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Cowboys Film Study- The Importance of Deon Anderson Revisited: A Statistical View

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Deon Anderson's plays per game remained relatively steady, while John Phillips saw a sharp spike in playing time when he was the second TE versus San Diego and New Orleans.

A few days ago we wondered just how important fullback Deon Anderson was to the Cowboys’ offense in 2009.   The emergence of rookie John Phillips seemed to be a road block in Anderson’s progress.   If Phillips’ blocking was at all comparable to Anderson’s, the versatility and pass-catching skill he exhibits might make him a better fit as an H-back type hybrid player.

As always, we dove into our film study database to determine just how valuable Deon Anderson was this past season in both the running and passing games.   The results shocked us. Deon Anderson’s blocking ability, it appears, was sorely under-appreciated, especially by us.  Meanwhile, John Phillips’ youth shown through, as he was quite over-matched in the run game.

Anderson was on the field for 294 plays in 2009, while Phillips was in the Cowboys’ offensive package on 141 plays (a breakdown of each player’s plays-per-game is above).  Below is a chart detailing the effectiveness of each player. Note that the sample size of plays for each player is large enough that we can discern meaningful, statistically-significant conclusions.

Dallas' yards-per-rush when Anderson was in the game was enormously higher than when Phillips was in the lineup, yet the yards-per-pass, surprisingly, remained about equal.

As you can see, the yards per rush for the Cowboys when Deon Anderson was in the ball game was significantly better than when Phillips was in the lineup. Anderson’s 5.6 average is even more impressive when considering the large sample size of 221 rushes.   Phillips’ average of 3.7 yards-per-rush is particularly poor for a team that rushed the ball so well over the course of the season, and the sample size of 92 runs is large enough for us to conclude that the 1.9 yards-per-carry difference is due to a significant drop-off in blocking ability from Anderson to Phillips.

Perhaps even more surprising than these results, however, is the fact that the team’s yards-per-pass average was higher with Deon Anderson in the lineup.  While the .23 yard difference may be negligible, the fact that Deon Anderson provided the necessary protection to average the same yards-per-pass as a pass-catching threat like Phillips is meaningful.

While Phillips did snag seven balls (targeted nine times) for 62 yards (as opposed to Anderson’s one catch for 5 yards), his blocking ability is not yet refined enough to force opposing defenses to stay in their base personnel when he is in the game.  The team’s slightly better yards-per-pass average when Anderson is in the game also shows that his pass blocking makes up for this drop-off in receiving skills.

Thus, we must conclude that Deon Anderson’s blocking ability in both the running and passing games makes him a much better option at fullback than John Phillips at this time.  This is not to say, of course, that Phillips will not improve and become a better blocker, as he was only a rookie last season.  Phillips appears to have the work ethic and demeanor necessary to improve his game, but right now Deon Anderson, contrary to first glance, is much more valuable than any of us had thought.

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