The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By

Super Bowl Sunday Stats: Dallas Cowboys Style

Subscribe to The DC Times
Never miss a post again!

Vince Grey

As I sit here watching two franchises—one that I don’t particularly like or dislike with any passion, and another I despise—get ready to play for the NFL title in our stadium, I thought I’d look to next season.  Since Dallas has been to eight Super Bowls—no team has been to more—I’ve noticed there are some very interesting trends (along with the ever-present “exception to the rule”) which show up remarkably consistently.

Want to see Dallas in the big game?  History says watch for these keys:

  • Win the opening game of the regular season. The only exception here is the `93 squad, which actually lost its first two games—thanks to the team tanking because of Emmitt’s absence—but rallied (Smith returned) to go 12-2 the rest of the season, and, of course, 3-0 in the playoffs.  Still, 7-1 is a powerful trend that indicates it is important to get off to a hot start.
  • Win the last regular season game. 7-1 not good enough for you?  Want one even stronger?  How about 8-0?  That’s right, no Dallas Cowboys team has ever made the Super Bowl in a year when they lost their last game of the regular season.  None.  Nada. Kind of curious, as other franchises are able to occasionally pull off the trick, as the Saints did last year and the Giants did in 2007.  For the Cowboys, however, winning that last game seems vitally important.
  • Lose no more than four games. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a 14 or 16 game season, when Dallas makes the Super Bowl, they don’t lose more than four games.  Of course, if they want to all but guarantee a win, they should endeavor to lose less than 4. The squads that did–’71 (11-3), `77 (12-2), and `92 (13-3)–all won their Super Bowl quite handily.
  • Win the NFC East. It’s not an absolute must, but it’s darn close.  Only the `75 team made the Super Bowl as a wild card.  The other seven won their division.
  • Play the NFC conference title game at home. Again, not a must, but the Cowboys are a perfect 5-0 in those games played in Dallas.  That’s strong mojo, bro.
  • Have a great running game. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s a different league now, all passing, the rules favor the offense, blah, blah, blah.  Don’t care.  The 90’s Super Bowl teams had Emmitt of course, and the `77 and `78 teams had Dorsett.  The `70, `71 teams didn’t have running backs that, but they might have had something even better in a three-headed monster–Calvin Hill, Walt Garrison, and Duane Thomas.  Oh, and that `75 team?  The one that didn’t have a thousand-yard rusher or any great backs?  They managed to get 173.7 YPG rushing, second only to the `77 team that averaged 173.9.  The 90’s Cowboys Super Bowl teams averaged about a 130 YPG rushing.  ALL the Dallas Super Bowl teams averaged over four yards-per-carry, which may be the more significant stat.
  • Have great yards-per-attempt passing numbers. 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 8, 4, & 3.  That’s where Dallas finished every season in the very important yards-per-attempt passer rankings.  I always wondered how Craig Morton, of all people, got the Cowboys to the Super Bowl in 1970.  Great defense, great running game (first) and ol’ Craig led the NFL in YPA that year.  Blew me away.  Yet, there’s always that weird anomaly.  The `92 squad, arguably the best of all the Super Bowl teams, ranked only eighth.  Not bad, but reasonably far from the other final rankings.
  • Play great defense. This seems like a “well duhhh” point here, but I’ve seen more than a few so-called experts say that in today’s NFL, you can get to the Super Bowl with a very average, even below average, defense as long as you have a great offense.  That may be technically true, but I counter with the thought that those seasons are rare exceptions rather than the rule.  Plus, some of those teams really turned up the defense in the playoffs, like the 2006 Colts.  23rd ranked defense in the regular season, and then ranked first in the playoffs.  I wouldn’t count on that sort of thing.  Instead, I point to these defensive rankings: 4, 3, 5, 1, 2, 1, 10, and 9 (average ranking: fourth), and say that it seems clear the Cowboys need at least a top ten defense to get to the big game.

Well there you have it.  Any season the Cowboys make the playoffs, you now have some indicators of whether it’s a token appearance, or the real deal.  Slip in as a pass-heavy, offensive-minded, 10-6 wild card team?  Bye.  See ya.  Go in as a high-seeded 12-4 team with a strong running game, hot quarterback, and top defense?  Win that last game?  Super Bowl, here we come.

