The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

An update on where the hell I’ve been

After a few Twitter mentions asking “where r u?” and me subsequently locking my doors, I realized some of you have just been wondering why I haven’t been updating this blog too much.

Well, one reason is that I’ve cut back on my Cowboys writing. I’m still doing daily pieces over at Bleacher Report, which you can always find right here. Some of the latest include six players who could be on the roster bubble, my first 2014 Cowboys mock draft, and five free agents the Cowboys should target (hint: I’d pay $1,000 out of my own pocket to see Dallas sign Danario Alexander).

The primary reason I’ve been updating The DC Times infrequently, though, is that I’ve been working on some other football/fantasy football-related projects, so I just haven’t had much time on my hands. One was this book. Another is top secret. And the other stuff will be unveiled in time.

I realize there are literally DOUBLE-DIGIT readers out there who appreciate and even seek out my Cowboys analysis, but for now, I will be cutting back. Like I said, you can still find my stuff at B/R (and I’ll continue to post on here, too).

So that’s where the hell I’ve been. What have you been up to, Mom?

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Analysis: Dez Bryant, Orlando Scandrick & Week 8 Primer

At DallasCowboys.com, I broke down why I like Orlando Scandrick:

Through Week 7, Scandrick has been targeted 41 times, a pretty high number for a cornerback playing so well. He’s yielded 26 receptions (63.4 percent) for 217 yards (5.29 yards per attempt or YPA). That efficiency is outstanding for any cornerback.

Actually, anything around 7.5 YPA or lower is great, and Scandrick has checked in below that in all but two games.

He turned in a decent performance against the Broncos (although you might say it was above average given the competition) and a slightly below-average game against the Redskins, but otherwise, Scandrick has been unbelievable. Even considering his work solely in the slot, Scandrick has allowed only 5.35 YPA.

One of the other cool ways to judge cornerbacks is by how many yards they allow on a per-route basis. That way, they’re actually rewarded for having good coverage and not getting targeted. Whereas a cornerback who gave up one completion of 15 yards in 100 snaps would be penalized in terms of YPA, he’d rank highly in yards per route (YPR).

Looking at how Scandrick compares to the Cowboys’ other cornerbacks and the NFL as a whole, we can start to visualize his dominance.

The top cornerback in the NFL in YPR is unsurprisingly Tampa Bay’s Darrelle Revis, according to Pro Football Focus. But not far behind him, ranking well within the top 10, is Scandrick. Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, who ranks in the top 20 in the NFL in YPR at 1.01, is performing better than he did in 2012. Still, at 0.73 YPR, Scandrick is over a quarter-yard better than the Cowboys’ “best” cornerback. He’s allowing well below half of Morris Claiborne’s 1.63 YPR.

At Dallas Morning News, I explained why I think Dez Bryant might eventually be better than Calvin Johnson:

A Different Look

One of the rebuttals I heard regarding the original Bryant vs. Johnson debate is that Bryant had a superior quarterback during his first three years in the NFL. That’s certainly true. And while you might think there’s no way to quantify that, we can look at market share—the percentage of their teams’ total passing yards and touchdowns that each receiver generated.

When we look at it through that lens, Johnson comes out on top.

Although the numbers are relatively close, Johnson had a higher percentage of his team’s yards (30.7 percent) and touchdowns (39.7 percent) through his first three seasons.

While this is certainly a positive for Johnson, there are a couple reasons I think it doesn’t matter as much as the original numbers. First, Johnson had way more targets in his first three years (382 versus 313 for Bryant). If we account for those numbers, the market share stats look very comparable.

Second, the total market share numbers reward Johnson for playing on a poor team. For example, he had 21 touchdowns in his first three seasons, while Bryant totaled 27. But Johnson’s market share of touchdowns was higher because the Lions as a team threw only 53 total touchdowns during that time, compared to 91 for the Cowboys.

Finally, there’s value in having the same market share with higher bulk stats. What’s more difficult: posting 10 touchdowns on a team that throws for 20, or 20 touchdowns on a team that has 40? The latter, for sure, but market sure doesn’t capture that.

We definitely need to examine quarterback quality when determining if Bryant’s first three seasons were indeed superior to Johnson’s, and market share is part of that. It certainly gives us a glimpse into just how poor Johnson’s team was, at least. But when you consider Bryant’s efficiency and bulk stats in combination with the market share numbers, there’s at least a semi-convincing argument to be made that he’s on the path to Johnson-esque greatness.

