The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Fantasy Football: Josh Gordon, Denarius Moore, and Other Potential Breakouts

The guys at rotoViz have been pumping out some awesome content.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Colts
Heyward-Bey is considered a bust because of his high draft slot, but he’s gotten better each year he’s been in the league. On a per-target basis, DHB has also shown great improvement in his fantasy numbers. He has some competition in Indianapolis, but he also has a quarterback who can propel him to WR2 status.

Justin Blackmon, Jaguars
Blackmon’s suspension should be viewed as a blessing in disguise for fantasy owners. Instead of docking Blackmon four games worth of points when creating his projection, you should subtract four games of points and then add the points you’ll receive from a replacement receiver. Since his ADP has already dropped four rounds since getting suspended, that makes Blackmon perhaps the best value in the entire draft at this point. And the receiver’s 64/865/5 line from 2012 is actually really good for a rookie.

Josh Gordon, Browns
Wide receivers who stand 6-3, 225 pounds and possess sub-4.5 speed aren’t easy to find. Gordon showed flashes in his rookie year with numbers comparable to Blackmon’s – 50 receptions, 805 yards and five scores. Most important, the big-play threat just turned 22, meaning there’s a ton of room for development.


Gordon may or may not break out this year, but there’s little doubt that he’s a volcano waiting to erupt. The fact that he looked so polished at such a young age suggests 2013 could be the season, and I can’t think of a wide receiver who offers better value in dynasty leagues.

Anyway, today’s poker concept is implied odds. Basically, in Texas Hold’ Em, good players prefer a hand like the 6 and 7 of clubs to an unsuited Ace and a 9. Even though Ace – 9 is more likely to win a given hand, it’s much less likely to make a verystrong hand (think straights and flushes) that could win a big pot. Generally, with Ace – 9, when you play a big pot you’ll likely – at best – be against a stronger Ace – Number combo, and you stand to lose a lot of money. However, a straight made with 6 – 7 can beat all the one-pair and two-pair hands, as well as the 3-of-a-kinds that would be willing to play a big pot.

Alright, now let’s try to tie this in to fantasy football. Basically, anyone you pick in rounds 10+ is a pretty low investment player, and they probably aren’t someone you’re counting on for a contribution most of the time. What you really want out of a guy in the 13th round isn’t to have the 42nd best running back in fantasy: you would never start that guy anyway. What you want is someone with the potential to be a top 24 back who you can plug into your lineup on a weekly basis.

Ok, enough studying, let’s play cards:

Player to fold: Mikel Leshoure (current FFCalc positional ADP=38)

He’s a backup right now looking at 8-10 touches a week and a handful of touchdowns. If that’s something startable in your league, go for it, but otherwise it’s just not that valuable. He is Reggie Bush’s handcuff, but we saw what he could do with a full-time starting job last year, and it was under a 1000-yards pace. That’s his Reggie-Bush-gets-hurt upside, meh…

Flop with: Bryce Brown (current FFCalc  positional ADP=40)

This is mind-blowing. We know Brown pretty much instantly becomes a top 15 option if McCoy goes down, and with the projected pace of Chip Kelly’s offense, Brown could end up being a flex option even with a healthy McCoy.  Regardless, we saw both Leshoure and Brown as starters last year; do I really need to tell you which one has more upside?

By Jonathan Bales

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By Jonathan Bales

Protected: Why the Dallas Cowboys Will Be More Aggressive in 2011

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By Jonathan Bales

Why the Dallas Cowboys (and all NFL teams) should attempt WAY more two-point conversions in 2011

Jonathan Bales

One of my favorite topics on which to write is football theory–why teams make the decisions they do and if they could become more efficient in their choices.  In the past, I’ve completed studies detailing why teams should go for it more often on fourth down, run more on third down, throw more deep passes, run more frequently to the weak side, pass out of ‘running’ formations, be far more aggressive on 2nd and short, and so on.

It is my view that, if a coach was to implement a perfect understanding of advanced statistics and game theory into his in-game decisions, the potential impact would far outweigh that of any single player.  A “perfect” record of fourth down decisions, for example, could be “worth” a handful of points to a team in any individual game.  With all of the statistically inefficient choices NFL head coaches make each and every game, there is an enormous opportunity for less talented teams to outperform superior ones based solely on statistics.  Now is truly a golden age for the NFL in that teams are just beginning to crack the surface of advanced statistics that baseball uncovered years ago.

