliff after his record breaking season.

I think it is very clear that this pace is not sustainable when you study the Science, the Evidence, and the Performance related to this issue.  I would look for injuries and games missed for DeMarco Murray by week 13,  if not sooner.


Fantasy Implications

If you own DeMarco Murray, you should obviously play him.  My advice is to have a good stable of back ups and to keep an eye out for good running back pick ups as the season progresses.  Keep in mind that you not only are waiting for DeMarco to get injured but his offensive line showed its first chink in the armor this week with Right Tackle Doug Free going down for the next 3-4 weeks with a right foot injury.  You need to look no further than to LeSean McCoy’s numbers to find out what happens to backs when their offensive linemen get hurt.

Even beyond a serious injury, I think you see little injuries and a gradual decrease in touches to come first.  If the offensive line is mostly in tact, you can simply stash one of his back ups Lance Dunbar or Joseph Randle (if he can stay out of department stores).  The bottom line is you have to be ready.  Sure  Coach Garrett is talking about lightening Murray’s load, but talking and doing are two different things and my bet is they run him into the ground.

As for the indirect effect of a Murray’s decline or injury, you can count on Tony Romo looking like Tony Romo  by the end of this season.  I think Romo will remain a decent fantasy quarterback when Murray gets hurt but if the back up running backs can not get the job done like Murray, 3rd and longs likely means more sacks and interceptions for Romo.  Romo owners may need to think hard before thinking that Romo throwing more in Murray’s absence is a good thing.

Finally, for those who are submitting their ticket for the Cowboys to end their season in Arizona at the big game….you may want to sit tight.  Unless Dunbar or Randle are more talented than I believe, the decline of the running game will expose many of the deficiencies that the Dallas Cowboys still have.  In my opinion, none bigger than the defense who is helped by a ball control approach which keeps then fresh and aggressive when its their turn; and of course Tony Romo.  I don’t think the door is closed on Romo’s recent back injury and that door may be knocked of the hinges if he is forced to revert to his gun slinging self.

So in summary, keep an eye on any signs of Murray slowing down and any more injuries to the Cowboys offensive line.  Most importantly, PROCEED WITH CAUTION FOR ALL MOVES THAT INVOLVE DeMARCO MURRAY OR THE COWBOYS!  They are approaching the top of the roller coaster ride, and in the words of Isaac Newton- “What goes up must come down”