So, what happened in 2007?  Odd year.  An anomaly, at first glance.  Cowboys go 13-3, and have the number one seed.  Check.  This was an offensive juggernaut (third in total offense), and Romo was second in YPA.  Check.  They didn’t run all that well (17th, 109 YPG), but they averaged a respectable 4.2 YPC.  Call that a push.  They had the ninth-rated defense.  Check.  Won their season opener. Check.

All those checks!

Lost the last game of the regular season.  27-6 to the `Skins.  Bzzzt.  Killer.

Oh well, there’s always next year, right?

Be Sociable, Share!

13 Responses to Super Bowl Sunday Stats: Dallas Cowboys Style

  1. Great article Vince. A few thoughts:

    I agree all of the factors are correlated to teams that win SBs, but I don’t think all are causes. For example…winning your first regular season game. Good teams generally win. A team that wins the SB is a great team, and they’re very likely to win any game. I know you always want to start the season hot, but choosing the first game as a barometer for future success is no less arbitrary than choosing the second, third, etc.

    The 8-0 stat in regular season finales is interesting. I definitely think it is far more important to go into the playoffs hot than to win the first regular season game. I’d propose that SB-winning teams often win their last game because 1) they are simply good teams and 2) unless they have home-field locked up, they have something big for which to play. The chances of a hungry Cowboys team that is playoff-bound losing to a 7-8 squad, for example, is quite small.

    Playing the NFC Championship at home is another factor which is the result of already being good, but I certainly think it is important. Although home-field advantage is seeming to lose some of its importance, I’d still certainly rather be in Dallas than anywhere else for a Championship game. Still, I think this factor has more to do with a team already being great than a reason for propelling them to an NFL title.

    You know how I feel about passing/rushing stats. The game has changed, but I definitely, definitely think rushing efficiency is huge. Your claim that YPC may be more important than overall rushing is spot on. I’ll take an offense that rushes for 120 YPG with 5.0 YPC over a team that rushes for 150 YPG on 4.2 YPC all day.

    Great defense is certainly a key, but what does ‘great’ mean nowadays? I think it is shifting from a defense that stops the run and minimizes points against to a team that makes big plays against the pass and, while not necessarily minimizing points against (due to the occasional big play), maximizes overall point differential by putting the offense is short-field situations.

    Feel free to critique Vince’s article and my own thoughts.

  2. Vince_Grey says:

    First thing, a correction. The Cowboys are *5-1* in NFC title games played at home, not 5-0. In `73 the 10-4 Cowboys lost at home to the 12-2 Vikings, 27-10. At that time, the NFL was still rotating home championship games rather than base them on regular season records, which I assumed they did by that point.

    And we all know what happens when one assumes, don’t we? My apologies for the error.

  3. Mark Watkins says:

    You have some interesting points there Vince, especially the YPC. I think the 92 was probably just so well-rounded that they won despite not having great numbers there. And they seemed to be able to almost run at will too. I would agree with Jonathan’s assertion that they are likely to win most games, as they typically only lost a few games a season in those championship seasons anyway. And they were probably more fired up in the first game of the season, and wanting to create momentum for the last game. Nevertheless, they are interesting observations. Thanks.

  4. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Nice article Vince and good points as well JB.

    As far as the quantification of your points – I have a question. When you say “Play great defense” what does that mean exactly? You mention average rankings – is that total yards? Also, you make no mention of other stats… do previous SB wining teams give up less than 15 ppg on average? Are they in the top 3rd in the NFL in passing yards given up? Win the turnover battle?

    To me, the most important stat for any team, offense, defense or special teams, is scoring. What are a teams scoring offense #s and scoring defensene #s. How many points do they score and how many do they give up? Teams that have the largest margin between the two normaly are more successful than others.

  5. Rick says:

    Nice article. I don’t think there’s really any formula for NFL success. You do need to have a good quarterback. But, otherwise, you need to be at least decent in all areas, and strong in some areas. Teams have won the Super Bowl with average running game, and teams have won the Super Bowl with average defenses. But I don’t think any team has won the Super Bowl with an average running game AND an average difference.

  6. Rick says:

    Average defense, not difference*

  7. Vince_Grey says:

    Lot of points to cover here. The first and main one, which, in hindsight, I should have included in the article, is this:

    My goal here was to show a group of common stats and trends in Cowboy SB appearances. The interesting point, IMO, being that they remain remarkably consistent, even though they cover a 25 year period over 3 decades. I see four distinct eras here, the early 70’s, (`70, `71) where offenses still relied mainly on the run, but could still move the ball through the air with the right QB; the “dead ball” mid-70’s, where defenses reigned supreme; the `78 season, when the rule changes opened things up (To the strong detriment of the Cowboys of that time, but that’s another topic for another day.) and the 90’s.