And at Bleacher Report, I posted a Week 8 primer:

Key Matchup to Watch: RT Doug Free vs. DE Willie Young

The Lions are loaded across the defensive line, with defensive ends Ezekiel Ansah and Willie Young out wide and defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley inside. Suh is the big name and the Lions’ top pass-rusher, but Young has been pretty effective as well.

Young checks in just below Suh in pressure rate, and he leads the Lions in quarterback hits. Pro Football Focus has tracked Young as lining up on the left side of Detroit’s defense on 70.8 percent of his pass snaps, so he’ll face off primarily against right tackle Doug Free.

Free has improved significantly over last year, allowing pressure on just 3.6 percent of his snaps (compared to 6.1 percent in 2012). If Free can contain Young on his own, the Cowboys will be in a better position to help their interior linemen face off against one of the league’s premiere defensive tackle duos.

By Jonathan Bales

The Business of the NFL

Cool infographic from FinanceDegreeCenter.com:

The Business of the NFL
Source: Finance Degree Center

By Jonathan Bales

An Interview on Fantasy Sports and Being a Writer

I did an interview at a cool blog called Just Tap the Glass. I don’t really have much interesting stuff to say about myself, but the blog itself is awesome with some good discussions on game theory and social psychology. Check out the interview here and click around the site for some interesting reading.

Tell us a little about yourself, Jonathan. (Where are you from, your background, anything we might find interesting about you etc.).

I’m originally from a small town outside of Philly. I cover the Cowboys, so most people assume I live in Dallas, but I’m actually currently located in NYC. When I’m not watching or analyzing football, I like reading philosophy/theoretical physics.

What separates your fantasy football recommendations from that of other pundits is your background in Math and Statistics and its subsequent application in your work. You provide hard data instead of conjecture masquerading as analysis. Along with a few other disciplines, Statistics is one of the strongest tools available for interpreting the world around us. How were you first introduced to the field of applied mathematics and why did you stick around?

I was in a lot of advanced math courses throughout school. I finished the majority of my college coursework while in high school, and then I majored in Philosophy and Psych Stats in college. I wouldn’t say I “stuck around” as much as math just followed me as a pragmatic tool through which I can better understand the world and make accurate predictions.

When you’re not writing and crunching numbers, what do you enjoy doing?

I read a lot. I try to read non-sports stuff every night. I work hard on the numbers/writing all day, so I really want to get away from it at night. I also like eating out, which my girlfriend and I sadly do literally every day. There are too many great restaurants in NYC to eat at home.

You’re a regular contributor to a number of publications, including The NY Times, and were tapped to run a blog for The Dallas Cowboys. How did you land those gigs? Are you a full-time writer or do you have another occupation? Any advice for aspiring sports or business writers?

I just e-mailed them, to be honest. When you first start, no one is going to come to you. You have to e-mail editors all the time to show them what you can do, so that was a major part of my plan a couple years ago. I’m a writer, but I also do some investing to pay the bills.

Your books on fantasy football strategy were so good, I finished them within 48 hours of purchase. I’d like to think I’m a solid competitor in fantasy basketball and football—-doesn’t mean I’m not eager to learn more. Any new projects on the horizon?What’s next for you?

I will be taking a few months off in early 2014 to do nothing but write books. I plan to do at least two for next year, but maybe even three. A few other projects coming as well, so stay tuned.

By Jonathan Bales

Stat Projections, Final Score Prediction for Cowboys vs. Rams

At DallasCowboys.com, I projected the primary skill players and predicted a score for Dallas vs. St. Louis in Week 3:

Tony Romo’s Comps vs. St. Louis

As I did last week, I’ll examine player comps – similar players versus comparable defenses – to project the most important guys. And when we look for players with similar recent stats to Romo playing against defenses comparable to that of the Rams, this is what we get:

The average line for those guys is 24-for-37 (64.5 percent) for 282 yards (7.62 YPA), 1.92 touchdowns, and 0.64 interceptions, significantly better than last week.

We can break down the comps further to estimate Romo’s probability of achieving certain levels of success. Here are the touchdowns.

Unlike last week, Romo’s most likely outcome is two touchdown passes. There’s probably around a three-in-five chance that he tosses either one or two. He’s also got nearly a one-in-four chance to throw either none or at least four.

