## TMQB: A few thoughts on the big picture

These are the losses that hurt the worst. Games where Dallas has an edge they need to capitalize on. I can’t offer much comfort but maybe I can offer some perspective.  And for perspective what better than the trusty old binomial formula. The binomial formula tell us the chance that an event will occur exactly K times out of N. The formula is:

(N! / K!*(N-K)!) * P^K * (1-P) ^(N-K)

We can use the formula to calculate the chance that Dallas would end up with a 1-3 record. Assume that Dallas had a 50% probability of winning against Washington, Chicago, and Houston (not an outrageous assumption as Dallas was missing 2 OL in the Washington game and their respective records are 3-2, 4-1, and 3-2). Using those assumptions, the chance of going 1-2 against those 3 teams is 37.5%.

I’m treating the Tennessee game differently because I believe that Dallas had a much higher probability of winning that game. I think Dallas had a 70% probability of winning or a 30% probability of losing.  Combining the probabilities (37.5% * 30% = 11%) Dallas had an 11% chance of going 1-3. That feels about right. It’s required a lot of bad breaks for Dallas to end up 1-3 but it’s not entirely shocking. Footaball Outsiders summed it up well.

There is massive depression in Dallas, where they are 1-3 in a season that was supposed to end in the Super Bowl. But that's three close losses, including one where they totally outplayed the other team and lost on a couple fluky weird plays and one fluky stupid play. If people start discounting the Cowboys, they're not paying attention.

Here’s the good news. For Dallas to finish 9-7 they need to go 8-4 in their remaining games. Using the assumption that in every remaining game Dallas has a 60% probability of winning (an admittedly optimistic assumption) we can calculate the chance that Dallas gets 8 or more wins. The probability is 44% (going up to 72% if you assume Dallas has a 70% probability in every remaining game).

Turnovers

One of the more amusing exchanges I had during the offseason was whether Romo would throw more than 9 interceptions in 2010. My claim was that interceptions are subject to luck and if you looked at Romo’s career, 9 interceptions looked like plain old variation around the average (Romo’s career: Avg = 14, Standard Deviation = 4, most probable range 10-18 interceptions). If you’re interested, research by Pro Football Reference on the topic is here. Using a different methodology Stumbling on Wins had similar findings (extracted from book so no link).

For football, the problem is quite severe, especially with respect to turnovers. Interceptions and fumbles are often considered crucial to outcomes in football. Turnovers, though, are almost impossible to predict. For quarterbacks, less than 1% of the variation in a quarterback’s fumbles and interceptions can be explained by what the quarterback did the previous season.

Therefore, I suspected 2009 was most likely the result of luck not an improvement in skill and anticipated mean reversion in 2010. Here are some responses that disagreed:

3 of those 9 came in that horrific game against the Giants that seemed to be a real turning point for him. your analysis of Romo is wrong Romo has been improving each year in the league and will continue to do so. Your theory is that Romo will not improve and that is simply wrong. Romo’s INT% will be less than 2 for the remainder of his career, bank on it.

If he continues his play from last year into this year I think there is a pretty big chance he doesn’t throw for 9 interceptions

Well I would never say that Tony has a very good shot at going under 10 INTs but I do think there is certainly a significantly large chance (I would put the likelihood closer to 33%). I would say that since he threw only six in the last 15 games last year

I'd have to agree Romo throws less than 9 picks

have an epiphany like Tony had after the Giants game last year.

With 5 interceptions in 4 games does anyone believe that 2009 was due to a lasting improvement in skill? But there’s a silver lining in that. The 6 interceptions are no big deal. 2010 Romo is the same as 2007, 2008, and 2009 Romo.

Here’s a question. Guess what the median was for team giveaways for the 2009 NFL season? 28 giveaways for the season (fumbles and interceptions) or 1.75 giveaways / game. Guess how many giveaways Dallas has in 2010? 7 giveaways in 4 games which coincidently (and conveniently for making my point) is 1.75 giveaways / game. That’s correct, Dallas is giving the ball away at the exact same rate as the median rate for 2009. In terms of giveaways Dallas is totally average.

