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

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Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Throwing Deep

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My latest “Running the Numbers” post is a look at Tony Romo and the Cowboys’ deep passing game.

When the 2012 season concluded, I was sifting through my database of Cowboys plays and I noticed something interesting regarding Dez Bryant’s targets. The superstar wide receiver was hardly used at all downfield in the beginning of the season. Below, I sorted all of Bryant’s deep targets (those thrown at least 20 yards downfield) by game.

Six games into the 2012 season, Bryant had seen only four deep targets, three of which came against the Chicago Bears, a game in which the Cowboys got down early and were forced to throw. In four of his first six contests, Bryant didn’t see one deep target. And take a look at Bryant’s average stat lines:

  • Games 1-6: 63.7 yards, 0.33 TDs per game
  • Games 7-16: 100.4 yards, 1 TD per game

Bryant exploded when the Cowboys found ways to get him the ball downfield. It could just be a coincidence, but when you consider that Bryant is widely labeled as one of the NFL’s premiere jump ball/deep threat wide receivers, there’s reason to think that it probably isn’t.

So, when possible, we know the ’Boys should probably try to get Bryant in favorable situations deep down the field. But that doesn’t mean that deeper is always better.

Average Length of Passes Around the NFL

Using stats from Pro Football Focus, I researched a stat called aDOT, average depth of target, coined by Mike Clay. I sorted the league’s quarterbacks into four quantiles based on the average distance of their passes and their winning percentage in 2012.

You can see that the quarterbacks who threw the longest passes were the most successful as a whole. That top quarter of passers includes Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco. For what it’s worth, Luck led the league with an aDOT of 10.8 yards.

On the other end of the spectrum, though, we see nearly as much success from the short-tossing quarterbacks. That group includes Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers, and both Robert Griffin III and Peyton Manning landed just outside of it. Christian Ponder had the shortest passes in the NFL in 2012, averaging just 6.8 yards. In case you’re wondering, Romo’s aDOT of 9.0 yards ranked him in the second quantile, right behind Tom Brady.

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