One such statistical issue about which I feel very strongly is the use of two-point conversions.  I talked about this issue at length during the 2010 season, particularly after the Cowboys’ Week Seven loss to the Giants and their Week 16 loss to the Cardinals.  From the New York post-game review:

Later, the Cowboys did score a touchdown to close within 12 points.  They decided to go for a two-point conversion, and Tirico immediately went off about “awful” the decision was.  I normally like Tirico, but he needs to stick to play-by-play and keep his nose out of matters of football theory.  On this topic, he was again as wrong as could be.

You’ll often hear announcers say it’s “too early to go for two.”  But what does that even mean?  How is it ever “too early?”  The decision to go for a two-point conversion should be based on a variety of factors, including the score, a coach’s confidence in his two-point play, and so on.  Actually, if the probability of Team X converting on a two-point attempt is 50.1 percent, they should almost always go for two.  The expected points of 1.002 is greater than that of an extra point (which can obviously only be as high as 1, even with 100 percent accuracy).

Thus, you’d only want to go for an extra point in non-normal game situations.  Suppose Team X scores a late touchdown to tie the game.  They’d clearly want to attempt the extra point to secure the win.  Going for two points would be quite disadvantageous in that scenario.  If football commentators knew the statistics and theory behind two-point attempts, perhaps they’d be saying “It’s too early to try the extra point.”

There are more reasons that Tirico was unjustified in his stance.  Down 12, the decision of whether or not to attempt a two-point try is indeed a “no-brainer,” but Tirico is on the wrong side of the debate.  If you go for two points and succeed, you’re down 10 points and now know that a touchdown and field goal will tie the game.  If you go for two and fail, you now know that you need two touchdowns to win.  If you kick the extra point, however, you might later kick a field goal that will turn out to be meaningless.

The idea that you want to “keep yourself in the game” by kicking an extra point is preposterous.  You actually want to determine what scores you’ll need as early as possible.  If you kick the extra point, then a field goal, you’re down eight points.  If you then score a touchdown and fail on the two-point attempt, you’re still another score away from winning the game.  The field goal attempt in between touchdowns becomes all but meaningless, and this is due solely to the fact that you didn’t attempt the two-point conversion as early as possible.  Failing the two-point try earlier, as I said above, provides you with the knowledge that you need two touchdowns to win.

Tirico and Jaws used the outcome of the game as justification for their view, but that’s wrong as well.  If you roll a six-sided die and bet even money on a specific number coming up, your bet is a dumb one regardless of the outcome of the roll.  The fact that you will win money one time out of six doesn’t justify the decision ex post facto.  When I listen to the Monday Night Football crew, I feel like I am betting that an even number will come up on my roll of the die–but all the commentators, I mean numbers, are odd.

Later in the season, I criticzed Jason Garrett for his failure to attempt a two-point conversion in the third quarter of a game:

  • Down 21-19 in the third quarter, Garrett decided to kick an extra point. Huge mistake. I’ve talked all season about why teams should try way, way more two-point conversions. Over the course of any given season, kickers make around 98 percent of extra points, while two-point conversions are successful around 48-49 percent of the time. While the expected points of extra points is higher (.98 x 1 is greater than .48 x 2), the difference isn’t great enough that it should overcome all game situations. For example, Garrett never would have kicked the extra point in the fourth quarter, as he doesn’t know if the Cowboys will score again.
  • Further, two-point conversions are only statistically inferior to extra points because coaches tend to call the wrong plays down by the goal line.  Over the last 20 seasons, rushing the ball has yielded a successful two-point conversion over 60 percent of the time.  Even if a team went for two points after nearly every score and rushed the ball each time, I doubt the success rate would jump below 50 percent (the break-even level at which two-point tries are statistically equivalent to extra points, assuming a 100 percent success rate on the latter).  Thus, extra points should actually only be attempted in very specific situations, such as a tied game in the fourth quarter.
  • On top of all of that, let’s not forget Buehler is about as erratic as kickers come.  His extra point success rate is nowhere near 98 percent (probably closer to 94 or so), meaning the Cowboys would only need to convert on 47 percent of two-point tries to yield the same expected points.  And if you’re correctly running the ball, what does it matter if Stephen McGee is at quarterback?
  • I assume Garrett attempted the extra point because he figured Dallas would score again anyway.  That’s faulty logic, however.  Even if we assume two-point conversions yield less expected points than extra points, and we take into account McGee’s presence in the lineup, the difference between a two-point try and extra point is still small enough that, for an extra point to be the right call, we’d have to assume there’s less than a one percent chance the Cowboys wouldn’t score again.  While it’s likely the offense was going to put more points on the board, it certainly wasn’t greater than 99 percent.
  • I updated live from the game last night on Twitter, and a few followers claimed that it was “too early to go for two and the chart says the extra point is the right call.”  While I appreciate everyone who took the time on Christmas to read my thoughts, that reasoning is simply incorrect.  What does it even mean to be “too early to go for two”?  While you certainly have less of an idea of the final score in the first quarter as compared to late in the game, you should always side with statistics.  If the numbers say attempting a two-point conversion is the right call (which they did for the Cowboys in the third quarter–and it wasn’t even close), then kicking an extra point is the risky move.  Further, NFL coaches are just tapping the surface of advanced statistics and game theory, meaning most of their “infallible” charts are dead wrong.  It’s Garrett’s job to give the team the highest probability of victory, and whether a decision seems “risky” or not to the public, it needs to be made.

