A few weeks ago I sought opinions from my fellow Front Page Writers in our virtual lounge. The request...
Complete the following sentence, "The Cowboys will make the playoffs this year if..."
This spawned a pretty interesting discussion, and a variety of ideas, which have turned into a series of very high quality posts.
Check out the takes of some of our other Front page writers...
Now it's time for my take...
The 2013 Dallas Cowboys will make the playoffs if Monte Kiffin's defensive unit can create 30 turnovers. I understand that the idea that the Cowboys defense needs to force more turnovers is widely acknowledged and accepted, so I sought out to attempt to prove my assertion that this would improve their chances of making the playoffs.
As I started this process, I quickly made the decision that the best method to prove this point, is by channeling my inner-Goog, and resorting to some good ole number crunching. Before we continue, I want you to have the data I am referencing. All data is from 2012 and is courtesy of Pro-football-reference.com.
2012 Takeaway/Scoring Data (Click headers to sort)
|Team||Off Score %||Off TD %||Yds/Point Scored||Def Takeaway %||Punts Forced %||Yds/Point Allowed||Yds/Point Diff||Wins|
The first three columns of data here represent offensive numbers while the next three represent defensive numbers. The final two represent team wide information. These numbers are also adjusted to account for drives which were ended by the end of a half or the end of a game. Yds/Point Differential is how many more or less yards your offense has to travel per point scored in relation to your defenses numbers for allowed, so in this case a smaller number (fewer yds needed for your O, and more yds forced by your D) is better.
Instinctually, I believed that them most telling stats would be the Yards per Point differential, and the comparison between Takeaway percentage and the Punts Forced percentage.
I wanted to do some analysis on this data, to see how each of these pieces of information interacted with one another so I looked how strongly correlated some of these numbers are.
|Off Score %||Off TD %||Yds /Point Scored||Def Takeaway %||Punts Forced %||Yds/Point Allowed||Yds/ Point Diff||Wins|
|Off Score %||100%|
|Off TD %||92%||100%|
|Yds /Point Scored||-69%||-74%||100%|
|Def Takeaway %||47%||48%||-70%||100%|
|Punts Forced %||-26%||-30%||4%||-24%||100%|
|Yds/ Point Diff||-70%||-71%||92%||-77%||0%||-87%||100%|
Some of these things are naturally highly correlated, for example, Offensive Scoring % and Offensive TD % are very closely related because every TD counts as a score as well, so that particular correlation doesn't provide much insight, However I think there is some very interesting information which can be drawn from this table.
Of course, the point of all of this is to see what affects the teams ability to win football games. and we see that of all the pieces of information we see, the most highly correlated item to number of wins is the Yards/Point differential, at a -86% correlation. As statisticians will tell you correlation does not equal causation, but you can't deny the relationship between these two items.
So if we want to win more games, we need to improve (decrease) our yards/point differential. From a defensive perspective we can keep a team from scoring 2 ways, we can force a turnover, or we can get stops on 3rd down and force a punt.
If we look at these two options in relation to yards/point differential, we see that punts forced has zero correlation to the differential while takeaway % is -77% correlated to the differential. The more turnovers you force, the lower your yards/point differential is, and the lower that differential is, the higher the number of wins.
So clearly, there is a relationship between forcing turnovers, and generating wins for your team. But why 25 or more?
Lets look at some information about turnovers and the playoffs...
2012 Turnovers and The Playoffs (Click headers to sort)
|Team||# of Turnovers||Playoffs|
When we look at this information, currently sorted by # of turnovers, we can see that generating 30 turnovers would have planted the 2012 Cowboys firmly in the top 10 in the NFL in turnovers. This top 10, contains 6 playoff teams and is led by the Bears, who finished with 10 wins, and missed the playoffs only because the Vikings were able to beat the Packers by 3 points in week 17.
So of the 12 teams that made the playoffs last year, exactly half were in the top 10 in turnovers. That's 50% of the playoff teams from ~30% of the teams in the league.
I like those odds, and I think Jason Garrett does too. Which is why Monte Kiffin was hired, and why the emphasis is being placed on going after the ball on defense.