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Cowboys @ Redskins: Comparing The Offenses

As often happens in any discussion allowed to continue for some time, the Cowboys' and Redskins' respective offenses have been reduced to a level of simplicity that defies, and insults, the complexity of any NFL offense. Let's discard the memes and look at the two offenses as if they belong to teams we've never heard of, and certainly never seen in action. Perhaps then we'll have a clearer image of just what these offenses really are.

Just how dangerous is he?
Just how dangerous is he?
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

There's been a ton of discussion about the matchup between the Cowboys and Redskins this Sunday night. Around these parts, the Cowboys and Redskins fans participating have seemingly had sufficient time to consolidate and simplify their reasons for discrediting the opponents' offense.

To our credit (the collective of both groups of fans), some have respectfully acknowledged the capabilities of both opponents. Unfortunately, many others have categorically dismissed one offense as 'college-level Shanahanigans,' while the other team mysteriously elects to run the 'bad decisions in the clutch' scheme. It shouldn't take more than a moment of rational thought to dismiss both of these perspectives.

For our exercise, we'll be examining both teams statistically, trying to spot any differences that might exist, and subsequently attempting to match these findings with reality. This, hopefully, will be more productive than the usual track of finding a meme you believe in and then seeking numbers to confirm it.

It's almost universally accepted that the passing game is the most important aspect of today's NFL. It would only follow that the specifics of a team's passing attack (who gets the ball, where they get it, and what they do with it) would be a large portion of that team's identity. For that reason, we'll be looking at receiving statistics for both teams.

Clicking black cells will sort columns.

Pierre Garcon 41 587 14.3 267 6.5 320 7.8
Santana Moss 39 551 14.1 218 5.6 333 8.5
Leonard Hankerson 37 531 14.4 148 4 383 10.4
Josh Morgan 48 510 10.6 219 4.6 291 6.1
Aldrick Robinson 11 237 21.5 64 5.8 173 15.7
Dezmon Briscoe 2 22 11 13 6.5 9 4.5
WR Totals 178 2438 13.7 929 5.2 1509 8.5
Tight Ends
Fred Davis 24 325 13.5 139 5.8 186 7.8
Logan Paulsen 24 300 12.5 110 4.6 190 7.9
Niles Paul 8 152 19 47 5.9 105 13.1
Chris Cooley 1 8 8 0 0 8 8
TE Totals 57 785 13.8 296 5.2 489 8.6
Evan Royster 15 109 7.3 116 7.7 -7 -0.5
Darrel Young 8 109 13.6 82 10.3 27 3.4
Alfred Morris 9 65 7.2 50 5.6 15 1.7
Roy Helu 7 45 6.4 46 6.6 -1 -0.1
Brandon Banks 8 15 1.9 37 4.6 -22 -2.8
RB Totals 47 234 5.0 331 7.0 12 0.3
Team Totals 282 3566 12.6 1556 5.5 2010 7.1
Dez Bryant 88 1311 14.9 359 4.1 952 10.8
Miles Austin 66 943 14.3 289 4.4 654 9.9
Kevin Ogletree 30 411 13.7 82 2.7 329 11.0
Dwayne Harris 16 197 12.3 95 5.9 102 6.4
Cole Beasley 15 128 8.5 62 4.1 66 4.4
Andre Holmes 2 11 5.5 5 2.5 6 3.0
WR Totals 217 3001 13.8 892 4.11 2109 9.7
Tight Ends
Jason Witten 103 983 9.5 281 2.7 702 6.8
James Hanna 5 66 13.2 34 6.8 32 6.4
John Phillips 8 55 6.9 7 0.9 48 6.0
TE Totals 116 1104 9.5 322 2.8 782 6.7
Felix Jones 25 262 10.5 226 9.0 36 1.4
DeMarco Murray 33 241 7.3 184 5.6 57 1.7
Lawrence Vickers 12 93 7.8 82 6.8 11 0.9
Phillip Tanner 4 41 10.3 27 6.8 14 3.5
Lance Dunbar 6 33 7.2 50 5.6 15 1.7
Tony Romo 1 -1 -1.0 3 3.0 -4 -4.0
RB Totals 81 669 8.3 550 6.8 119 1.5
Team Totals 414 4774 11.5 1764 4.3 3010 7.3

*Note: 'NET' signifies Net yards per reception, with yards after catch removed.

