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Dez Bryant's Stats Are Where They Should Be, And it Doesn't Matter

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This isn't another story about the "third year rule," telling everyone to be patient for 1,300 yard seasons and 200-yard games. Instead, I'm going to tell you why I hope those things don't happen. Don't get me wrong; I want Dez, and every other Cowboy, to succeed. The truth is, however, that Dez Bryant has been successful since we drafted him. It all boils down to our offensive scheme.

Have a look at Bryant's career stats, along with Austin's for the same period, and Roy Williams' 2010 numbers:

Player Receptions Yards YPC YAC Touchdowns TD Rate
Dez Bryant 108 1,489 13.8 4.9 15 13.9%
Miles Austin 112 1,620 14.5 5.7 14 12.5%
Roy Williams ('10)
37 530 14.3 5.8 5 13.5%
Bryant, Austin,
Williams Total
257 3,639 14.2 5.4 34 13.2%
All Other Cowboys
739 5,022 6.8 --
28 3.8%
Team Total 996 8,661 8.7 -- 62 6.2%
Percentage for
Bryant, Austin, Williams
25.8% 42.0% 163.2%* -- 54.8% 212.9%*

*Percentages calculated by (Bryant, Austin, Williams total / team total), for comparison purposes.

What does this tell you about the Dallas offense? Find out after the break.

The Dallas Cowboys run a variant of what is known as the Air Coryell offense. Looking at the numbers, one can discern the roles of the starting receivers in this scheme.

25.8% of the total receptions?!

As the primary deep threats, Bryant and Austin are responsible for drawing the attention of the safeties. They consistently draw double teams. Considering that Tony Romo has received a large amount of criticism for making poor decisions (I won't argue the validity of that criticism), it'd difficult to argue that he ought to throw into double coverage more often.

42% of the total yards?!

Given the low percentage of receptions they receive, the fact that they gain about 50% more yards per catch should come as some consolation. The fact that the low frequency of their targets results in a higher efficiency when they receive the ball is especially noteworthy. The exclusivity of their roles should be noted - between the three of them, only 279 yards were accumulated catching passes between the hashes. The numbers for Cowboys starting receivers going over the middle are notably far lower than their peers across the NFL. On average, Cowboys starters catch 1 pass per season over the middle. Roy Williams, before coming to the Cowboys, averaged about 7 catches over the middle per season. Once here, he joined Austin and, eventually, Bryant in sticking to the sidelines. He caught 4 over the middle in 2011, with the Bears.

163.2% of the average yards per catch?!

This is a refreshing figure. When thrown the ball, the Cowboys' outside threats are 1.6 times as effective as the other threats on the field. This coincides logically with their typical position downfield relative to other receivers in our offense. The majority of their opportunities come when the defense affords them single-coverage, which is a rarity. The Cowboys primary receivers have been capitalizing on these opportunities, which leads to...

54.8% of the total touchdowns?!

This should please fans quite a bit. Despite receiving only about a quarter of all passes, the starting receivers have totaled more than half of all receiving touchdowns for the team. When the safeties leave corners alone with our receivers, it very often ends in a touchdown. How often? Well...

212.9% of the average touchdown rate?!

In this offense, when the ball goes to Dez or Austin (and formerly, to Williams), the play is more than twice as likely to end in a touchdown. This is what happens when 6'3" freakishly-athletic receivers are left alone with corners on the outside.

So, why can't we have more from them?

The purpose of the outside receivers in our offense is to force the two safeties to provide deep help. When they don't, Romo punishes them by exploiting our size-advantage against the lonely corners. Will we accept that on every play of the game? Absolutely. But no defensive coordinator in the league is going to leave Dez or Austin alone with a corner for more than a handful of plays in the game. That said, if one of them produces 1,500 yards or 100 catches, it isn't going to be the smart, efficient football that's led to the numbers above. More likely, it will be due to forcing the ball into double coverage.

We don't need any more than 20 touchdowns from our starting receiver duo. The design of our offense is meant to create mismatches for our superstar tight end, Jason Witten (other notable Coryell offenses featured Antonio Gates, Jay Novacek, and many other members of the who's-who in the tight end world). A steady diet of Jason Witten over the middle, coupled with draws and power runs against 6- and 7-man fronts is what Garrett has always envisioned for us.

As a hypothetical, imagine Calvin Johnson were to replace Miles Austin. Calvin's volume numbers would suffer, as a Cowboy. He would, however, draw such significant attention from the defense that the numbers, especially the efficiency numbers, of his new teammates would increase dramatically. Calvin's efficiency numbers would likewise increase, as he wouldn't be force-fed balls in triple coverage by an inexperienced quarterback.

In the draft, we've been talking about the importance of taking the best player available. That's not a revolutionary concept. In fact, it's an application of a general common-sense notion regarding everyday life. Take the best action available. Applying that to offensive football yields "make the best play available." In most situations, this will mean throwing the ball to someone other than Dez or Miles (in double coverage). You can feel better, knowing that their lack of gaudy numbers is for the betterment of the team.

Think about offensive and defensive line play. Many understand that their roles can not be quantified simply with volume stats. Rather, efficiency stats, and the efficiency of those around them, better convey the impact of these positions. Why not apply this same logic to all positions? I don't care how much volume performance Dez Bryant has next year. If he continues to catch over 95% of all balls thrown to him, and Romo's efficiency remains as high as it has been, we are where we want to be. Enough with the talk about "breaking out." Dez is the most efficient receiver (drop rate of 1.56%, minimum 50 catchable balls) in the league. There's no breaking out from there.

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