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The Stats Driving Cowboys' Coaching Decisions: Why Ryan And Peete Are Gone - And Who Could Be Next

You don't need fancy pants statistics to understand the Cowboys' coaching decisions of the last few days. A look at a couple of the most basic stats easily tells the entire story of why Rob Ryan and Skipe Peete are gone - and why more assistant coaches could follow.

Tom Pennington

For years, we have been fighting the good fight here on BTB, advocating advanced metrics and efficiency stats like ANY/A, passer rating differential, DVOA, EPV, NY/A, drive success rate and many, many others over volume stats like yards, points or sacks.

We know that advanced analytics are getting a lot of traction with NFL teams. Former Cowboys Senior Vice President and General Counsel Alec Scheiner was recently hired by the Browns as their President in part because he was responsible for the Cowboys' analytics department. In addition to the Cowboys and now probably the Browns, there are many more teams heavily involved in in-depth statistical analysis and research, including (but not limited to) the Packers, Patriots, Bucs, Eagles, 49ers, Bears, Falcons, Ravens, Lions, Bills and Jaguars. In a season-ending news conference, Bears general manager Phil Emery cited extensive use of numbers from STATS and in player evaluations.

But despite those efforts, many decisions in the NFL are still being made based on the same data that was used 50 years ago. Every week, the NFL produces a stat sheet that shows how teams are ranked across the league in 17 different categories. Here's an excerpt from that stat table:


The column headers (A, B, C ...) denote stats like yards per game, yards per play, rushing yards per game and more that we'll examine next.

I know that the Cowboys use much more sophisticated analysis tools than the ranking table above, but let's assume for the purposes of this post that the Cowboys based their season-ending evaluations of their coaching staff on this table (or a very similar version). Let's further assume that a ranking between 1-10 is considered good, a ranking between 11-20 is average and a ranking below that is bad. This is what their evaluation would have looked like for offense, defense and special teams:

Metric 2012 Offense 2012 Defense
(K) Fourth Down Efficiency 2 21
(E) Passing Net Yards per Game 3 19
(J) Third Down Efficiency 5 23
(A) Total Yards per Game 6 19
(F) Passing Net Yards per Play 10 25
(H) Sacks per Pass Play 10 16
(I) First Downs per Game 10 16
(B) Yards per Play 11 25
(P) Points per Game 15 24
(G) Passing, Percent Had Intercepted 22 32
(D) Rushing Yards per Attempt 30 27
(C) Rushing Yards per Game 31 22
(L) Punt Return Average 4 16
(M) Kickoff Return Average 29 6
(N) Gross Punting Average 24 17
(O) Net Punting Average 20 5
(Q) Field Goal Percentage 1 24

So using this collection of stats, let's try to understand what happened over the last few days with the coaching decisions:

  • By these measures, the 2012 offense was a borderline Top 10 unit. The Cowboys would have liked to see their offensive production generate more points, and the interception rate is too high, but overall they are probably okay with where the (passing) offense is at.
  • But it's a different story for the ground game. The Cowboys are ranked 31st in rushing yards in 2012 after ranking 18th in 2011. They also ranked 28th in rushing TDs in 2012, after ranking 31st, 21st, 15th and 22nd in the years before that. As a result, the RB coach is gone.
  • On defense, most categories are marked in red, and not a single category is green. As a result, the defensive coordinator is gone.
  • The Cowboys also ranked a mediocre 32nd in interceptions in 2012 after ranking and 17th in 2011. They also ranked 20th in total sacks in 2012 after ranking 7th in 2011. As a result, the defensive assistants can go look for jobs if they want to. All of them.
  • Special teams are all over the place, but there's probably enough green here that Coach DeCamillis won't be fired outright, but the Cowboys probably won't object if he leaves, even if it's for the same position elsewhere.

Over the course of the next weeks and months we'll be reviewing the 2012 season in more detail and with more advanced metrics. But to understand the Cowboys' coaching decisions, you don't need to look at fancy stats. A look at a couple of your grandfather's stats easily tells the entire story.

And with a new defensive coordinator coming in, the question is much less about which assistant coaches will be asked to leave, and much more about which assistants will be asked to stay. DL Coach Brian Baker, LB Coach Matt Eberflus, Secondary Coach Jerome Henderson; which assistant coach would you like to stay?

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