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Will the Cowboys be more aggressive moving forward?

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Jonathan Bales

I’ve written frequently (specifically in the “Comments” of posts) about how and why the Cowboys should be much more aggressive moving forward in 2010.  At 1-6, there’s really nothing to lose, and Dallas could use the remainder of the season to answer important questions about their squad.  For example. . .

Playing Phil Costa is the aggressive move.  Will he remain the starter once Kyle Kosier returns?

Inserting Akwasi Owusu-Ansah into the starting lineup is the aggressive move.  Will that happen once he overcomes his high ankle sprain?

Sitting veterans such as Marc Colombo, Marion Barber, and Keith Brooking (at least in certain situations) is the aggressive move.  But will it happen?

And going for it on 4th and 4 from your opponent’s 40-yard line is the aggressive move. . .and we know what Coach Phillips has recently elected to do in such situations.

I bring this up because this organization is going to have a major problem if the current coaching staff continues to coach to “save face” instead of doing what is best for the Dallas Cowboys in 2011.  It’s clear that Phillips has recently made in-game decisions in an effort to “soften the blow” so to speak.  Why?  I know many of you think Jerry Jones already has too much power, but he needs to step in right now and make sure the 2010 version of the Cowboys is actually focused on becoming a better team in 2011.

I’m not at all in support of a mid-season coaching change.  Unless JJ thinks the future Dallas Cowboys head coach is already in the organization (which I sure hope isn’t the case), firing your current head coach and defensive coordinator makes no sense. . .UNLESS.

Unless said head coach knows his job is already out the window and is making important decisions based on appearing “respectable” in 2010.

I’m a competitor.  I want the Cowboys to win all the time and anything less than a championship, in my view, is a failure.  So while I want the Cowboys to win every remaining game this year, the future cannot be sacrificed in an effort to do that.  It’s almost irrelevant to me if Dallas ends up 1-15 or 8-8 this year. . .both records will be a failure.  I want the Cowboys to be true winners–the best of the best–and they need to realize that opportunity has passed this season.

Thus, they need to do everything in their power to prepare for a championship run in 2011.  If it means sacrificing the present, then so be it.  But if the goals of the current staff result in punting the ball on 4th and 4 from the opponent’s 40-yard line (or 4th and 3 from the 39-yard line last week), then something needs to change, and it needs to change now.

For those who are frequent visitors to DC Times, you know I try to back up everything I write with statistical proof that is highly relevant to my views.  So here we go. . .

On 4th and 4 from the opponent’s 40-yard line, the decision to punt the ball is incredibly detrimental to the Cowboys.  Statistically, they should go for it on all 4th down plays in that range up until and including 4th and 10.

Evidence of this comes in Advanced NFL Stats Win Probability graphs (which I highly recommend).  They take thousands of results from very specific game situations in the past and determine a team’s chances of winning a game at any particular moment.  What is the probability of a team winning a game when having a 1st and 10 at their own 20-yard line, down four, with three minutes left to play?  I’ve been amazed at the accuracy with which these graphs can provide that sort of information.

If you look at the Win Probability graph for the Cowboys-Jaguars game, you’ll see the Cowboys’ chances of winning decreased from 14 percent to 13 percent after their 4th down punt.

But this alone isn’t evidence that Phillips made a poor decision.  The effectiveness of a choice isn’t determined by how much it increases or decreases a team’s chances of winning, but rather how much it does so in comparison to the alternative.  If the Cowboys went for it on 4th down and gained just the four yards needed for a 1st down, the chances of them winning the game would have actually been closer to 20 percent.  Meanwhile, if they went for it on 4th down and failed, their chances of winning would have decreased to around 12 percent.

I’ll save you the monotonous math, but for the decision to punt to be the correct one, we’d have to assume that the Cowboys had less than a 25 percent chance of converting on that 4th and 4.  That’s clearly not the case.  Actually, the Cowboys have been 7 of 17 (41.2 percent) on 3rd or 4th and 4 dating back to the start of last season.  Of course that sample size isn’t huge, but the pool of data suggesting punting on 4th and 4 from your opponent’s 40-yard line is a horrible decision is statistically significant–meaning Phillips’ decision to do so isn’t just the “conservative” play, it’s also the wrong one.

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7 Responses to Will the Cowboys be more aggressive moving forward?

  1. JJ says:

    Jonathan,

    After watching Moss get cut today as well as Jason Williams, it is awfully hard not to admire the Patriots. They are LOADED in the draft next year, are on top of their division (if not the best team in the AFC) and most “average” fans could not name more that 3-4 guys on the team. Yet, they have talent and have stayed in the hunt for years. How?

    A sharp focus, discipline, eye for talent and getting the most out of your players. The Cowboys will never be able to hide in the NFL. They are the team you love or hate. That is why I hope, even now, that Jerry has a plan. He’s not a bad GM but he has too many other jobs (marketing Cowboys Stadium, NFL Owners Meetings, etc.) The Cowboys really could use a football mind (whether it’s the next head coach or director of player personnel) whose focus is only on football. To me the aggressive move (and it’s not an emotional one for me), is to let go of Wade now. Why? Because everything out of his mouth, even when sincere, will be met with a roll of the eyes. Focus on fundamentals? More accountability? Wade, now you see this? Letting go of Wade now let’s everyone know that they are in a rehearsal for next year even if it means they are rehearsing for another team.