The Other Guys

Using the same methodology, let’s take a look at the average line for the Cowboys’ other skill players:

  • RB DeMarco Murray:65 rushing yards, 0.48 rushing touchdowns, 3.4 receptions for 29 yards, 0.12 receiving touchdowns

I’ve been high on Murray all year, so I think there’s a really good chance that he turns things around. He’s contributing quite a bit as a receiver, and I think he’ll get going on the ground this week against the Rams.

As a side note, I’ve heard some talk about Murray underperforming because he’s a “straight-line runner.” I think we all already knew that, right? It doesn’t take a scout to see that Murray doesn’t juke many defenders. But you know who else is a straight-line runner? Jamaal Charles. And Chris Johnson. And even Adrian Peterson, to a degree.

Not every back is LeSean McCoy. Size and speed matter most for backs, and Murray has that. He’ll be fine.

By Jonathan Bales

My 2013 Final Standings, Playoffs, and Super Bowl Predictions

It’s that time of the year again: the time when I make more accurate predictions than any writer you’ll find. I posted my 2013 final standings at Dallas News:

Predicting Playoff Teams

We hear the same line every year: six teams from last year’s playoffs will be miss the postseason this year. Guess what? That information is useless and, if you’re using it to make predictions, it’s also dangerous. I wrote about this idea a couple years ago:

While it is a virtual certainty that some (and often times, many) different teams will make the playoffs in a given season, I disagree with the notion that it is rational to displace a talented team with a mediocre one in one’s playoff predictions simply to accommodate the “six new teams will make the playoffs” trend.

The reasoning is simple. For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that all of the playoff teams from last season have a 50 percent chance of making the playoffs again this year, while the non-playoff teams have a 30 percent chance of making it.

Which specific group of 12 teams is the most likely to make the playoffs? It is actually the same group as last season (in this hypothetical example). Of course, the chance of that exact group of 12 making it again is incredibly small, but that isn’t a reason to not predict it will happen.

While we can be fairly certain the group of playoff teams will contain some newcomers, we don’t know which newcomers it will be, and we don’t know which teams they’ll replace.  To predict that a team with a 30 percent chance of making the playoffs will do so at the expense of a team with a 50 percent chance is simply bad math.

The idea is that even though we pretty much know the playoff teams will be different from last season, it’s foolish to predict teams to make the playoffs just because they didn’t make it last year. It’s the same idea as everyone picking a 12 seed over a 5 seed in the NCAA tournament; although it’s likely that at least one 5 seed will go down, we’re still justified in choosing each of them to win, assuming they’re all the favorites, because we don’t know which 12 seed will win.

Okay, let’s get to the predictions. . .

Final 2013 Standings

  • NFC East

Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
Washington Redskins (10-6)
New York Giants (9-7)
Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

  • NFC North

Green Bay Packers (11-5)
Detroit Lions (8-8)
Chicago Bears (7-9)
Minnesota Vikings (5-11)

  • NFC South

New Orleans Saints (10-6)
Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
Carolina Panthers (10-6)
Tampa Bay Bucs (6-10)

  • NFC West

San Francisco 49ers (12-4)
St. Louis Rams (9-7)
Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
Arizona Cardinals (4-12)

  • AFC East

New England Patriots (10-6)
Miami Dolphins (8-8)
Buffalo Bills (6-10)
New York Jets (5-11)

  • AFC North

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-9)
Baltimore Ravens (7-9)
Cleveland Browns (6-10)

  • AFC South

Houston Texans (11-5)
Tennessee Titans (9-7)
Indianapolis Colts (7-9)
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)

  • AFC West

Denver Broncos (13-3)
Kansas City Chiefs (6-10)
San Diego Chargers (5-11)
Oakland Raiders (3-13)

Check out my playoff results and award winners right here.

By Jonathan Bales

A whole bunch of Cowboys analysis: Position Grades, 10 Things We’ve Learned

For those who don’t know, I joined Bleacher Report in August and I’ll be writing daily for them throughout the season. I’ve been crazy busy with, um, fantasy football drafts, so I haven’t updated here in a few days. But check out some of my latest work, and as always, click the links for the full articles. . .

10 Things We Learned About Dallas in Preseason

Monte Kiffin’s Defense Is Working so Far

Kiffin was really brought into Dallas for one reason and one reason only: to generate more takeaways.

He’s actually in a really, really good position because the ‘Boys are pretty much guaranteed to force more than the 16 takeaways they had in 2012. That would likely happen even if Rob Ryan were still here just because they probably won’t get so unlucky.

