The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

A bunch of content to get you ready for Cowboys vs. Saints

At Bleacher Report, I’ve been publishing a ton of Cowboys-Saints material. Here’s part of my game plan for Dallas:

DON’T let tight end Jimmy Graham get off of the line.

If there was any doubt that Graham is the league’s top tight end coming into the season, that doubt has been completely erased. Through eight games, Graham is on pace for a final stat line of 98 receptions for 1,492 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Wow.

He’s also scored at least two touchdowns in four games this year. One of those contests was against the Patriots, who actually did an outstanding job on both Graham and Brees. The tight end had the two scores, but he caught just three total passes for 39 yards. Brees was held to only a 47.2 percent completion rate and 236 yards on 36 attempts (6.56 YPA).

Using NFL Game Rewind, let’s take a look at how the Pats played New Orleans.

In the third quarter, the Saints lined up in a shotgun spread formation that’s typical for them, motioning Graham prior to the snap.

The Patriots used cornerback Aqib Talib on Graham for much of the game, using him to bump Graham at the line. As Graham would get into his route, he was frequently contacted by a linebacker, as well, as was the case on this play.

Brees had all day to throw because New England rushed only three defenders—a tactic Dallas would be smart to mimic this week. Despite the time, there was nowhere to go with the football. Eventually, the defenders closed in on Brees.

He forced the ball out to avoid the sack, overthrowing Graham for the interception.

Brees and Graham are going to have their moments, but the key to this game for Dallas is doing everything they can to limit the Saints’ other-worldly tight end.

I also explained why the Cowboys need to keep throwing:

The Numbers on the Run/Pass Balance

Against both the San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions, the Cowboys remained relatively balanced early in the contests, only to lose down the stretch. In addition to being a poor running team in general, there are a couple reasons that rushing the ball often is a sub-optimal strategy for Dallas.

First, it shortens the game. The Cowboys have a quality offense and should want to run as many plays as possible in most situations. Running the ball decreases the number of potential plays.

Second, and more importantly, it keeps the game close when it shouldn’t be. We saw that against Detroit, but it was especially apparent last year in Baltimore.

Remember when Dallas ran all over the Ravens for 227 yards?

Many blamed kicker Dan Bailey for missing a last-second field goal for the loss, but the Cowboys shouldn’t have even been in that position. When you run the ball a lot, even if you run it efficiently, it keeps the other team in the game and can result in undeserved losses.

But here’s why we really know the Cowboys shouldn’t seek offensive balance in the traditional sense: It hasn’t worked in the past.

Yes, there are a million stats like “The Cowboys are 20-1 when they run the ball 35 times” or “Dallas is 2-20 when Tony Romo throws the ball more than 40 times,” but that’s only because teams that are already winning run the ball and teams that are already losing must throw it.

Offensive balance is often an effect of winning, not a cause of it.

Instead of analyzing final box scores, we should really be looking at how teams call plays earlier in games and how that affects their results. I’ve done that in the past. From an article on the illusion of balance:

“Since 2008, the Cowboys have won just 27.6 percent of their 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 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.”

When the Cowboys open up games by throwing, they’re a better team than when they keep it on the ground.

It’s not that offensive balance in the final box score is bad, because that can often signify winning. But really, the way to achieve final balance isn’t by remaining balanced early; it’s through passing efficiently to acquire a lead and then running late to close out the game.

First-Down Passing

One of the times when the Cowboys (and all NFL teams) should be passing more often is on first down. Check out the Cowboys’ first-down run rate after each quarter.

That final rate of 42.2 percent, while one of the lowest numbers in the NFL, is still much too high. Take a look at the efficiency of NFL offenses on first down runs versus passes.

That’s a pretty dramatic difference. Coaches justify running on first down because it’s safe and it “sets up manageable third downs.”

And finally, I explained what you need to know heading into Week 10:

What Must Improve: Pass Protection

For the third week in a row, my choice for “what must improve” for Dallas is pass protection. Here’s why.

With 22 pressures allowed on Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Cowboys had their worst day of pass protection all season. They yielded pressure on a season-high 43.1 percent of pass plays. Their previous season high came just a week earlier with a 40.0 percent pressure rate in Detroit.

The Cowboys allowed three sacks against the Vikings, but based on historic pressure-to-sack ratios, they should have allowed 5.5 sacks. They aren’t going to be able to keep winning if they’re allowing pressure on one-third of their pass plays (or more).

