Football Outsiders loves them some Dallas Cowboys receivers. They loved them so much that for the second year in a row they named them the #1 unit in the NFL. TNT gets some props! OK, not just TNT, but also the quotable Patrick Crayton and the always steady Jason Witten.
I’m the first to admit that I don’t take these new stat systems as the gospel yet, but that’s more because I can’t say I have a full grasp on them yet, and I can’t see a lot of the data that gets crunched in the process. I think they’re onto something, but for me to totally absorb the systems I would have to get a lot deeper into it. Maybe I should make that a project, or do an interview with the guys to discuss it.
Whatever the case, I’m not going to argue with it. I had the wide receivers at #3 or #4, but they could easily be the best when you add in Jason Witten and take them as a unit.
Here’s the analysis, which is good stuff.
1. Dallas (1)
After six weeks of Drew Bledsoe, the Cowboys' receivers were struggling. While Terry Glenn had a very respectable 16.8 percent DVOA, Terrell Owens was at a woeful -7.7 percent, and Patrick Crayton (the likely third or fourth target on most plays) had only been thrown 12 passes in six weeks because Bledsoe couldn't stay upright long enough to find him. Even Jason Witten's 17.0 percent DVOA had him at a mediocre 13th amongst tight ends.
By the end of the year, Glenn's DVOA had improved to 20.4 percent, while Owens got all the way up to 12.2 percent. Crayton got 36 more attempts in the final 10 games and was the best third receiver in football. Witten's DVOA went up to 19.1 percent, seventh amongst all tight ends. The point: Having an even competent quarterback can be the difference between a group of receivers struggling, or being amongst the league's elite. While Owens and Glenn are getting up there in age, both have yet to show an appreciable level of decline in their metrics, and Owens will likely see an improved catch rate after healing his finger injury. Crayton remains one of the unsung threats in the league, and Witten, the best tight end in a division full of them. A team's top four receivers will see 65-70 percent of all the throws made by a quarterback over the course of a season; one through four, no one's better than the Cowboys.
They do point out some good facts, like the difference between Terry Glenn and the rest of the crew with Drew Bledsoe, and how the others staged a comeback once Bledsoe was removed from the equation. While the Outsiders are very scientific in their analysis, let me go symbolic instead – Bledsoe’s final pass - the interception intended for Terry Glenn. He was so locked onto Glenn that he threw right into coverage. Nice coda, Drew.
Now once Tony Romo got in there, he really didn’t have any loyalties or favorite receivers, so he used everybody. Romo also managed to avoid the rush, something Bledsoe found impossible. That’s when the passing game really started to click, and the Cowboys made that beautiful midseason run.
Plus, the Outsiders say that Witten is a better tight end than Jeremy Shockey or Chris Cooley, which is nice.
I must be getting soft in my old age, because now I’m on board with JJT. First JFE, now JJT. I guess I’m just sucking up now. Anyway, JJT says it’s all on the Cowboys players now. No excuses left. Time to get it done. One more cliché.
The players have the coach they want, the scheme they want and the atmosphere they want.
Now it's time to take care of business.
I also found myself in agreement with most of his Q&A. In the final question, a reader asks about the quality of the roster going into the season.
TAYLOR: You make a good point. Obviously this isn't a flawless team, but the Cowboys don't have a lot of bad players on the roster. Frankly, that's the first step toward being really good. The key is to have a roster with no bad players. Then you need to add some greatness, which is what this team is currently missing.
They might be missing greatness, but I think we have a few players who could grow into it, quickly. This season would be a nice time to start.