But I also think Kiffin’s scheme is structured in a way that promotes turning over the ball.

The cornerbacks can usually keep their eyes on the quarterback, which is really important when you have playmakers like Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne on the outside. Kiffin’s one-gap scheme should allow for more pressure up the middle, leading to some easy picks for the Cowboys’ top-notch cornerbacks. Actually, I’ve shown that pressure is by far the most important factor in getting takeaways.

Cowboys Position Report Card

Running Backs
The key will be his health, but we don’t really have too much of a reason to label Murray as ‘injury prone’ yet. He’s been in the league just two years, so there’s a good chance that he’s just been unlucky with injuries thus far.I’ve already argued that Murray is going to have a big-time season.

Dunbar’s early-season status is up in the air, but he’s earned the No. 2 job. Even though he’s undersized, I really like Dunbar’s future. Historically, fast running backs have been far, far better options than those with even moderate speed.

Actually, straight-line speed is the best predictor of future success at the running back position.

Dunbar has it.

Unfortunately, fifth-round selection Joseph Randle does not. He clocked in at 4.63 at only 204 pounds, which really makes him a borderline NFL talent. The coaches reportedly like what they’ve seen from Randle, but I have my doubts that he’ll ever be an effective runner.

GRADE: B-

What’s New for Dallas?

A More Balanced Offense?

On the other side of the ball, head coach Jason Garrett will hand over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan. Callahan will likely try to run a more balanced offense in order to take pressure off of Tony Romo. The theory might not pan out. Prior to the 2012 season, I wrote this:

Running the ball is strongly correlated with winning, so teams obviously need a powerful rushing attack to win games, right? Not really. Teams that are already winning rush the football to close out games, creating the illusion that running often is the impetus for team success. In reality, teams generally acquire the lead by throwing the football with great efficiency.

The Cowboys are no exception to the rule. Since 2008, they’ve won just 27.6 percent of their games when they pass on greater than 57 percent of their offensive plays. Wow, better keep it on the ground, right?

Before jumping to conclusions, soak this one in: That win rate miraculously jumps to 63.6 percent when the ’Boys pass on at least 57 percent of plays through the first three quarters, compared to only 41.9 percent when they pass on fewer than 57 percent of plays. The Cowboys are a passing team, built to win on the back of Romo and his arsenal of pass-catching weapons.

In general, the ‘Boys should be attacking defenses through the air early in games. The rushing game is important in short-yardage situations and late in contests, but early rushing success isn’t going to propel the team to victory too often.

Snubs, Surprises for 53-Man Roster

Magee was far and away my top “snub” for Dallas.

He quietly dominated the preseason, recording 20 tackles in just 102 snaps. He didn’t have the same big plays as DeVonte Holloman, but those types of things are relatively fluky. By that, I mean we can’t really tell much about a player from a handful of plays, one way or the other. The Cowboys should be looking for consistent production, which they got from Magee in the preseason.

Plus, you might recall that the ‘Boys reportedly had Magee higher than Holloman on their board. They chose Holloman because they figured they could sign Magee as an undrafted free agent, and they were right. So we know that Dallas really liked Magee from the start.

And now the team has placed Nate Livings on injured reserve and traded for veteran linebacker Edgar Jones. That seems like a bizarre move; why not just keep Magee from the start?

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs Texans Review and Burning Questions for ‘Boys in 2013

At NBC, I broke down the play of four players from last night’s game against the Texans:

QB Alex Tanney
A couple weeks ago, I published an article called Alex Tanney Isn’t the Answer for Cowboys. At that time, he was completing 55.6 percent of his passes for 5.6 YPA—well below the marks posted by Tony Romo and Matt Moore in their first preseasons. Playing against second and third-team defenses, young backup quarterbacks with promise are typically efficient, and Tanney hasn’t been.

On Thursday, Tanney completed 17 of his 31 passes (54.8 percent) for 177 yards (5.7 YPA), no touchdowns, and one interception. It’s basically a mirror image of the numbers we saw from Tanney to start the preseason. Although he’s reportedly showed talent in practice, Tanney shouldn’t make the 53-man roster.

And at Bleacher Report, I tackled 10 burning questions for Dallas this season:

Will the Cowboys Run More Play-Action Passes?