The top player who must improve is right tackle Doug Free. After starting the season on fire, Free has allowed 14 pressures in the past three games. On just 143 pass snaps, that’s a 9.8 percent pressure rate, which is horrific. In comparison, Free allowed a pressure on just 2.8 percent of his pass snaps prior to this rough three-game stretch.

 

Key Matchup to Watch vs. Saints: Interior Line vs. DE Cameron Jordan

While tight end Jordan Cameron has surprised some people this year, it’s the reverse—defensive end Cameron Jordan—who has really dominated. Jordan is a specimen at 6’4”, 287 pounds with sub-4.8 speed.

Most important, Jordan has ridiculously long 35-inch arms, which is by far the most predictive trait for pass-rushing success. That’s allowed Jordan to dominate as a pass-rusher in 2013, accumulating 26 pressures—more than J.J. Watt and the second most for any 3-4 defensive end in the NFL.

And he’s still just 24 years old, meaning there’s plenty of improvement to come. Take a look at Jordan’s development since entering the league in 2011.

The Saints use Jordan all over the field, so he won’t face off exclusively against the Cowboys interior linemen. Containing Jordan will really be a team effort, although it’s the Cowboys’ weakness—the interior trio of Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick and Mackenzy Bernadeau—that will see the most of him.

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

More on How the Giants Shut Down Dez Bryant

At Bleacher Report, I took a more in-depth look at how the Giants’ safeties were playing over top of Dez Bryant.

Stopping Dez Bryant

There was a play early in the game that really caught my attention in regards to how New York was defending Bryant.

Just over three minutes into the contest, the Cowboys faced a first-and-10 at their own seven-yard line. They motioned tight end James Hanna into a fullback position, showing a “Strong Right” formation before the snap.

I track every Cowboys play, and the ‘Boys ran this formation just 23 times in 2012—only once with this “12” personnel of one running back and two tight ends—and they motioned into it on 15 of those plays. They also passed on 12 of them, meaning it’s one of the true “balanced” formations that the Cowboys utilize.

They can both run and pass out of this formation with effectiveness, which is why they often use play-action when running it. Five of their 12 passes from “Strong” formation were play-action looks in 2012—a 41.6 percent rate that demolishes their overall rate of just 10.0 percent. Romo did indeed show play-action again on this play as well.

Screenshot2013-09-11at5

Cornerback Corey Webster was lined up over Bryant (top of the screen). That’s a huge mismatch that Dallas would normally want to exploit. Webster was targeted only six times on the night, however, allowing three catches for 25 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

One of the reasons that Webster and the other defensive backs were so effective on Bryant is that they could play really, really aggressively. On this play, Webster was lined up about five yards off of Bryant. The Giants did a good job of mixing up their looks, playing in a press position on one play and with off-technique the next. One of the benefits of this particular look is that the Cowboys couldn’t immediately back-shoulder Bryant since Webster could initially look into the backfield.

By the time Romo showed the fake and settled into the pocket, Webster was right on Bryant’s hip. Like most plays, he had safety help over the top as well. That allowed him to play ultra-aggressively, shadowing Bryant underneath without fear of giving up the big play.

Check out the entire analysis.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys-Giants: Defensive Notes and a Look at the Win Probability Graph

At NBC, I posted my notes on the Cowboys’ defense:

- I thought Barry Church was the MVP for the Cowboys’ defense. He had eight tackles, a forced fumble, and of course the big fumble recovery for a touchdown. He has the potential to be really productive in Monte Kiffin’s defense.

- Opposite Church, Will Allen had a rough game. He had an interception, although that had more to do with Manning than anything else. Allen was targeted four times on the night, allowing three catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns. It’s really a shame that Matt Johnson is down for the year. The Cowboys need to find a way to cover up their weakness there.

At DallasCowboys.com, I broke down the win probability graph from AdvancedNFLStats.com:

Despite an 8-8 record in 2012, the Cowboys held a lead just 22 percent of the time. That’s really an astounding statistic and probably the biggest negative the team had heading into 2013. For at least one game, though, the Cowboys’ luck shifted.