Later, Garrett issued a statement on his decision to kick the extra point (below).  I responded with this:

According to Jason Garrett, he didn’t go for two points when down 21-19 in the third quarter of Saturday night’s game because “What happens when you start making those decisions is sometimes you get a little hasty and say, ‘OK, if we get two here that will tie us up.’ But typically, what happens when you have another quarter to play, there are a couple more scores and the whole thing kind of plays itself out a little bit.”

Although I’d wager that the majority of NFL coaches agree with Garrett’s assessment, it is the wrong one.  I hate to be so blunt about it (secretly I love it), but he’s just dead wrong.  Garrett points out that there will typically be more points scored after the third quarter, which is correct, but somewhat irrelevant.

First of all, as I’ve already pointed out, two-point conversions may not even yield less expected points than extra points.  If that’s the case (which would be a virtual certainty if teams ran the ball more on two-point attempts), then going for two points should be the status quo, with an extra point only being attempted in specific game situations (such as tied late in the contest).

Even if extra points are generally statistically superior to two-point tries, however, Garrett still made the wrong decision.  While I agree with his notion that more points were likely to be scored, that fact is far from certain.  Actually, for an extra point to be the right decision in that scenario, we would have to assume that the chances of neither team scoring again was small enough that it wouldn’t account for the disparity between the expected points of an extra point (about .98) and a two-point attempt (.96 at worst).

As it turns out, Garrett would have to assume either that the chances of neither team scoring again were below one percent or that the offense’s chances of converting on their two-point try were closer to 25 percent than 50 percent.  Anyone believe either scenario to be the case?

Me neither.

I used a lot of old material here because I feel like actual game situations are the most effective way to state my case.  We can see real-world situations in which forgoing a two-point try has dire consequences for a club.

Ultimately, I believe an NFL team could secure a significant number of “extra” points by attempting two-point conversions after the majority of touchdowns.  As I stated above, NFL teams convert two-point attempts about 60 percent of the time when they run the football.  That number would certainly decline with increased rushing attempts, but the efficiency of two-point pass attempts would subsequently increase.  I see no reason why an NFL team (particularly one with an offense as potent as that of Dallas) wouldn’t be able to convert a minimum of 55 percent of two-point tries if they focused on improving their efforts.

Assuming the Cowboys score three touchdowns per game in 2011 (they scored 43 in 2009 and 46 last season), the “increase” in expected points would be 6.24 (assuming 97 percent accuracy on extra points, which is a stretch if David Buehler is still the kicker).  That might not sound like a lot, but there’s a solid chance those “extra” points would result in another win for the ‘Boys.  Assume a 60 percent conversion rate and that number jumps to 11.04.  Not too shabby for a philosophical decision that would require relatively little practice time.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2011 Draft: Five Potential First Round Picks

Jonathan Bales

With the Cowboys heading into Week 17 of the 2010 season, they are in position to acquire somewhere between (about) the sixth pick and 12th selection in the 2011 Draft.  In that area, they will undoubtedly be able to obtain a true impact player–someone who should start immediately.  Picking toward the latter portion of that range may actually be optimal for Dallas, as the requisite contract funds take a steep drop from the top of the round.

Predicting the Cowboys’ pick in 2011 will be far easier than it was this past draft due to their draft spot.  Further, the team’s primary needs (defensive end, inside linebacker, cornerback, safety, offensive line) weed out some of the prospects.

Without further ado, here are my initial picks for the Cowboys’ five most likely potential first round draft picks. . .

5.  Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal

Jordan is a bit smaller than the “prototypical” Cowboys defensive end (he’s 280 pounds), but the massive ends haven’t been working in Dallas anyway.  It’s time to acquire smaller, quicker playmakers across the board on defense, and that starts on the line.

