Odd News: Stats Continue to Praise Cowboys Offensive Line

But who deserves the credit? We have seen it, and we've debated it before, but statistical analysis continues to praise the performance of the Cowboys offensive line in 2010. Are so many Cowboys fans, including myself, just imagining the memories of bad pass protection and no running lanes? I understand mass hysteria could exaggerate existing fears, but has there really been an outbreak of mass delusional behavior? Throughout the unofficial offseason, we have seen Cowboys scoring well on ProFootballFocus' individual o-line grades and FootballOutsider advanced stats rating the group 12th in the league.  Hold the presses, PFF now returns with grades for team o-lines with the Cowboys ranked 9th.

Why did we waste a Top 10 pick on Tyron Smith!? I was a staunch supporter of the T. Smith draft pick, oddly enough at #9, but perhaps my sarcasm is ill spent when the stats continue to point in the opposite direction. It gets even stranger. Obviously the Cowboys had an effective passing attack and Jason Garrett deserves an incredible amount of credit for the o-line grades because he virtually removed all 5- and 7-step drops from his playbook and protected Romo and Kitna as best he could through play calling while still providing a potent attack. However, PFF rankings are broken down into subdivision grades and the 9th rank for the Cowboys is broken up as follows: Run Blocking 5th, Pass Blocking 17th, Penalties 28th

Initial reaction, an o-lines' proclivity to penalties should affect their overall ranking more. Mindboggling observation, how can the run rank be so high? Cowboys rushing yard average ranked them 15th in the league in 2010. Total rushing yards 16th in the league and 21st in rushing TDs. I know they started playing better when Garrett took over as interim and brought back pads to practice, but am I losing my mind?

Folks, sometimes it may act like a dog and look like a dog, but it's just Goofy.

A closer look and another newly reported stat of interest could help clear things up and defend our sanity.

Like most of you, I would need a statistical guru like O.C.C. to help me figure out the strange brew of statistics and calculations that went into PFF's ranking system that deemed the Cowboys the fifth best run blocking team in the NFL.  There is a reason there are advanced degrees involving statistics and perhaps we need some 3rd party council that can translate the formulas to the public. I understand basic NFL stats can be foolish indicators at times, and efficiency stats must always be considered alongside total yards, and there are some advanced stats that can prove very enlightening and the guys at PFF do some great work.

Statistics are obviously an important measurable to consider and I use them all the time when evaluating players and teams' performances, but never without context. Who was the opponent? How did the rest of the team play? Grass or Turf? Snow game in an open stadium or first game of the season with a shortened training camp due to a lockout? In my mind, the game of football has too many variables to simply accept statistical findings as irrefutable proof without considering what factors invariably weren't measured - or even overly weighted - making rankings and grades over the course of a season even more open to misinterpretations and/or misrepresentations. Sometimes numbers are not enough to measure a man's worth, especially for fans like me who think intangibles prove a vital influence over the course of a game, a team's season, and a player's career.

Sometimes, grades are calculated in a way where a player who missed a few games due to injury scores lower than a teammate who played worse in games but for the entire season, take Kyle Kosier and Leonard Davis for example. Sometimes, individual player rankings are determined by game-day events that are highly influenced by other players or even by the humans watching tape to judge if a player won or lost a matchup when not directly involved in the play. Sometimes, statistics simply don't paint the entire picture. For example, Vinnie Iyer at Sporting News has a couple of pieces on underrated NFL stats and recently wrote about quarterback production against the blitz in 2010. 

It's a good read and I recommend it, but I'd also consider some of the missing variables. Looking at the Top 10 list I think that Drew Brees did not have the running game and o-line help of some of the other QBs on the list and should probably be rated higher considering more than just the stats. Eli Manning threw 25 interceptions last season and only 6 were while being blitzed? Josh Freeman continues to impress me, especially considering he ranked 24th in passing attempts so he had fewer opportunities to compile stats, or perhaps the young man has already learned how to read blitzes and effectively audibles to the appropriate hot routes but rarely calls a blitz-busting run audible. 

Perhaps the most interesting thing to note is what Iyer has to say about the Cowboys.

Teams to Watch in 2011

Dallas Cowboys. When you combine what Tony Romo (109.1, 5 TDs, INT) and Jon Kitna did (90.6, 8 TDs, 5 INTs) did in blitz situations last season, you have a passer who would have fit in the top five above. Considering two Cowboys quarterbacks enjoyed a high level of success means Jason Garrett's offense is made to take advantage of zealous defenses. Wide receiver Miles Austin and tight end Jason Witten are the ultimate checkdown options who quickly find mismatches in coverage.

This year, there should be more promise, assuming Romo stays healthy for the long haul. It also helps that second-year wideout Dez Bryant will have a full season of beating single coverage downfield and rookie running back DeMarco Murray will raise Dallas' effectiveness in the screen game.

The Cowboys have remained entrenched as a top 10 passing offense the past three years, but this season they should return to the top five-where they were in '07.

I agree with virtually everything he said, but I do question the idea that Romo + Kitna = Top 5 QB against the blitz. I think this is another ranking Garrett should get a lot of credit for since he compensated for all the pressure his QBs were facing by utilizing a quick strike offense, thus also making them more effective against all the blitzing from NFC East rivals and the numerous opponents with aggressive 3-4 defenses. Garrett's play calling is making the Cowboys o-line "play better" than what they are and statistical rankings should not be considered predictive proof that the Cowboys will have a good offensive line - or even offensive performance - with the same starting lineup in 2011.

However, Romo had a higher QB rating than any other QB in the league in blitzing situations as well as one of the best TD/INT ratios in those situations. Even the favorable o-line rankings previously described and Garrett's play calling can't account for all that success. Perhaps we have not been giving Romo enough credit for making the o-line grade out so well. With so much talent at the skill positions and Garrett and Romo at the helm, the Cowboys offense could become unstoppable if the well-graded offensive line does not limit the playbook next year.

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