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Looking at the 4th quarter through a pair of binoculars

It is interesting how looking through a pair of binoculars is a lot like analyzing statistics. Looking through one end magnifies the desired object, distinguishing features that are often unnoticed by the naked eye. Turn the binoculars around, and the object blends into the background as an unremarkable dot in the distant matrix.

Somewhere in the middle, lies the truth.

But like that object being viewed, the truth is often not as interesting when it is studied in its natural context without amplification. Interest stimulates controversy, as perception is rarely uniform. Controversy leads to discussion, and often to further observation.

It is easy to turn around the binoculars and have Jason Garrett's comments blend into the background during his press conferences. Jason, however, sublimely highlights several important factors that he emphasizes to the players and the team.

Jason Garrett has voiced that most games in the NFL are still within one score going into the fourth quarter, and are therefore decided during that final 15 minute stanza. During the 2011 regular season, almost 52% of the games were decided by 8 points or less.

The Dallas Cowboys had 9 games that were decided by less than 9 points. The Cowboys won 4 of those games (Washington twice, Miami, and San Francisco). In fact, as the season got underway, Dallas had a streak of six games decided by 3 points or less from 2010. The Cowboys added three more games to start the 2011 season to set a new NFL record.

The explanation for the seemingly endless string of close games that characterized these Jason Garrett-led Cowboys produced considerable speculation. Whispers that this edition of the Cowboys played down to the level of its opponents experienced a crescendo following a 2-point victory against the Redskins.

Then the popular philosophy shifted to the Cowboys just not knowing how to win. Consecutive fourth quarter leads that resulted in four point losses to the Lions and Patriots were the catalyst for questioning the ability of the quarterback and the head coach to lead this team to victories.

The next four games were all decided by at least 10 points. During the following four game stretch, however, Dallas won or lost on the final possession. The media stoked the fire under Garrett's seat as head coach; but Jerry made the right decision in supporting his new leader.

Only six teams had more games decided by less than 9 points than the Dallas Cowboys. One of those teams, Cincinnati, had a winning record (9-7). The overall record of those six teams was 39-57 (.406 winning ratio).

It is not surprising that the teams that had the fewest close games included New Orleans (6), New England (7), Baltimore (7), and Green Bay (7). Those teams were a combined 19-8 in games decided by 8-points or less (.704 winning ratio).

In conjunction with the mantra coming from Garrett at Valley Ranch, winning games in the fourth quarter is a major criterion in differentiating between successful teams and those selecting early in the upcoming NFL draft. In addition, there were 64 games during the 2011 regular season (exactly 25% of the games played) in which the team that held a lead in the 4th quarter lost the game.

Baltimore, Atlanta, Green Bay, and New Orleans were among the teams that did not lose one game in which they held a lead during the 4th quarter. The combined record of those teams was 57-23 (.713 winning ratio). With the exception of the Kansas City Chiefs, every team that won every game after it captured a 4th quarter lead made the playoffs (and the Chiefs are the only team that defeated the Packers).

Unfortunately, the Cowboys distinguished themselves in this category. During the course of the 2011 regular season, no other team lost as many games while relinquishing a lead that existed during any point throughout the 4th quarter, as the Dallas Cowboys (5).

Five teams blew 4th quarter leads that led to losses almost as often (4 times) as the Cowboys. Those teams had a combined record of 27-53 (.338 winning ratio). None of those teams (Philadelphia, Carolina, Cleveland, Miami, and Minnesota) made the playoffs.

The teams that made a living from overcoming 4th quarter deficits included Arizona (6), Cincinnati (5), Denver (5), San Francisco (5) and the New York Giants (5). As with teams that secure 4th quarter leads, all but one (the Cardinals) of the teams that had led the NFL in 4th quarter comebacks made the playoffs.

Obviously, the Cowboys do not belong in the same category as Baltimore (12-4), Green Bay (15-1), San Francisco (13-3), New England (13-3) and New Orleans (13-3). Dallas, however, does resemble the following teams: Carolina (6-10), Cleveland (4-12), Miami (6-10), and Minnesota (3-13).

Based on the results of the season, a strong argument could be made that the 2011 Dallas Cowboys closely resemble a team that should have won only 5 or 6 games. Dallas snatched defeat from victory more than any other team, played in more close games than all but six teams, and did not make the plays necessary to come back from enough 4th quarter deficits (3).

With improved play in the 4th quarter, the Cowboys could join the elite in the NFL. In order to perform better in the 4th quarter, however, Dallas needs more elite talent. As Garrett continues to add talent to the roster, it is reassuring that Jason has the correct focus: winning the 4th quarter.

The predominant belief regarding the abundance of talent that existed on the 2011 edition of the Dallas Cowboys was brought into focus this season, and further investigation revealed the true dearth of talent that existed. In lieu of this transposition, perhaps it is appropriate to reverse some of the popular opinions made throughout the season, and turn around the questions:

In place of a team that has underachieved since 2007, could this edition of the Dallas Cowboys actually be overachieving or outplaying the talent present on the team?

Instead of blaming Jason Garrett for not engineering more convincing victories, should Jason be getting the lion's share of the credit for keeping this team competitive in most games?

If the Eagles, with all of the talent added to their roster, underachieved this season, how can a Cowboys team with far less talent that finished with an identical 8-8 record be considered anything but an overachiever?

Considering that this edition of the Dallas Cowboys resembled teams that finished with 5 or 6 wins, will a rebuilding process take more time?

Could these be the initial signs that a new culture is taking root at Valley Ranch?

Will the emphasis Jason Garrett places on winning the 4th quarter begin to manifest as more consistent and improved play in the games' final 15 minutes?

Just some observations from behind the binoculars...

And hopefully a building block for America's Team.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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