Decisions made with a lack of information have shaped history. In 1938, Arthur Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, signed the Munich Agreement, conceding the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany. By doing so, numerous weapon factories in Czechoslovakia were handed over to the Nazis.
Chamberlain was forced to resign the premiership on May 10th, 1940, after Germany invaded the Netherlands. Neville Chamberlain was judged harshly for his political decisions. Among other influences, Neville made decisions based on incomplete and erroneous information.
But decisions based on incomplete information occur at every level of life, and influence personal history. Surgeons perform surgery based on information available through MRI, X-Ray, and/or CAT scans. Until the surgeon is actually inside the body, the physician is operating under the best available information, albeit incomplete.
Adapting this concept further, Tony Romo threw his third interception because he failed to see the safety deep. He could have collected the necessary information by finding the safety, Phillips, on the field, but he did not, and therefore his decision to throw deep was based upon incomplete information.
When making critical decisions, nary a soul will disagree that gathering accurate and complete information is necessary. With only two games having been played in the NFL season, it is not possible to obtain a good sampling of information. Therefore, the available information contains errors based on small sample size and changes over time, despite pointing towards a trend.
The Dallas defensive statistics after two games are pathetic, but not unprecedented. In 2007, the Cowboys were giving up 27.5 points per game (in 2009, the Dallas defense is surrendering 27 points per game), and permitting opponents to convert on 50% of third down opportunities (the 2009 Cowboys are permitting first down conversions on 39% of third downs) two games into the season.
The Cowboys hosted the Giants (which won the Super Bowl that season) and went to Miami to play the Dolphins (which finished 1-15). The Dallas defense did collect three sacks, one interception and a fumble in those games, as opposed to the goose eggs the defense has collected this season.
Compare the final 2007 defensive statistics with those garnered in the first two games, however, and a stark difference in performance is highlighted. Over the past two seasons, the Cowboys defense has permitted opponents to covert on 37.4% of third down plays, have surrendered an average of 301 yards per game (with an average gain of 4.9 yards per play), and yielded but 21.6 points per game.
Successful teams all have stretches where one or two units play poorly. In 2007, the Giants started the season giving up 40 points per game, with opponents moving the ball 423 yards per game, at a clip of 6.9 yards per play (Dallas has surrendered 438.5 yards a game with the average play gaining 6.4 yards so far this season), with 55% of third down opportunities being converted into first downs.
New York’s defense finished the season allowing 21.9 points per game, 305 yards per game at a 5.0 yards per play average, and permitting 35% of third down opportunities to be converted into first downs. Obviously that defense improved as the season progressed, but teams do not need to reach a crescendo defensively towards the end of the season to have success.
In 2008, the Arizona Cardinals gave up 41 points per game with 455 yards per game (an average of 6.3 yards per play), while permitting opponents to convert 58.1% of their third down opportunities into first downs in the 15th and 16th weeks of the season. The Cardinals were significantly better earlier in the season, surrendering 26.6 points per game and 331.5 yards per game (5.3 yards per play), with opponents getting first downs on 44% of third down plays.
Arizona’s defensive numbers are horrendous in comparison with the Giants and Cowboys defenses of the last few seasons. Yet the Cardinals represented the NFC in the last Super Bowl.
It is impossible to get any useful information from the two games the Dallas defense has played in this young season. History suggests that the Cowboys will post numbers similar to what it has the previous two seasons, which are good enough to get Dallas into the playoffs.
Based on the last two seasons, that is all that fans, players, coaches, and owners can ask for: an opportunity to play in the post season. Once in the post season, the games become a crapshoot favoring the team that plays better than its regular season statistics would suggest. 9-7 teams can win the conference as easily as a 12 or 13 win team can.
The regular season is just a means to get to the playoffs (the ends). In many sports, history suggests that statistics are overvalued once teams reach the postseason tournament. Obsessing over the final score of a game in week two, therefore, a game that is worth exactly 6.25% of the season is a waste of more than 93% of one’s time.
I know a whole lot of surgeons that would not operate having about 12.5% of the available information at their disposal. Of course, this is football, and not brain surgery.