With this data, it should be easier to see how both teams accumulate their passing yardage. In my opinion, the most important number is the net yards per reception. Yards after catch, which NYPR removes, are largely based on players' skills, offensive and defensive schemes, and dumb luck.

Looking first at the receiving corps for both teams, we can make a number of inferences.

First, there is a clear dichotomy in the Dallas receiving corps between 'outside' or 'starting' receivers and 'inside' or 'substitute' receivers. It appears to be the Cowboys' philosophy to work younger or unfamiliar players into the offense through shorter passes, leaving the deeper routes to the more experienced players. This is even more likely due to the knowledge that Miles Austin plays numerous snaps inside, while Dwayne Harris works extensively on the outside - despite this, Austin receives more balls downfield, and Harris more short passes.

Moving onto Washington's receivers, There is more of a steady gradient between receivers. There is no clear-cut short or deep group, but each player seems to have a certain distinct comfort zone, and all of them seem to be very proficient at picking up yards after the catch. Most notable, in my opinion, is that despite the common meme that the Redskins rack up yardage primarily through screens, the Redskin receivers all seem to be catching the ball nearly as far downfield as the Dallas receivers. As the totals show, Dallas receivers average catches 9.7 yards downfield, to the Redskins' 8.5. The difference is significant, but not as much as many would have you believe.

When you look at the two tight end groups, a very different trend emerges. On the Dallas end, James Hanna, oddly enough, has managed to hit par between his deep receptions against the Steelers and his new-guys-only-get-short-balls niche. Still, the tight ends as a unit seem to be used in the intermediate passing game by Dallas.

In contrast, the Redskins seem to use their tight ends much more frequently as deep threats. In fact, their tight ends all have numbers comparable to their downfield receivers, with performance equal-to or greater-than Pierre Garcon. Clearly, there are some problems with the idea that the Redskins don't attack downfield.

There is a pronounced difference, also, in the running back units. The Cowboys units show essentially an average between passes to the flats, behind the line of scrimmage, screens, and checkdowns slightly downfield.

The Redskins, on the other hand, throw the ball behind the line of scrimmage more often, giving their backs an average point of reception just beyond the line of scrimmage. Of particular note is Evan Royster, who has over 100 yards receiving despite having a negative NYPR. Their RBs' YAC averages are certainly noteworthy, especially after the trouble Dallas had stopping New Orleans' running backs just one week ago.

One more note on the running backs: check DeMarco Murray vs Felix Jones in YAC average. There's a reason he gets looks in the passing game.

Finally, we can compare the teams' total data in order to get an idea of how the teams compare from an efficiency standpoint. Some would suggest that the Redskins must have a more capable quarterback, as their team yards-per-attempt is greater than the Cowboys'. The Redskins have gained 3,566 passing yards on 424 attempts for an 8.4 YPA metric. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have gained 4,774 yards on 621 attempts, good for 7.7 YPA.

What happens when you eliminate those YAC totals, though? Every time the Redskins attempt a pass, they gain 3.7 yards after the catch. Compare that to the Cowboys' 2.8 YAC/A.

Extracting these values, you find that the Cowboys slightly outgain the Redskins at the point of the catch - 4.85 to 4.74 net yards per reception per attempt.

This isn't intended to take away from the incredible success the Redskins have had through the air (and certainly not their running game). My only intention is to put that success into context, and compare it with that of our own passing game.

Could the Redskins have the same success through the air if they threw the ball more often? How about if their running game was less capable? I would assume no, but it's impossible to know. More importantly, the Cowboys will face this attack as it exists now, and all the qualifiers in the world won't impact the outcome of the game.

You have the data, BTB. What do you think?

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