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2009 Dallas Cowboys: Four Stats That Will Leave You Scratching Your Head

You can pore over football numbers for weeks without coming closer to "The Truth". You can analyze stats for months and not get a better understanding of the game. You can comb through online databases all you want, and more often than not the only thing you’ll get out of that is analysis paralysis.

The only way I’ve found to avoid all that is to go into the analysis with an initial hypothesis or assumption and see whether the hypothesis holds up. Or doesn’t. Typically, my hypothesis would go something like this: "Okay, I think the Cowboys rock - now lemme see if I can drag up some numbers to prove that. Hmmmm. Okay, there they are". Analysis complete, another post ready to go.

But sometimes, something strange happens: you find a little statistical oddity that leaves you scratching your head in complete and utter bafflement. Well, it is the offseason, what better time to look at some of the weirder stats? Today we look at fourth quarter defense, halftime leads, interception return yards and first quarter passer ratings.

1. The two faces of the Cowboys defense

We've all given ourselves multiple virtual pats on the back for the performance of the Cowboys defense in 2009. After all, they were ranked second in the league in points allowed only behind the Jets.

The Dallas Cowboys defense was truly formidable last season - if you watched only the first three quarters of every game. What should give us pause is the fourth quarter defense:

Cowboys points allowed by quarter, 2009 reg. season
Q2 Q3 Q4 Total
27 80 34 109 250

First, the (statistically) good news: Through the first three quarters, Dallas had the best defense in the league (141 points), with the Jets a distant second (169). The Cowboys ranked number one in the NFL by points allowed in the first and third quarter and ranked number three in the second quarter.

To understand just how formidable those 141 points are, you need to put them into an historical perspective. If the Cowboys had maintained the average points allowed over the first three quarters for all four quarters, they would have ended up allowing 188 points over the whole season. Only once have the Cowboys allowed less than 188 points over a full regular season: in 1968 the Cowboys allowed 186 points over a 14-game regular season.

And now for the (statistically) bad news. In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys defense ranked 24th in the league. 44% of the total points allowed during the regular season came in the 4th quarter. To be real blunt: ALMOST HALF of all points allowed were scored on the Cowboys in the 4th quarter.

And I don't believe it has much to do with 'garbage time' scores. Other teams have them as well and don't slip as badly as the Cowboys. For comparison, the team that allowed the fewest fourth quarter points (Saints, 48 points) allowed only 17% of their total points in the 4th quarter.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, 24 of 48 points allowed in the playoff games against the Eagles and Vikings came in the fourth quarter.

2. Should you turn off your TV at halftime?

The Cowboys have blown only three halftime leads in the last four years (PHI '06, PIT '08, DEN '09), and the .900 winning percentage in games in which they were leading by halftime is higher than the .788 NFL average, as is to be expected from an elite team. Not perfect, but pretty close.

Cowboys regular season W/L record based on scores at halftime, 2006-2009

Cowboys leading by halftime
Cowboys trailing by halftime
Score tied at halftime
Total W/L Record
Winning record 27-3 12-16 3-3 42-22
Winning %age .900 .428 .500 .656

When trailing by halftime, the Cowboys have won slightly less than half their games (43%), also a lot better than the league average of 21%. A word of caution though: all of the comebacks the Cowboys have staged after trailing by halftime have come in situations where they were trailing by a touchdown or less. Abandon all hope when the opponent leads by more than a touchdown at halftime (NO '06, WAS '07, STL '08, NYG '08) - the Cowboys lost all those games.

Despite an overwhelming statistical rationale, I'm pretty sure nobody here will turn off their sets at halftime, regardless of the score.

3. in-ter-cep-tion [in-ter-sep-shuhn], noun. A pass that is intercepted, especially a forward pass in football.

We've analyzed the playmaking issues of the Cowboys secondary to death, but here's an interesting twist to the debate. In 2009 the Saints led the league with 652 interception return yards. The Cowboys ranked last in the league with 33 interception return yards. In 2008 the Cowboys had 36 interception return yards. 69 return yards in two full seasons. No other team in the last decade had less in successive years. Go figure.

4. Wake me up before you go go

Tony Romo has a career passer rating of over 100 - if you exclude his rating in the first quarter. Unfortunately, this stat carries weight only with the mathematically impaired, as Tony Romo's career passer rating in the 1st quarter is a lowly 74.3, and it's only last year that the gap between his passer rating performance in the first quarter has come a little closer to his performance in the rest of the game.

Tony Romo Passer Rating by quarter, 2006-2009

2006 2007 2008 2009 Career
1st Quarter
70.4 62.8 71.5 89.3 74.3
all other Quarters
101.5 107.5 96.8 100.0 101.6
Difference -31.1 -44.7 -25.3 -10.7 -27.3

His career passer rating by quarter: Q1: 74.3, Q2: 98.9, Q3: 102.0, Q4: 104.1. Somebody wake this man up a little earlier.

5. I don't know what's stranger. These four statistical oddities, or that I noticed them.

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