Last year, Tony Romo managed a 66.2 percent completion rate, 8.6 YPA and a 109.1 passer rating on play-action looks. Despite that, he attempted a play-action pass on just 10.0 percent of his dropbacks—the lowest rate in the NFL, by far, according to Pro Football Focus.

Actually, the difference between Romo and the next-lowest quarterback—Eli Manning—was larger than the gap between Manning and the next 11 quarterbacks.

The Cowboys likely limited their play-action looks because they couldn’t effectively run the ball, but there’s actually no correlation between rushing success and play-action efficiency. Five of the top 10 play-action passers in 2012 played on teams that ranked in the bottom 10 in the NFL in yards per carry.

Defenses tend to play situations, not pass-rushing efficiency, so the Cowboys should increase their play-action usage regardless of their running game.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Analysis: Lance Dunbar and Third Downs

A couple articles of note today. At NBC, I posted more on running back Lance Dunbar.

Dunbar is out for the time being with a sprained foot, but he sure looked impressive during his limited action. The shifty running back averaged 5.6 YPC on his eight rushes and caught all six of his targets for 83 yards, highlighted of course by the big 43-yard reception on which Dunbar fumbled the ball. I wouldn’t worry too much about the fumble unless it becomes a habit; what’s more important is that Dunbar is showing the sort of explosiveness that Joseph Randle doesn’t possess.

Coming out of North Texas, Dunbar was timed anywhere from the low-4.4s to the high 4.4s. Players with his small stature need speed. It’s basically a prerequisite at the running back position; backs in Dunbar’s range of speed have produced at over four times the rate of those as fast as Randle. Randle’s 4.63 time was really poor in isolation, but it’s especially poor when you consider that he’s just 204 pounds.

And at Dallas News, I posted some info on the Cowboys’ 2012 third downs.

The Cowboys were one of the best third down teams in the NFL last year, due primarily to their passing offense. As I searched through my database, I found some cool numbers on the Cowboys’ third/fourth down plays. Check it out.

Interestingly, the Cowboys were better on third-and-four than they were on third-and-one through third-and-three. At first I thought that was because they couldn’t run the ball all that well, but the ‘Boys were actually a decent short-yardage rushing team last year. So I compared the Cowboys’ conversions to those across the league.

You can see that Dallas was a little bit better than average on third-and-short, but significantly better than most NFL teams on third-and-medium. Their advantage extended from third-and-three to third-and-six.

By Jonathan Bales

The Top 10 Players on the Cowboys Heading Into 2013

At DallasCowboys.com, I ranked my top 10 Cowboys for the future. Here’s No. 10 through No. 7:

10. CB Orlando Scandrick

This will probably be the most unpopular pick on here. No Jason Witten, no Anthony Spencer, noJason Hatcher, but the stat dork has Orlando Scandrick in his top 10!? I think the perception of Scandrick is warped a bit because, as mentioned, he has a hefty contract. He probably hasn’t lived up to that, but I ranked Scandrick as the top cornerback on the team in 2012.

Playing in the slot, a much tougher spot to play than outside, Scandrick allowed a 51.3 percent completion rate, 5.7 yards per attempt (YPA) and zero touchdowns. He’s a poor tackler, but the 68.5 passer rating he allowed last year made up for that.

9. RB DeMarco Murray

As the 2013 season approaches, I’m becoming more and more bullish on Murray. We all know he can play; he’s averaged 4.8 yards per carry in his two seasons and was on pace for 67 receptions last year. The problem has been his health. As I’ve explained in the past, however, there’s no way we can tell at this time if Murray is truly injury prone or just unlucky; the sample of injuries has just been too small.

I’m betting on superior health in 2013, and a really big year. It’s not like the league is littered with young, 220-pound backs with 4.41 speed who can catch passes. Here’s more on why I think Murray will break out.

8. CB Brandon Carr

Carr was decent in 2012, allowing a 58.6 percent completion rate and 7.4 YPA. I think he’ll have more opportunities to make plays in Monte Kiffin’s defense. He’d be higher on this list if he were a few years younger than 27.

7. LT Tyron Smith

Smith has taken some time to develop, but that’s to be expected from a player who came into the NFL at the age of 20. Think about this: Third-round pick Terrance Williams will turn 24 a few weeks into the 2013 season, but Smith won’t be 23 until December. That’s a reason we should expect Williams to produce early in his career, but it’s also a reason to not be so concerned about Smith. He’s an elite talent who’s basically a “rookie” with two years of NFL experience.



See the rest right here.