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Running The Numbers: Five Myths About The 2012 Dallas Cowboys

Posted Aug 31, 2012

As America’s Team, the Cowboys are loved all across the country. Head out to any opposing stadium while the ’Boys are in town and you’ll find a sea of blue and white jerseys.

Such popularity leads to plenty of loathing, too. The Cowboys are a team people love to hate, and as such, there are a lot of myths surrounding Dallas. I’m here to debunk those.

Myth No. 1: Tony Romo chokes late in games and at the end of the season.

This myth is perhaps the most popular amongst NFL fans (and media), but it’s undoubtedly the farthest from the truth. Over the past four seasons, Romo’s passer rating in the fourth quarter is 102.9, nearly six points higher than his overall passer rating during that time. It’s 97.4 when the Cowboys are trailing or tied, and 99.8 in the fourth quarter of one-score games. And at the end of the year, with the season on the line in December and January, Romo’s passer rating is exactly the same as it is in the first three months of the season.

You can knock the Cowboys for their lack of late-season success, but it sure isn’t because of their franchise quarterback.

Myth No. 2: The Cowboys win games by running the football.

Running the ball is strongly correlated with winning, so teams obviously need a powerful rushing attack to win games, right? Not really. Teams that are already winning rush the football to close out games, creating the illusion that running often is the impetus for team success. In reality, teams generally acquire the lead by throwing the football with great efficiency.

The Cowboys are no exception to the rule. Since 2008, they’ve won just 27.6 percent of their games when they pass on greater than 57 percent of their offensive plays. Wow, better keep it on the ground, right?

Before jumping to conclusions, soak this one in: That win rate miraculously jumps to 63.6 percent when the ’Boys pass on at least 57 percent of plays through the first three quarters, compared to only 41.9 percent when they pass on fewer than 57 percent of plays.

The Cowboys are a passing team, built to win on the back of Romo and his arsenal of pass-catching weapons.

Myth No. 3: Jason Garrett iced his own kicker last year.

Garrett got a ton of heat last year when he called a timeout with seven seconds left on the clock and his own kicker, Dan Bailey, about to attempt a game-winning field goal. Following the timeout, Bailey missed the field goal and the Cowboys ended up losing in overtime.

Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports had this to say following the decision:

The only thing more amazing (and amusing, if you're not a fan of the team) than the decision by Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett to ice kicker Dan Bailey by calling a timeout with 7 seconds remaining in the team's game against the Arizona Cardinals was his complete lack of regret in retrospect.

It’s easy to bash a coach based on what you think might be true, but it’s a whole lot more useful to know what’s true. A little research shows that Garrett actually made the right call. From 2001 to 2009, kickers actually converted on a greater percentage of kicks after being “iced” (77.5 percent) than when they weren’t iced (75.4 percent) in the final 15 seconds of games.

Plus, calling a timeout before your own kicker sets up for a field goal could very well increase the probability of making the kick. In addition to giving him more time to prepare, you also take the pressure off of him – if he misses, the coach will be to blame. The fact that Bailey couldn’t connect on that one particular kick after Garrett called a timeout does nothing to change Garrett’s justification in making the call.

So Garrett wasn’t required to exemplify regret of any sort. Statistically, he made the correct decision.

Myth No. 4: The Cowboys need to cut down on pass interference penalties.

There’s no doubt that penalties lead to losses. Since 2006, those teams that have finished in the top 10 in penalty differential have won over a full game more than those that have found themselves in the bottom 10. The Cowboys have committed their fair share of penalties over that time, including a ton of defensive pass interference penalties. They’ve been in the bottom half of the league in pass interference in each of the past six seasons.

Unlike most penalties, however, an abundance of pass interference calls isn’t correlated with losing. Since 2006, the 10 teams that have been flagged most often for defensive pass interference have actually won more games than the 10 least-flagged teams.

It isn’t that defensive pass interference is a good thing, but rather that defenses that play aggressively tend to rack up those kinds of penalties. Aggressive play without any penalties is optimal, but aggressive play with a few penalties beats playing too conservatively.

Myth No. 5: The Cowboys have just a year or two left to win a Super Bowl.

A few of the Cowboys’ key players – Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff and Jason Witten – are at least 30 years old. If the ’Boys want to win a Super Bowl with that core intact, they’ll need to do it soon.

But it isn’t like the team’s opportunity to win a championship ends if they lose a key player or two. Of course, someone like Ware dramatically increases the odds, but NFL teams are constantly altering personnel. It’s a young man’s game, and the Cowboys have quietly built a team loaded with young talent. Sean Lee, Dez Bryant, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Tyron Smith and DeMarco Murray are all 26 years old or younger.

The Cowboys are built to win now, but that doesn’t necessarily eliminate their ability to win down the road as well.
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