WMQB Part I: Dallas may not miss Romo as much as you think and the OL may be better than you think

I’m going to make a few claims that I’m sure people will disagree with.

However, before you disregard what I write consider a few of my prior claims. Roy Williams is a good red zone target. Tony Romo is going to throw more than 9 interceptions this year (we’ll never find out but he was certainly on pace to). Worry about the pass defense.

Here’s my first claim. Dallas isn’t going to miss Romo but not as much as you think. Why? Because no single player can control the fate of a team.

From KC Joyner (via ESPN Insider)

One of the most surprising results Bill James found early in his research of professional baseball is the lack of impact individual players have on the success of their ballclubs. James was so shocked, he eventually created more than a dozen different ways to analyze individual player impact on team performance.

Every one of the studies came to the same conclusion: Most star players in their prime add an impact of no more than three wins a season (in a 162 game season!). It takes a team effort to post wins and not even the best players can do much to change that.

And from Stumbling Into Wins (no link, extracted from book)

For three specific individual positions in sports, though, the process is different. For pitchers in baseball, quarterbacks in football, and goalies in hockey; wins are directly assigned to the individual. Essentially, if you play at one of these positions and your team wins, then you are given a win. If your team loses, you are given a loss.

The analysis of consistency, though, suggests that this practice is misguided. Remember, the less consistent a player, the less his performance is about his own abilities. So who are the least consistent players in North American sports? It’s the very players who are traditionally assigned wins and losses. Pitchers, quarterbacks, and goalies are believed to be the players most responsible for winning. But what these players do is heavily dependent on their teammates. … Quarterbacks can’t block for themselves and generally don’t catch their own passes.

Why are wins and losses assigned to these specific players? In watching these games, we see that no one else touches the object the players are fighting over more frequently. Every play in baseball and football begins with the pitcher and the quarterback. In hockey, except for empty-net goals, every goal and shot on goal involves the goalie. Given how frequently these players are the focus of the action, it’s natural to assume these players are the primary determinants of outcomes. The study of consistency, though, tells us that what people assume about pitchers, quarterbacks, and goalies is incorrect. These players are not solely responsible for team success. These players are not even solely responsible for many of the numbers people attach to their performance.

We should emphasize that we are not saying that pitchers, quarterbacks, and goalies fail to make a contribution to outcomes. These positions do have a positive—or negative—impact on team success (or failure).

So what can we expect from Kitna? Well he’s a poor man’s Romo. Less accurate passer (career completion % of 60% vs 64% for Romo) and he makes more bad decisions (career interception rate of 3.6% vs 3.0% for Romo). However, I don’t expect those to be fatal flaws. To put it in perspective, the difference between a 3% interception rate and a 3.6% interception rate is 7 picks instead of 6 picks over 6 games.

Below are Dalllas’s rankings in various efficiency measures prior to the Giants game (from Advanced NFL Stats)



Offensive Pass Efficiency

Offensive Run Efficiency

Offensive Int. Rate %

Offensive Fumble Rate %

Defensive Pass Efficiency

Defensive Run Efficiency

Defensive Int. Rate %

Penalty Rate










Note that the factors are not equally weighted. Pass efficiency is the single most important (about 2-4x more important than run efficiency) and defensive pass efficiency is the second most important.

If Dallas slips to 10th in overall pass efficiency and the the penalties and special teams are fixed that’s still good enough to be a 0.500 team in the NFL if the defensive pass efficiency stays where it has been (i.e. the combination of above average offensive passing and average pass defense should be about 0.500 ball). Personally, my biggest concern is that the defensive pass efficiency is going to be more like 26th in the league instead of 16th.

I’ll also add that I’m with Jaworski … I’m excited to see Kitna play. I love Romo, don’t get confused about that. And this isn’t backed up by any evidence, it’s just a hunch, but I got the feeling that Romo was overly focused on eliminating mistakes. While that’s an admirable goal, I feel like the needle had swung a little too far in the direction of mistake avoidance and away from making plays. As long as Kitna is decisive and throws the ball I like the chances that the Dallas WR make plays.

The offensive line is better than you think

Dallas has the 5th best run success rate in the NFL on running plays.

What is success rate? Definition.

SR is a very simple concept in principle and has been around for decades. Each play is graded as either a success or not based on its outcome. For example, if a play gains 3 yards on 3rd and 2, that would be a success. But those same 3 yards would be a failure if the situation were 3rd and 4. In the seminal book from the 1980s Hidden Game of Football, the authors devised a simple rule of thumb based on their intuitive sense of football success. A success would be: On 1st down--a gain of 4 or more yards; on 2nd down--a gain that at least halved the distance to go; and on 3rd down--a conversion for a new set of downs.

Although I have nothing against this rule of thumb and am generally a big fan of simplicity, my own definition of SR is different. Using the concept of Expected Points Added (EPA), successes can be defined more precisely. Any play that results in a positive change in an offense’s net point expectancy can be considered a success. This technique not only accounts for down and distance considerations, but for field position as well.

This is a much more accurate picture of how well a running game is working than just the total yardage or YPC averages for the following reasons:

- it ignores big run outliers that can skew those statistics, and

- it ignores the effect on YPC of running in short yardage situations (e.g. the 3&1’s that Barber has converted which I think we all would agree are good plays but depress YPC)

So to recap. The OL has:

-allowed 10 sacks, and

-is successful on 46% of the rushing attempts (5th in the NFL)

I’ll add one comment that is strictly opinion. My view is the OL line problem are really injury problems (i.e. the starting line performs ok but Dallas hasn’t had their starting line all year). That may be splitting hairs because when you have the oldest line in the NFL injuries are more likely, in which case OL depth becomes more important. It warrants mentioning that Alex Barron is a very specific problem of OL depth and that’s problem Dallas chose (keep this in mind when I get to team construction!!). As I approvingly quoted at the time.

If putting the best possible product on the field next season were the sole focus on this offseason, Flozell Adams would have been given a chance to fight for his job…. It’s just difficult to see how the Cowboys are better off without Adams on the roster, even though he’ll turn 35 soon. For the first time since the ‘90s glory days, there could have been depth at offensive tackle in Dallas.

Part II to follow.

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