Jordan has an incredible frame and strength, yet carries it well.  He is good in pursuit, able to shed blocks rather easily.  His experience in a 3-4 defense is always a plus.

With literally all of the team’s current defensive ends possibly on the way out (I predict they’ll retain only Jason Hatcher), Jordan would be an immediate starter for Dallas.

4.  Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

Clayborn is a 4-3 defensive end in college, but he possess enough size (6’4”, 285 pounds) that he could stay at that spot in the Cowboys’ 3-4 defense.  He’s a high-motor player with great athleticism for his size.  He actually appears to have a frame which could add some bulk, meaning he could transition into a run-stuffing 3-4 end or even eventually kick inside to nose tackle.

3.  Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

Peterson has it all.  He’s big (6’1”, 211 pounds), fast (probably a low 4.4 guy), and intelligent.  He has the skill set to fit into any system, excelling in both man and zone coverages.  He plays big in big games and possesses excellent ball skills–characteristics Dallas needs in a cornerback.

With Terence Newman getting old quickly and Mike Jenkins regressing in 2010, cornerback is a huge need for Dallas.  Orlando Scandrick played really well in the slot during the second half of the season, but it’s unclear if he could hold up outside as a starter.  Peterson’s presence would allow the Cowboys to possibly move Newman to free safety, giving the secondary a much-needed makeover.

2.  Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

The only reason I have Amukamara ranked ahead of Peterson is draftability:  I don’t see Peterson being available for Dallas no matter where they pick–he’s that good.  Amukamara is still an outstanding cornerback, excelling in press and zone coverages.  Despite being six pounds lighter than Peterson, he’s far more physical.  With the Cowboys likely to transition to more zone coverages in 2011, Amukamara could make sense.

1.  Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

Dareus is an absolute stud.  At 6’3”, 306 pounds, he possesses incredible athleticism.  His size is tremendous, yet he carries it very well–so well, in fact, that when you look at him, you see “oversized linebacker.”

Dareus is versatile enough to play all three defensive line positions for Dallas.  That sort of versatility would be extremely valuable.  Because of his size, I think Dareus’ primary position would be nose tackle.  If that’s the case, current Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff could move back to defensive end–a position that seems more suitable for him at this point in his career.

So how could Dareus fall to the Cowboys’ pick?  Well, there are some off-field concerns.  If Dallas is willing to overlook them, they could secure incredible value in the first round.

By Jonathan Bales

Protected: The Future of the Dallas Cowboys’ Head Coaching Position

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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys’ 1-5 start: Five good things that could come from it

Jonathan Bales

As I wrote in a previous article, the objectives of this 2010 Cowboys team must change after their 1-5 start.  Specifically, the balance of importance between winning now and preparing for the future must shift to emphasize the latter.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m ultra-competitive and want to win each and every football game.  Losses kill me.  But the Cowboys need to be careful to not compromise their ability to win in 2011 and beyond because they want to “save face” this season.

If the Cowboys choose to make decisions with the future as a priority, here are five good things (many of which were brought up among DC Times readers–specifically Craig Kocay) that could result from this nightmare season. . .

5.  Skeptical fans might see the importance of Tony Romo.

It’s stunning to me how a quarterback with one of the highest passer ratings, yards-per-pass, and winning percentages in NFL history can be hated by so many fans.  Do people not remember the days of Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson, and Drew Henson?  How about Brad Johnson?  Remember his three-game stint a few years ago that resulted from Romo’s broken finger?

Jon Kitna is much better than all of the aforementioned former Cowboys quarterbacks, but he sure isn’t Tony Romo.  This season will represent another opportunity for those on the fence about Romo to see the light.  Appreciate what you have.

4.  There will be little to no pressure on the Cowboys in 2011.

When expectations are high, the Cowboys crumble.  Even though they are extremely talented, it will be difficult for anyone to have seriously high expectations for them in 2011.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Super Bowl-caliber teams win regardless of outside opinions.  At some point, champions must win when expectations are through the roof.  Low expectations might help the Cowboys early, but what’s going to save them once they’re a “great” team again?

3.  Dallas could secure a high draft pick.

The Cowboys need to get young on the offensive line in a hurry.  Unlike some other positions, rookie offensive linemen can come into the NFL and often make a fairly significant impact.  The Cowboys figure to have a top 15 (and probably top 10) pick in the upcoming draft, which should be more than enough to obtain a very talented offensive lineman.