    All that time, all those different teams, players, coaches and eras, and yet the trends I listed seem to remain enforce, with possibly one exception no matter what. That’s extremely interesting to me. The question is, why? There has to be some correlation other than simply pure coincidence, right?

  8. Vince_Grey says:

    JB, I hope what I wrote above answers a lot of your questions, but I also want to touch on your other points.

    As for the “great team” theory, well, I disagree all of those Cowboy SB teams were “great”, specifically the `70, `75, and `95 teams. I can think of several Cowboy squads that didn’t make the SB that I would probably rank above those teams. So, what I did was look at what separated those teams. What did they have in common?

    As for “great defense” I looked at the standard NFL defensive rankings. I started to break it down to run defense vs pass defense, and turnover margin, and all that, but once I looked the basic “total yards” measure, as the NFL does, the common trend stood out like a third eye, with a ranking no worse than 5th except for the last two seasons. Even then there’s an asterisk, because those teams ranked 2nd and 3rd in points allowed respectively, despite their lower overall defensive rank.

  9. willis says:

    Hey JB, I’ve been thinking about all of the teams that have won the superbowl the past few years and what they had in common. Great (or good depending on your view) quarterbacks are a given. Stout offensive and defensive lines….ok.

    But the thing that really stands out to me other than the regulars is that the trendsems to suggest that having a pro-bowl safety is a big part of it. Both teams in tonights game have pro-bowl safeties, one who is defensive player of the year and the other who made one of the biggest plays of the game. I was wondering if you could analyze how important that position has become since the transitio to the passing league we have now.

  10. Vince–I definitely see your points, and I agree with most of the bullet points. Actually, I agree that are all correlated to SB teams, but I think a few are ONLY that, and not a direct cause. Winning 12+ games, for example, seems fair enough, but what are the other options? Most seasons, you aren’t going to get in at anything worse than 10-6, so ALL SB teams will generally have 10-16 wins. With the teams that have 10-11 wins often being Wild Card teams, we ALREADY know they may not be as good as the 12-win teams. In that way, 12+ wins is often a strong indicator for a SB team but not a prerequisite. . .the team has already won 12 games and often plays teams that are inferior. In short, I think saying winning 12 games is a SB prerequisite is kind of “pointless” info. 6 and 7-win teams CAN’T win and 12+ win teams that win the big one do so because they are ALREADY great, not because of their win total.

    Still, great article and kudos on the comments/discussion we have going here.

    Willis–Not a bad idea. . .after I finish my player grades (end of the week) I will take a look back at the safeties. If you don’t see something by next week, shoot me a reminder.

  11. craig says:

    willis- i too have wondered why safeties get hurt on the positional rankings. Every good team seems to have a top ten safety (outside of the jets).

  12. Vince_Grey says:

    Let me make clear that the trends I listed apply only to the Cowboys, and should not be considered as a barometer for other franchises. Just look at Green Bay, a 10-6 wildcard team that didn’t/couldn’t run the ball much, yet they won the SB against a 12-4, top seeded Steeler team that was much more in line with the “Cowboy” trends.

    I absolutely agree the 4 loss trend seems more coincidental than anything else, yet there it is, again, holding true for 8 different teams over 25 years. Let’s all hope Dallas can get to the SB soon so we can look at whether the trends still hold.

    Still, in the past, you could almost always count on the SB teams coming from the top 3-4 teams from the regular season, but lately it’s like there’s no meaning to regular season success. Now, it’s all about just getting into the playoffs and getting “hot” at the right time.

    Some call that parity, but IMO, that’s a strong indication of a watered down league, which I think is bad for the NFL and we the fans in the long run.

  13. craig says:

    “Some call that parity, but IMO, that’s a strong indication of a watered down league, which I think is bad for the NFL and we the fans in the long run.” – Vince Grey

    I think this could be an article by itself.

    Why do you think this is bad for the NFL and fans?

    The super bowl did not indicate this. The tv ratings have gotten better in the regular season as well (but who knows how much stock we should give to those).

    either way fun topic mr grey

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *