The title is self-explanatory, so let’s dive right in. . .
5. Jason Garrett is improving as a play-caller.
There is no doubt that Garrett’s play-calling can become extremely predictable at times. I’ve already shown how Garrett’s 2010 playaction pass calls and lack of counters hurt the team in 2010, and I’ve discussed the “Double Tight Strong” play-calling ad nauseam.
But Garrett also improved in a number of areas last season. The Cowboys ran less draw plays, used fewer motions, ran weak side more frequently, became less predictable on second down, and were more efficient on initial drives–all areas of concern heading into the season, and all areas in which Garrett excelled.
As I wrote in my USA Today article on why Garrett is the right man for the Cowboys’ head coaching job, “It isn’t what Garrett is that should have the Cowboys and their fans so excited, but rather what he will be. He’s young. He’s aggressive. He’s confident.” Most importantly, he’s adaptable–it is Garrett’s ability to evolve which will have the Cowboys thriving sooner rather than later.
4. The Cowboys were slightly “unlucky” in 2010.
In my site bio, I wrote:
As a self-proclaimed “numbers guy,” I have always been fascinated by the way mathematics and statistics, if used properly, can thoroughly explain seemingly complex phenomena. Like the motion of the planets or the path of an ant, I truly believe football can be perfectly represented by numbers.
One formula that has always intrigued me is Pythagorean Win Expectation. Like many of the stats I use, it originated in baseball. When adapted to football, the formula predicts the number of wins a team “should” have given their points scored and allowed. Pythagorean Win Expectation is a far superior tool in forecasting a team’s future record than even their past record. This is because it takes “luck” out of the equation.
In football, the formula is PF^2.37/(PF^2.37 + PA^2.37). Why an exponent of 2.37? I’ll take the pragmatic stance and say “because it works.” There’s nothing “magical” about 2.37–it simply has been proven more effective at predicting future records than 2.00 or 2.50, that’s all.
When we calculate the 2010 Cowboys’ Pythagorean Win Expectation based on their points scored and yielded, we see that they “should have” had a win percentage of .440–equivalent to 7.04 wins. This isn’t significantly superior to the six wins they recorded, but it’s still interesting to know the team’s six total wins isn’t perfectly representative of how they played.
3. Rob Ryan’s innovative defensive schemes will dramatically alter the Cowboys’ defensive efficiency.
A few weeks ago, I detailed how Ryan’s schemes will affect the Cowboys’ defensive success in 2011. In that post, I was particularly interested in Ryan’s “Nickel” and “Psycho” fronts (below).
I love these concepts because they implement a defense’s premiere pass-rushers. In a game that is creeping toward a 70 percent pass rate, these may very well be the alignments of the future.
In addition to unique alignments, Ryan figures to bring more zone blitzes to Dallas this season. This should allow the defense to apply more pressure without becoming extremely vulnerable in the secondary.
2. Tony Romo will be back and better than ever.
Despite “poor” play in 2010, the quarterback was still on pace for a career-high 69.5 percent completion percentage, and his 94.5 passer rating was right on par with his career average. That passer rating came in spite of a pedestrian 11:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio–one of the reasons I provided him with a “B” in my 2010 Quarterback Grades.
To excel in 2011, Romo will have to improve in non-blitz situations. My recent study on Romo vs. the blitz suggested that he is a premiere quarterback in the face of pressure, but just average when teams sit back in coverage.
1. The pressure is off.
The Cowboys have played notoriously poor in high-pressure situations. Last year, they entered the season as the favorite to win the entire NFC and participate in a “home” Super Bowl. The pressure clearly got to them.
This season, expectations are low. The ‘Boys have plenty to prove. Are they simply a collection of talented football players, or are they an elite team? They should come out firing with their backs against the wall and nothing to lose.
Nonetheless, at some point, this team will need to learn to win when they are supposed to win. The underdog role will eventually wear off. Will the Cowboys fold under the pressure or finally live up to their potential? For the reasons I’ve listed above, I believe it will be the latter.