The idea is to look only at what the Lions did better than the Cowboys offensively -- gaining yards and converting on 3rd down -- and the role of each team's stud WR in that. It turns out that you can really just boil it down to converting on 3rd down, since they only averaged 1 yard per drive more than we did. (Dallas was much better on 1st and 2nd down than Detroit.)
Still, this is the stat that shows the area of needed improvement, and shows why Linehan might be able to help:
3rd Down Conversion %
Detroit 43.4 (6th)
Dallas 35.6 (23rd)
3rd down only
Dallas 70 of 137 792 yd 5.8 ypa 8 td 4 int 76.0 rtg 16 sk 4.2 anya
(to Bryant) 16 of 34 207 yd 6.1 ypa 5 td 0 int 106.3
Bryant's % of all 3rd-down targets: 25.0
33.8% of all 3rd-down dropbacks resulted in a 1st down, 10.4% in a sack, and 2.6% in an interception.
41.2% of Bryant's 3rd-down targets resulted in a 1st down, 0% in an interception.
Detroit 87 of 159 1202 yd 7.6 ypa 10 td 8 int 79.2 rtg 7 sk 6.0 anya
(to Johnson) 24 of 49 403 yd 8.2 ypa 4 td 4 int 70.4
Johnson's % of all 3rd-down targets: 30.8
39.6% of all 3rd-down dropbacks resulted in a 1st down, 3.6% in a sack, and 4.9% in an interception.
46.9% of Johnson's 3rd-down targets resulted in a 1st down, 8.2% in an interception.
There is a lot to digest there, but what it's basically saying is that Dallas was much more conservative on 3rd down than Detroit was in 2013, and a lot less successful. When you compare the pass rating (Dal 76.0, Det 79.2), that's hard to see, but it shows up in ANYA (adjusted net yards per pass attempt). ANYA includes sacks and sack yardage. The Cowboys' ANYA on 3rd down was 4.2, Detroit's was 6.0, and the league's was 5.3. Those numbers are more indicative of the two teams' 3rd-down performance than pass rating, and that's all because of the unusual amount of sacks taken by the Cowboys on this down.
(That said, the numbers reverse themselves on all other downs, with Dallas at an excellent 7.3, the Lions at 6.5, and the league at 5.9 ANYA. This helps explain why the Cowboys ranked ahead of the Lions in most of the meaningful offensive categories. See below for complete "all other down" stats.)
10.4% of all Dallas' 3rd-down dropbacks resulted in sacks, compared to just 3.6% for Detroit. It's important to note that this huge difference in sacks is not seen on any other down. It can be attributed to an inability to deal with pressure, especially up the middle, in obvious passing situations, and also to a more conservative approach to 3rd down in general on the part of the Cowboys. Romo seemed much more willing to take the sack on 3rd down than on 1st or 2nd. What effect will Linehan have on these issues, if any, and what role will the #1 WR play?
On 3rd down, Megatron was targeted 30.8% of the time, compared to 25% for Dez. But it wasn't just the number of targets that separated them, it was the nature of the target. Johnson averaged 8.2 yards every time he was targeted, compared to just 6.1 for Dez. Although that difference in target percentage doesn't carry over to the other downs, the average gain per target does. On all other downs, Dez averaged 8.2 yards per target vs Megatron's 10.1. Is that a reflection of the QB's arm strength/health, the OC's aggresiveness, or the WR's ability? Probably all of the above, and some of those factors influence the others anyway.
It can't be overstated how risk/reward played a part in the numbers put up by Johnson and Bryant, especially on 3rd down. The pass rating on Dez's 3rd-down targets was 36 points higher than the rating on Megatron's targets. That's significant because of pass rating's high correlation to wins. Although it's impossible to know for sure how many, a lot of the sacks taken by Romo might have otherwise been Dez targets, so that negates the rating difference to a degree. But not to the point where it offsets the TD/INT ratios -- 5/0 for Bryant, 4/4 for Johnson on 3rd down. How much of that is the OC? Probably not much, and that's probably a good thing.
You also can't overstate the role of the targeted receiver in what the two offenses did on 3rd down. Dallas' 3rd-down pass rating was 106.3 to Dez and 63.0 to everyone else. In fact, on 3rd down, the rating was 104.1 to Dez and Witten, and 50.7 to everyone else.
I'll pause while that sinks in.
A big reason the Lions were so much more successful on 3rd down than the Cowboys is that they were able to get other players involved. Detroit's 3rd-down pass rating was 70.4 to Johnson, and 83.1 to everyone else. For the Cowboys, any target not named Bryant or Witten was so bad on 3rd down, that a sack or throwaway was only a slightly worse option. How much effect will the new OC (or "passing game coordinator") have on developing other viable 3rd-down targets, and failing that, will Bryant and Witten maintain their efficiency? That's going to be interesting to see.
all other downs
Dallas 305 of 449 3432 yd 7.6 ypa 25 td 8 int 101.7 rtg 19 sk 7.3 anya
(to Bryant) 77 of 125 1026 yd 8.2 ypa 8 td 2 int 102.3
Bryant's % of all such targets: 28.2
35.3% of all 1st-, 2nd-, or 4th-down dropbacks resulted in a 1st down, 4.1% in a sack, and 1.7% in an interception.
43.2% of Bryant's 1st-, 2nd-, or 4th-down targets resulted in a 1st down, 1.6% in an interception.
Detroit 237 of 402 2966 yd 7.4 ypa 17 td 11 int 84.6 rtg 16 sk 6.5 anya
(to Johnson) 60 of 107 1086 yd 10.1 ypa 8 td 5 int 96.6
Johnson's % of all such targets: 26.6
33.7% of all 1st-, 2nd-, or 4th-down dropbacks resulted in a 1st down, 3.8% in a sack, and 2.7% in an interception.
44.9% of Johnson's 1st-, 2nd-, or 4th-down targets resulted in a 1st down, 3.7% in an interception.
There's no doubt that the Cowboys were better than the Lions on the other downs. Interestingly, Bryant got more of his teams' 1st-, 2nd-, and 4th-down targets than Johnson did. And the Cowboys' pass/run ratio on these downs was 60/40, compared to Detroit's 53/47. In theory, Linehan should bring more balance on these downs, and more shots down the field. If that's the case, would it bring more success to the offense? In 2013, Dallas ranked 2nd in the NFL in conversions on these downs, second only to the Broncos.
You can argue about how much effect what the 2013 Lions did will have on what the 2014 Cowboys do. We are talking about two different offenses, after all. But the difference in the two offenses becomes less when there is no longer a difference in coordinators.