Looking at data on win probability, we can visualize the ebb and flow of the Cowboys’ big opening night victory over the Giants. Using historic game data as a foundation, Advanced NFL Stats publishes visualizations that update in real time to display a team’s probability of winning a game at any point. Down 10-3 and facing a third-and-10 at the opponent’s 25-yard line with 3:20 to play in the second quarter? The win probability graphs can give you an indication of how likely you are to win, and an accurate one at that. I highly recommend monitoring them on game day.

The Cowboys’ win probability graph from Sunday night’s victory paints a picture we rarely saw last season, one with the ’Boys controlling the direction of the contest.

Due to a relatively fast pace from the Cowboys and a lack of rushing from both squads, there were an abundance of plays from scrimmage in this contest. And of those 133 plays, Dallas found themselves as an underdog on just five of them. That’s a sharp contrast from a year ago.

You can see the Cowboys were the favorites to win from about two-thirds of the way through the first quarter until the final second of the game. At its worst point, Dallas still owned a 40 percent chance of winning.

And at Bleacher Report, I took a look at some things to know going into Week 2:

By Jonathan Bales

All of my Cowboys-Giants analysis in one place: Dez Bryant, Position Grades, & More

So what’s up? Anything new going on with you guys? Not sure if you knew, but the Cowboys played last night. Won, too. Here’s some analysis.

I recently joined WFAA.com (ABC Dallas), and my first article takes a look at how the Giants really stifled the Cowboys’ offense.

A Look at Cover 2 Man-Under

Over the past few seasons, the Giants have played Cover 2 and Cover 2 Man-Under on nearly every snap against Dallas. Most are familiar with Cover 2—a true zone coverage—especially now that Monte Kiffin is in town. In Cover 2, the safeties play the deep halves and are responsible for the deepest receiver in their area. The cornerbacks play what’s known as “curl to flat”—a fancy way of saying the underneath zone near the sideline.

In 2 Man-Under, though, everyone other than the safeties is in man coverage. That means when a receiver goes deep, he’s effectively double-teamed. No wonder the Cowboys couldn’t secure any big plays on the night; the Giants made sure they kept everything in front of them, particularly when it came to Mr. Bryant.

One of the interesting tricks the Giants employed was mixing up their looks with the cornerbacks. Even though they played a lot of Cover 2 Man-Under, the Giants didn’t always place their cornerbacks in a press position. Instead, they often played off even when in man coverage, as you can see below.

Bryant, isolated at the top of the screen opposite the Cowboys’ “Trips” formation, was able to get a clean release because the cornerback was playing off. But there were advantages for the Giants in playing with off technique, too.

I’ll be doing a bunch of cool stuff at ABC this year, so definitely check it out.

At NBC, I posted some initial thoughts on the offense:

- I absolutely love that we saw the Pistol from Dallas on Sunday night. Not only that, but we saw it multiple times. The Pistol can allow for Tony Romo to be in Shotgun while also giving the Cowboys the freedom to run any play. DeMarco Murray doesn’t need to delay before taking a handoff, so the Cowboys can have the best of both worlds.

- I need to break down the film, but it was obvious that Dallas didn’t have much play-action success. It was still good to see them using it, though. Last year, Romo compiled a 109.1 passer rating on play-action. It can really be an effective tool in their offensive arsenal, whether the running game is working or not. They’re starting to realize that.



At Bleacher Report, I gave grades for each position:

DeMarco Murray handled 20 of the Cowboys’ 21 carries by running backs, and that’s a great sight to see. At nearly 220 pounds with 4.41 speed and past NFL efficiency, Murray is so much better than Phillip Tanner and Joseph Randle that it’s not even funny.

Murray averaged 4.3 YPC, thanks to a few nice runs in the fourth quarter. He also caught eight passes, showing he’ll be a staple in Bill Callahan’s short passing game.

Grade: C

And at Dallas News, I explained why I think Monte Kiffin’s defense wasn’t that good:

We can and should give the defense some credit for being in the right place at the right time, but we also can’t expect them to force more than a couple of turnovers in each game. And when those disappear, where does that leave this team? Had the Cowboys not gotten some fortuitous bounces against the Giants, this game could have been a blowout.

Again, I’m a fan of Kiffin and I even predicted the Cowboys’ takeaways to increase substantially just before the Giants game. But the ability to force turnovers is about one part skill for every three parts luck. I’ve heard people argue that it doesn’t matter because the Cowboys won the game, and in some ways that’s true, but it does matter if we’re looking to the future. And I don’t know about you, but I’m more concerned with the next 15 games than this single victory.

 

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs Giants, Week 1: Game Plan Articles

I’ve been posting some game plan articles for Dallas heading into Week 1, the first at Dallas News:

Target Corey Webster

Webster was a quality corner a few years ago, but he’s been really poor in the past two seasons. Last year, Webster allowed 10.3 YPA—one of the worst marks in the NFL. That included a Week 1 thrashing from Dallas during which Webster was targeted six times, allowing five catches for 127 yards and a touchdown.

Opposing quarterbacks have been picking on Webster since 2011, when he was targeted an incredible 130 times. In comparison, Brandon Carr was targeted 87 times in 2012 and Morris Claiborne just 69.

The Giants will likely place Prince Amukamara over top of Dez Bryant. The Cowboys should basically force the ball to Bryant no matter what, but he’ll be involved in one heck of a mismatch of Webster is on him.

It will be interesting to see if the Giants continue a trend they’ve shown against Dallas over the past couple seasons—playing Cover 2 Man Under. In my opinion, that defense—with two deep safeties and man coverage underneath—is the best way to stop Dallas. It’s really the only way to effectively double-team Bryant and it could force the Cowboys to remain patient with the running and quick passing games.



This morning, I published a bunch of DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas in this game:

DO work Jason Witten underneath.

I’ve gone on record as arguing that Witten’s play is declining (and has been for a few years), but it was difficult to spot last season since he had so many targets. Even though I’m bearish on Witten, I think he can play a huge role in this contest.

Cover2manunder_crop_exact

The reason is Cover 2 Man-Under—a defense the Giants love to play against Dallas. Actually, the Giants have played it on as many as 57.1 percent of their snaps in a single game. So what’s Cover 2 Man-Under? Take a look.

As the name suggests, the defenses utilizes a Cover 2 shell with two deep safeties, but man coverage instead of zone coverage underneath. It’s really effective at defending outside receivers, particularly deep. When Dez Bryant runs downfield, he’ll effectively be double-teamed.

Well, one of the best ways to beat Cover 2 Man-Under is with the tight end. If the Giants are going to focus on Dez Bryant, which is extremely likely, Witten should be able to take advantage of man coverage over the middle of the field. Look for Witten to rack up a ton of receptions on out and hitch routes; 64.7 percent of his 2012 routes were one of those two.

And I also took another look at the Cowboys’ changing running game:

Some teams can win games when rushing often—namely teams that run the read-option—but the Cowboys aren’t one of them. They win more frequently when theypass the ball early and often. Actually, it’s that way for the average NFL team too. Check this out:

Runpassbalance_original

Year in and year out, we see the same thing: the best passing teams are the best teams period.

Having said that, it’s still important for the Cowboys to run the ball effectively. And while offensive coordinator Bill Callahan might or might not bring a more balanced early-game approach to Dallas, it’s clear from watching the preseason games that the Cowboys’ approach to running the football has shifted dramatically.

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

2013 Cowboys Stat Projections

At Bleacher Report, I projected the majority of the Cowboys’ starters in 2013.

DeMarco Murray

280 carries, 1,250 rushing yards (4.46 YPC), seven rushing touchdowns, 40 receptions, 225 receiving yards, one receiving touchdown

I’m extremely bullish on Murray right now for a variety of reasons. He’s a big, fast back who has already been efficient in the NFL. He might be injury prone, but there’s probably an even better chance that he’s just been unlucky. With superior health, Murray is in for a big season.

More on Murray in 2013

Lance Dunbar

70 carries, 340 yards (4.86 YPC), one rushing touchdown, 25 receptions, 150 receiving yards, one receiving touchdown

Dunbar is currently on the shelf, but he figures to be the No. 2 running back in Dallas once he returns. The speedster has showed well in the preseason, and given his speed and the situations in which he’ll touch the ball, he’s a good bet to lead the Cowboys in YPC.

Joseph Randle

40 carries, 180 yards (4.50 YPC), two rushing touchdowns, 10 receptions, 60 yards, zero receiving touchdowns

When the Cowboys first drafted Randle, I thought they’d utilize him as their change-of-pace and short-yardage running back. The team might be seeing the same traits that forced me to downgrade him prior to the draft; he’s a 204-pound back with 4.63 speed.

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.