    Fans need to feel that there is not lip service from Jerry and have something to anticipate. A few wins this year or the desire just to improve is not enough. They need to know that Jerry is getting things going now for next year. Not that the current staff has the next head coach but it shakes things up enough to show that Jerry is well aware that Wade “has jumped the shark.”

  2. OmarJ says:

    cowboys suck!! ha, well we all already know it but i wanted to throw it away, jerry and wade suck, this has to be one of the most clear smaples of poor evaluation, they really thought alan ball would be ok startinf at FS? that decision is enough to see the incompetence around this organization

  3. john coleman says:

    I definitely think it is time for more guys to be playing. Also Wade has indicted himself by admitting we are failing on basics. He must go to allow for evaluation of the rest of the staff. It’s time for JG to show us he can get the offense ready and that he has some fire. If not, see ya.

  4. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Very interesting article and comments. JJ and Omar, it’s apparent you guys know football.

    So, I agree w/ all being written here. But I think one glaring point is being overlooked here concerning Wade and Jerry and the whole situation. That is – the VALUE of the franchise. Yeah, I know, the team is playing badly. Their 1-6 and likely to win maybe 2 to 3 more games. I know that the season tickets are all sold out but the revenue loss from standing room only tickets, concessions, parking, merchandise, etc. will be a lot less than expected. That might not seem like much but I would guess that a stadium 75% full (compared to 98-99% full) is probably a loss of about 33% or more revenue for Jerry Jones.

    Whi is this important? I makes the owner/general manager nervous? What if he brings in a high profile (read that expensive) head coach only to have the boys be mediocre another 4-6 years? Jerry is in damage control mode apologizing to the fans as the most popular and profitable sports franchise in America is in despair.

    I realize the Boys did this a few years back when Jimmy Johnson first started out but there was little expectation of making the playoffs that year much less be the 1st team to play in a Superbowl in their home stadium. This is embarrising to him and just might be enough of a personal “hit” to make him warry of any risky undertakings. I know, Jerry’s a big man and he can absorb the loss but that isn’t the point. He’s a BUSINESSMAN and right now, the stock he’s heavily vested in is tanking big time. He wants to build it back up but slow and steady is always the best approach.

    So, with the high draft picks and all next year, don’t expect too much to happen. This year – maybe he’ll take some chances. But next year, expect a new head coach that might be of the nature of being watched heavily and monitored at every turn.

    Just a thought…

  5. JJ–I actually didn’t think much about the psychological aspect of dumping Wade now as you brought up, but I think you have a good point. I do think the organization needs to make some changes NOW to show the fans they aren’t just going to stick with the status quo and give them something to anticipate for next season. While I want it to be in the form of personnel changes, perhaps a coaching change is a prerequisite for personnel changes which I overlooked. I guess the question is, “Can and will Wade make big changes to personnel, the starting lineups, and the team’s in-game philosophy?”

  6. JJ says:

    Tyrone, thanks for the props. With Jerry as a businessman, I do think he will be reluctant to hire a NEW coach this season with the pending labor issues next year. However, that does not mean he can’t rid himself of Wade.

    Jonathan, here’s how I look at it: I read comments from Mosley, Archer, the guys at ESPN Dallas and even the Cowboys own website and there is a call for change. Ok, that’s natural. Yet, the Cowboys have only given us a smoke screen in throwing out some crumbs. Cutting Jason Williams? What’s Wade to do? He’s between a rock and hard place. He does not have the authority to speak candidly. For example, the Cowboys 2009 draft was a bust. A tragic bust. Does anyone say, “We blew it. We’ll learn from this.” Nope. It was Jerry’s draft so Wade cannot say it. He does say, “Not every pick makes it.” It was a awful…there is no shame in stating this obvious fact. Making excuses for it when you are 1-6 is absurd. That’s why I say that Wade’s act is old. Further, my thoughts that he can assess talent are faltering. It seems that he did not see that Williams was a mess. It seems he cannot see that Choice could be better than Barber. It seems that he cannot see that Colombo should be spelled by Young for a few plays or that Ball is colossal bust. All we get is excuses. And, if he does make a few changes, everyone will say, “Now he finally does it.” As each week passes, I’m concerned that the blogs will diminish. The writers will painfully try to come up with material and this season will sink further into irrelevance and the worst condition? That no one will care. I was a fan during the Bum Bright era and that was the prevailing condition: NO ONE CARED. It was painful.

    So, even if the Cowboys lose the rest of the way and Jerry lets Coach P or Coach Joe D or Coach Garrett take the reins as interim….at least, this Coach can say something that may not be viewed as clueless, disingenuous or even guarded. They can just say about anything with passion behind their voice and will be deemed new…even if it keeps it fresh for a few weeks…and maybe, just maybe, they’ll be allowed to make coaching decisions and they will bench players that just are not producing.

  7. JJ–I think what you say is true, but won’t that happen next offseason anyway? I suppose you could say each new season brings that sort of optimisim regardless of the changes, but the job of the organization now isn’t to make the fans happy and interested. I could see you (or a lot of people) disagreeing with me about that, but I don’t think they owe anything to fans outside of doing everything possible to field a winning team.

    Now, if keeping Wade now hampers their ability to do that, then I am with you. If a new coach will come in and make significant mid-season changes, then go for it. I just don’t see an in-house hire doing that.

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