The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Running the Numbers: Cowboys’ Yards-Per-Route

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At DallasCowboys.com, I published the different career paths for the Cowboys’ receivers based on yards-per-route.

“Numbers don’t lie” is, well, a lie. Plenty of stats, perhaps even the bulk of what’s out there, don’t properly reflect reality. When you hear that the Cowboys have a gaudy record when they rush the ball X times or they struggle when Tony Romo has Y attempts, those numbers are misleading because they’re simply correlated and not the result of any sort of causation. There are many statistical relationships out there that aren’t actually rooted in reality. There’s a pretty strong relationship between shoe size and yearly salary, for example, but we’d never argue that people make more money because they have big feet.

It can be difficult to determine which stats are truly meaningful, i.e. the ones that don’t “lie.” The ultimate goal of any stat, in addition to explaining a past event, should be to predict the future. When numbers are utilized to make accurate prognostications, we know they’re “good” (useful) stats. That’s one reason that passing efficiency is far better than, say, rushing attempts when we’re determining the quality of a team. Rushing attempts can explain past success, but they can’t accurately predict future victories. Meanwhile, passing yards-per-attempt is perhaps the top individual stat for predicting future team success.

With that in mind, you can perhaps gain a better sense of why I argued that Jason Witten’s 2012 season wasn’t really better than any other. In no way was I saying Witten isn’t a great player. He is. But in terms of efficiency, Witten had his worst season as a receiver in six years. His bulk stats, receptions and yards, were outstanding because the Cowboys were forced to throw the ball more than all but two teams. That allowed Witten to run over 100 more routes than he averaged over the previous five seasons.

Check out the whole article at the team site.

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