However, the other side of the coin is the defense is among the worst in takeaways. That means that in general Dallas is going to lose the turnover battle. There are only 2 options if Dallas wants to breakeven in the turnover battle:

-the offense has to improve to be among the best in regards to giveaways, or

-the defense needs to improve to average.

The reality is that unless something changes in pretty much each and every game Dallas is going to be handicapped by:

-Special Teams,

-Penalties, and

-Turnovers.

In order to compensate for the deficit in those 3 areas Dallas has to dominate on offense and defense. Sunday I saw a dominant performance on offense (27 points and 500 yards in spite of 2 giveaways and ordinary field position). However, I didn’t see a dominant defensive performance, I saw a below average defensive performance. If Dallas is going to start in the hole because of the other 3 facets of the game the offense and defense both have to dominate.

Heart

I actually like this team’s heart. I know what you’re saying ‘Heart? WT# Fan’. Here’s what I mean. Compare this game to the Minnesota game last year. The start was very similar. Romo was getting killed in both games and Dallas got down 17-3 in both games. Except the Tennessee game played out much differently. Instead of getting blown out, Dallas benched Leonard Davis, got the protection sorted out, came all the way back to tie the game, and gave themselves a chance to win. I know moral victories aren’t as fun as victories, however I think this team’s resolve is underappreciated. I also think this illustrates the importance of home field advantage. Just my opinion but I think when the game got tough, being at home gave Dallas enough comfort and confidence to mount a comeback.

I get the sense that Dallas is very protective of their players. It’s like they went out and bought a Ferrari but they’re a little afraid to drive it because it might get scratched (or totalled). You see it from Felix’s carries being kept down to Dallas not tackling in practice. I’m honestly not sure if this is good or bad. The upside is you preserve your players. Dallas has been one of the healthiest teams in the league over the last 3 years. And this trend is continuing. Dallas is currently healthy. I suspect it’s also why the defense peaks late in the season (remember the defense throwing shut-outs final 2 games last year). The flip side is that Dallas relies more on execution and professionalism than pure nastiness. Anyway, I’m firmly in the ‘I don’t know’ camp. I’d like to hear what people think. Is the benefit of being healthy greater than the cost of losing some physicality?

Special Teams

I was looking for a link but unfortunately couldn’t find it (it was a comment from 2008).  You’ll just have to trust me. To paraphrase, the what the article said is that all the ST where Wade has been HC have deteriorated during his tenure because he doesn’t consider them important and doesn’t dedicate as much practice time to ST as other NFL teams. I don't know if it's true or not but ST does seem to be a problem for this team.

Penalties

The table below summarizes the penalties Dallas was flagged for.

 PENALTY on DAL-M.Jenkins, Defensive Pass Interference, 35 yards, enforced at TEN 21 - No Play. X1 D PENALTY on DAL-M.Jenkins, Defensive Pass Interference, 13 yards, enforced at DAL 42 - No Play. X2 D Penalty on DAL O.Scandrick, Defensive Pass Interference, declined. D PENALTY on DAL-S.Bowen, Illegal Use of Hands, 5 yards, enforced at DAL 48. X8 D PENALTY on DAL-M.Colombo, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at TEN 41. O Penalty on DAL-D.Free, Offensive Holding, offsetting, enforced at DAL 44 - No Play. O PENALTY on DAL - Gurode False Start O PENALTY on DAL-B.Church, Illegal Block Above the Waist, 9 yards, enforced at DAL 18. ST PENALTY on DAL D.Free, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at TEN 3 O PENALTY on DAL, Gurode, Holding O PENALTY on DAL M.Colombo, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, 15 yards, enforced between downs. O PENALTY on DAL D.Free, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at TEN 2 O PENALTY on DAL D.Buehler, Face Mask (15 Yards), 6 yards, enforced at DAL 11. ST PENALTY on DAL M.Austin, Offensive Pass Interference, 10 yards, enforced at DAL 42 O

That’s 4 penalties on the defense, 8 on the offense, and 2 on the special teams.  I’m glad to see most fans blaming Jerry Jones for the OL because I agree that’s who is responsible. Remember Hudson Houck is Jerry’s choice, and the line was responsible for 6 penalties (I’m not counting the excessive celebration).