2.  The ‘Boys have an opportunity to discover what some young players can do.

I have a feeling the Cowboys are going to continue to give the bulk of reps to the usual suspects–Marion Barber, Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Keith Brooking, and so on.  But now is a perfect time to uncover some possible gems hidden in the back end of the roster.  Players like Phil Costa, Sam Young, Brandon Williams, Victor Butler, Jason Williams, Sean Lee, and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah need to acquire significant playing time before season’s end.  The first step in moving in a positive direction as an organization is knowing where you currently stand.

1.  Dallas can attempt exotic schemes/plays they normally wouldn’t try.

I thought the Cowboys should bring a unique approach to both sides of the ball to start the 2010 season, but it didn’t happen.  The major problem here is that the coaches, who are all trying to save their jobs, will be hesitant to attempt anything too outlandish.  They’ll want to remain conservative and implement what has worked in the past to try to win as many games as possible right now.

But that approach is only valuable to the coaches, not the entire team.  The 2011 Cowboys would benefit from offensive and defensive experimentation in 2010.  Jerry Jones might want to step in here and give the coaches some sort of incentive to be a little “crazy” (i.e. innovative) in their play-calling and overall approach to games.

Because if I see another punt on 4th and 3 from the opponent’s 39-yard line. . .

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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Poll: Should Tony Romo be benched this preseason?

The Cowboys have experienced a plethora of injuries already this preseason, particularly along the offensive line.  Right tackle Marc Colombo will be questionable for the season-opener in Washington, while left guard Kyle Kosier is out 4-6 weeks with a sprained MCL.  Robert Brewster and Montrae Holland will be starting in their respective places for what will likely be the remainder of the preseason.

With both players struggling in the first two games, the questions arises:  should Dallas bench Romo?  Sure, he wants to play and could probably benefit a bit from doing so, but is the small reward worth the major risk?  You tell us. . .

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Video: The Romo, Williams Connection

Jonathan Bales

I talked briefly about the Cowboys’ goal line plays during their first series against the Bengals in my film study observations and a recent mailbag.

Below is an analysis of the 2nd and Goal play which resulted in an incomplete pass to Roy Williams.  Williams ran a tremendous slant route, but the pressure forced Romo to overthrow him.  But was it the right route?  Take a look. . .


In my opinion, there’s no way for us to decipher whose “fault” it was that the play was unsuccessful.  The cornerback was playing with inside leverage, meaning a receiver would typically run an out-breaking route if given an option.

But not all plays have an “option” route designed into them.  It is true that goal line plays frequently have a receiver option.  If that was the case on this particular 2nd and Goal play, then Williams probably should have run an out, corner, back shoulder fade, etc.

We have no way of knowing the play-call, though.  Perhaps Williams wasn’t given an option and was told to strictly run a slant.

I also disagree with Bryan Broaddus’ interpretation that Romo’s shoulder position meant he was expecting Williams to run an out-breaking route.  Perhaps Romo was thinking just that, but he often uses his shoulders to manipulate defenders.

Further, it would have been extremely difficult for Romo to even recognize the slight inside leverage with which the cornerback was playing.  Romo was 15+ yards away from the cornerback and, unless his depth perception is superhuman, he probably wouldn’t be able to notice the difference between the cornerback playing head-up or with a half-yard of inside leverage.  Remember, he doesn’t have the bird’s eye view that we do.

Instead, Romo would wait for Williams to make his move on an option route before throwing the ball.  That slight hesitation is the price they must pay for implementing extra options into a route.  Thus, even if it was an option route, Romo wouldn’t be whole-heartedly anticipating an out-breaking route, even if he thought it might be coming.

So was the throw Romo’s fault?  Not at all.  He did double-clutch the ball (perhaps thrown off by Williams’ uncanny fake), but his initial pump was probably due to a lack of protection.  He had to get the ball out as soon as possible, meaning if Williams did run an out-breaking route, Romo had to be prepared to unleash the ball.

So was it all the fault of the offensive line?  Nope.  The Bengals sent eight defenders after Romo.  The ‘Boys had just seven players to block.  Sure, you might expect a little more time than what we saw, but it isn’t like Romo will have all day to sit back and throw.

You might be asking, “But how could it not be anyone’s fault?”  Well, the fact that no one is at fault doesn’t mean the play was perfectly executed (obviously).  Everyone can do the right thing without doing it perfectly.  Perhaps a more cohesive offensive line would have resulted in better protection.  Maybe a better connection between Romo and Williams would have resulted in a different outcome.

So while no one was at fault, everyone still needs to improve.  Hey, that’s what preseason is for.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Poll: When will Dez Bryant become a starter?

Taking his ankle injury into account, when will rookie Dez Bryant crack the starting lineup?