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Why I’d Start Jermey Parnell Over Doug Free

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At NBC, I explained why I think Jermey Parnell should be the Cowboys’ starting right tackle in 2013.

But who could possibly play in Free’s place? Well, the Cowboys probably should have tried harder to upgrade the position, but of the choices on the roster right now, the starter should be Jermey Parnell. Let’s compare their 2012 stats. I tracked Free as allowing seven sacks in 674 snaps in pass protection—a 1.03 percent sack rate. Meanwhile, Parnell allowed five sacks in only 191 snaps in pass protection—a 2.6 percent sack rate.

So how could I possibly say Parnell was better than Free last year? Well, sacks are notoriously fluky, meaning they’re a really, really poor way to judge linemen. Instead, pressures—the times a lineman allowed his man to reach the quarterback, sack or not—are a better indicator of pass protection. And in 2012, Free gave up 41 pressures, compared to eight for Parnell. Those numbers equate to 6.1 percent and 4.2 percent pressure rates, respectively.

This is all statistical talk for a simple fact: based on how he played, Free got really lucky to allow just seven sacks last year, while Parnell was unlucky to allow five. I’ve found that a lineman’s sacks allowed typically add up to 25 percent of the pressures he’s yielded. That means Free’s most likely sack total in 2012 was 10, while Parnell’s was two.

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