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Cowboys FanPost Of The Week: Acute Statistical Analysis Rules!

Does the presence of the run-stuffing Igor Olshansky invite opposing offenses to pass? The latest FanPost of the Week thinks so.
Does the presence of the run-stuffing Igor Olshansky invite opposing offenses to pass? The latest FanPost of the Week thinks so.

Its Wednesday again, and that means we're due for another edition of the "rabbies," our weekly FanPost of the Week awards. Often, I ramble on for a bit before getting to the awards themselves. This week, I'd like to dispense with all the clever rhetoric and endless pontification and cut to the chase. So, without further ado:

Last week, the competition was dominated by the excitable ChiaCrack, who produced a copious amount of draft-related posts of great length and abiding excellence. Indeed, the prolific Crack has continued in this vein this week, authoring several notable posts on the draft. The most impressive of these presented a set of draft profiles on lesser-known but interesting players. For each, Crack offers a succinct but informative summary, and includes some excellent video (check out the vid of Taiwan Edwards jumping backwards out of a swimming pool!). Although all the draft buzz tends to center around the guys likely to go in the first couple of rounds, its these lower-round players that make or break a draft. So, use Chia's helpful guide as a way to study up on the late rounders whose contributions will be crucial to the team's success. You'll be glad you did.

Speaking of success, its time to turn our attention to this week's FPOTW award winner. Those of you who read this weekly column know how much I respect the fine work of Fan in Thick and Thin. During the season, he would regularly pump out a superb statistically-based analysis of the previous game; these always helped to clarify or substantiate in a concrete way my understanding of what was happening on the field. Since the end of the 2010 campaign, sadly, Thick has not graced our FanPost pages with the same regularity. Well, I'm please to say that Thick is back, baby, and with a vengeance!

This week, he contributed two FPOTW-worthy efforts. The first of these seemingly takes a page from Billy Beane's "moneyball" philosophy: in order to compete at a maximal level, a team must be open to acquiring skills that are undervalued by the market. In his post, Thick looks at Bill Parcell's "Planet Theory"; Bill famously placed a premium on big men, based on the assumption that there were only so many dudes on the planet big enough and athletic enough to play defensive line. Thick uses multiple examples--including Jimmy Johnson's defenses, at both Dallas and Miami, as well as where sack leaders and defensive MVPs are traditionally drafted--to support his conclusion that the league erroneously tends to over-value size and undervalue other indicators of on-field success. And there are fun charts and graphs!

I had a hard time determining which of Thick's posts would actually receive this week's award; both were excellent, for different reasons. Finally, I decided this the only reasonable way: rock, paper, scissors. I'm pleased to announce that this infallible method had produced a FPOTW of surpassing excellence. Thick takes home the weekly bacon with a brilliant statistical analysis of the Cowboys' defense. Before you groan and say "not another one; can't I forget this nightmare," I suggest you go here and have Thick shed some light on your pointy, benighted little head. He uses a tool called EPA (expected points added) to analyze when (if not where) the Cowboys defense tended to break down last season. The stats suggest that where the Dallas defense was particularly fetid was on first down; from this, Thick develops the following hypothesis:

Teams can take advantage of the situational run stuffers Dallas uses. When Dallas has Olshansky, and Spears/Hatcher in the game, there’s just not enough pass rush. Olshansky, Spears, and Spencer are too easy to block. Spencer is great if he’s matched up against a RB, against an OL not so much. Teams know if they handle Ware and Ratliff they’re going to have time to allow pass plays to develop. Hence, teams that were willing for forego a 3 yard gain on 1st down in order to take a shot downfield were able to take advantage of Dallas’s defense.

The Cowboys defense has a lot of talent, but doesn't possess the kind of run/ pass versatility that, say, Pittsburgh's D can boast of. Perhaps this is all the more reason to look for a pass rushing defensive end at pick number nine...? Whatever you think of that draft strategy, you should join me in congratulating Thick on, both for his fine work and his return to glory. Welcome back, big man; we surely sorely missed ya!

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