"This will give Hudson Houck a chance to do his work," Jones said. "Hudson, I think, is one of the best coaches in the NFL. He should be doing good work. He's the highest priced offensive line coach in the NFL, and I say that with all due respect to Hudson. "I told Alex when he came, I had a good visit with him, and told him he was real fortunate to have Hudson as a coach."

I blame Garrett for the offensive pass interference on Austin. That’s the 3rd time Dallas has been penalized on that play and it’s because the timing is off. That's is squarely in Garrett's lap.

Finally, the excessive celebration penalty. This isn’t just hindsight. I always wished they’d stop the celebrations because it seems like the world’s dumbest injury waiting to happen. Every time I seem the players jumping up to chest bump I see Tony Allen dunking on an open basket after the whistle and blowing out his knee.

Play mix

I parsed the play-by-play so people can look for themselves at the running totals here. I continue to be unconcerned about the play mix.

A few observations.

- the run/pass balance was skewed by the 2 min drill at the end of the 1st half (8 straight passes) and the 2 min drill at the end of the game (12 straight passes). That’s 20 total passes.

- the run/pass balance was about 35/65 as Dallas was catching up in the first half

- starting in the 2nd half once the score was tied, the run/pass balance was about 50/50 until the very end when Dallas was trying to tie the score.

Bonus material if you’re really interested. Here’s the play selection by down and distance.

 Down Runs Passes 1 13 23 2 9 17 3 0 14 4 0 2 Grand Total 22 56

 Distance Runs Passes 1 1 0 2 0 2 3 1 1 4 2 4 5 0 2 6 0 4 7 2 6 8 1 4 9 1 3 10 12 23 11 0 0 14 0 0 15 0 2 17 0 0 19 1 0 20 1 2 31 0 0 32 0 2 34 0 1

There is one area where I would like to see change and that’s the 3rd down play calls. As you can see from above Garrett called zero runs on third down. There’s evidence that suggests that coaches would benefit from calling more runs on 3rd down.

The right kind of running play on third and long can be beneficial. According to ESPN Stats & Analysis, teams gained 6.4 yards per draw play on third down with eight or more yards to go. (And the type of run matters -- a generic handoff in the same situation generated just 5.6 yards per play.)

In identical situations when teams opted for the pass and the QB actually got rid of the ball, they averaged 7.0 yards per throw. But when you factor in sacks and scrambles (which are likely outcomes against pass-oriented defenses), that number dipped to 5.9 yards per play, and it's even lower when you account for interceptions. There's no good option on third and long, but the draw is a wise choice

Brian Burke found similar results

For 3rd downs we see the opposite result. Runs are more lucrative in nearly all cases by about 0.2 points per play. This is big, really big. Think of it this way: An offense can expect to improve its net point advantage over an opponent by 0.2 points simply by choosing a certain type of play...a single play.

What I’d like to see accompany runs would be a departure from conventional strategy. In addition to running on 3rd down I’d like to see Garrett consider these situations four down territory.

Dallas faced the following down and distances on Sunday with the following results:

 3 & 10 from the Tennessee 40 Sacked for -7 yards Punt to Ten 14 3 & 8 from the Tennessee 28 Sacked for -6 yards Made FG 3 & 4 from the Tennessee 19 Sacked for -7 yards Missed FG 3 & 8 from the Tennessee 8 Pass for zero yards Made FG

Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s pretty easy to envision in a scenario where Garrett calls runs on 3rd down and subsequently goes for the 4th down (if the run doesn’t get the first), at least one of those drives resulting in a TD and producing more total points.

ANPY/A Update

For those following APNY/A updated calculations can be found here. For comparison, here are the baselines from last year.

2009

Offense ANPY/A

Min        2.9

Median  5.1

Max       7.7

Defense ANPY/A Allowed

Min        3.3

Median  5.4

Max       7.3

Dallas lost the APNY/A battle 6.9 to 5.7. Dallas APNY/A was held down by the 3 interceptions and the 6 sacks. 5.7 is Dallas’s lowest figure for the season and only slightly above last years median. The 6.9 allowed is ugly, especially against a mediocre passing team. It’s even uglier considering the figure is understated as it doesn’t include 38 yards from pass interference penalties (it’s 8.3 including the penalty yards)

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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