The art of QB risk-taking

Tony Romo's risky play cost Dallas a win. But taking chances is part of the job.

Originally Published: September 17, 2011
By Seth Wickersham | ESPN Insider
Tony RomoAP Photo/Julio CortezRomo's risk-taking has gotten him in trouble throughout his career.

You can't play quarterback in the NFL without being a good risk-taker. What is a good risk-taker? That's where it gets fuzzy. Strictly speaking, a good risk-taker minimizes the downside while maximizing the upside. But football is fast and messy, and risks are decided in seconds. So how do you draw the thin line that separates good risks from bad ones?

No team, from what I can tell after conducting a very informal text poll of execs around the league, has attempted to quantify what risks are good ones for quarterbacks. From the naked eye, Tony Romo took a bunch of bad risks in Sunday's loss to the Jets. Most egregiously, he dove for the end zone when it appeared that he would be short and ended up fumbling. Critics charged that it was a bad choice -- why risk the turnover? Slide and take the field goal, right?

On the other side, Joe Flacco was Week 1's best risk-taker. Time after time, Flacco threw to covered receivers. His first-quarter 27-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin was a perfect example: Boldin was covered, yet Flacco dropped the ball into his hands as if playing Pop-A-Shot -- he threw him open, as Steve Young likes to say. Seems risky. But, as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron says, "What looks risky to fans might be completely different from a quarterback's perspective."

Seth Wickersham | email

ESPN The Magazine senior writer
Seth Wickersham joined ESPN The Magazine after graduating from the University of Missouri. Although he primarily covers the NFL, his assignments also have taken him to the Athens Olympics, the World Series, the NCAA tournament and the NHL and NBA playoffs.