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running the numbers | The DC Times

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Running the Numbers: Cowboys’ Initial Drives

Jonathan Bales

Every year, I do an article on the Cowboys’ initial drives: those to start the game and the second half. Here’s this year’s article on initial drives at DallasCowboys.com. A preview:

The first drives to start the second half were even worse for the Cowboys in 2009. The team racked up only 4.94 yards-per-play and 1.06 points-per-drive–less than half of their points-per-drive on all other drives.

One of the things I’ve admired about Garrett has been his ability to improve as a coach and play-caller. He’s really evolved in his short time as the Cowboys’ head coach, and I think that improvement will continue into the future.

Garrett’s adaptability is reflected in the team’s 2010 initial drive stats. After averaging only 1.38 points-per-drive on initial drives (to start both the game and second half) the previous season, Garrett led the team to 2.13 points-per-drive on initial drives in 2010. The team scored 34 total points on their possessions to begin games, and 34 more points on the initial drives coming out of halftime. Those numbers were superior to the team’s average of 1.90 points-per-drive on all other drives.

The trend continued in 2011. The Cowboys averaged a robust 2.35 points-per-drive to start the game and second half—that’s way up from the 1.95 points-per-drive the team totaled on all other drives. On first drives alone, the ‘Boys managed 2.56 points-per-drive.

A recent comment here argued that Jason Garrett isn’t really getting the job done as head coach. The comment, as almost all written here, was well-reasoned. You all know there are areas in which I think Garrett can improve, but I also think he’s made great strides in a number of areas. This is one of them, and it’s further proof Garrett is evolving as a head coach.

Tell me your thoughts.

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Running the Numbers: Deep Passing Stats

Jonathan Bales

My latest submission to DallasCowboys.com deals with the Cowboys’ deep passing stats over the past three seasons. In it, I discuss when I think possessing an efficient running game is important. Regulars here know I often dismiss the idea that offenses need to be balanced (they don’t), but a strong running game is important in short-yardage situations and to set up big plays in the passing game. As I write in the article:

The biggest reason a formidable ground attack can be valuable, however, is that it sets up big plays via the passing game. It’s a whole lot easier for an offense to move downfield from a single deep pass than from a handful of successful runs, but those six- and eight-yard rushes can alter a defense’s strategy and leave them susceptible to a deep passing play. Thus, although rushing frequently is unnecessary, running efficiently can have positive offensive effects that often manifest themselves in passing statistics.

And the Cowboys have had quite a bit of success throwing deep lately. Last season, Romo turned in a ridiculous 125.4 passer rating on throws of 20-plus yards.

One of the reasons I think we see this is (and one I didn’t discuss in the article) is that Romo buys time in the pocket to allow receivers to get wide open, making a lot of his deep throws “easy.” Jason Garrett really dials up a low percentage of deep passes (well below the league average in every season he’s been offensive coordinator), so there’s a bit of a selection bias at work toward these “easy” deep passes. More designed deep throws would result in a lower passer rating, I think.

Nonetheless, the ‘Boys really could benefit from more throws down the field. Dez Bryant has unbelievable ball skills, and I’d sure be throwing it up to him anytime he doesn’t have a safety over top.

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Running the Numbers: Predicting 2012 Sack Totals

Jonathan Bales

I just posted an article on 2012 sack projections over at DallasCowboys.com. To obtain the projections, I simply took last year’s team pressure totals and multiplied them by the average sack rate of 25.7%. Certainly some players and teams bring down the quarterback at a higher rate than others (even in regards to their pressure totals), but over the long run, NFL teams have generally brought down the quarterback about one in every four snaps that they pressure him.

The numbers work out in the Cowboys favor. Ninth in total sacks in 2011, the ‘Boys are due to finish fifth this season. Obviously there is a lot more that goes into sack totals than pressures and sack rate. Nonetheless, I did similar calculations for the past five seasons, and using pressures/sack rate to predict future sacks was far more accurate than using the prior season’s sack totals.

One of the reasons the Cowboys are likely to improve this season is the probable improvement of Anthony Spencer. Even if Spencer garners the same number of pressures this season as last, he’ll acquire three extra sacks even at a league average sack rate.

Other good news for the ‘Boys. . .the Giants will almost certainly see a steep decline in sacks in 2012. They were one of the luckiest teams in the NFL last year, sacking the quarterback on 29.4% of pressures. At a league average sack rate, they’ll drop from fourth in sacks to the bottom half of the league.