Tuesday, August 11, 2009

5 Things from Football Prospectus

footballamanacAugust is not an easy month to get through, but the last several years I have made it through with the help of the Football Prospectus. The guys at Prospectus/Football Outsiders.com are great at breaking down football with the same statistical analysis that Bill James made famous in baseball.

They don't allow the raw emotion of fans and message boards to affect their ideas - but rather they use the evidence. I think football, unlike almost any other sport, must be analyzed in that fashion. Emotion makes people boil everything down to Jessica Simpson being at Texas Stadium in a pink Romo jersey. Obviously, football is a bit more complicated than that.

So, I would recommend you purchase this book for yourself Here , but here is a small taste:

1. In 2008, the Dallas Cowboys had one of the worst statistical dropoffs from their starting QB to their backup QB in statistical history.

We already knew this one, but we didn't know the specifics of how bad Brad Johnson was. Well, according to this book, Spergon Wynn in 2001 with Vikings was way worse; and the metroplex's own Tommy Maddox was slightly worse in Pittsburgh in 2005. Otherwise, Johnson was the worst of the worst. Romo's play was pretty solid for most of 2008, but when he got hurt, the Cowboys offense went from good to comically bad.

"Johnson's plodding brought an elite offense to its knees" - Page 67

2. Terrence Newman's Injury had huge effects to the performance of the secondary.

In a season of injuries, we don't spend much time discussing how Newman's groin/sports hernia injury has had such an effect on things. But, according to Football Outsiders, the Cowboys were ranked 24th in pass defense in the first 9 weeks of the season (the weeks in which Newman did not play at all, or was hobbled by his training camp injury) and then ranked 2nd in football after the bye week when Newman returned and began playing very well starting with his fine perfomance in Washington.

3. The Cowboys relied too much on the pass in 2008.

According to their statistics, they ran 40% of the time (which ranked 26th in the NFL). Further, in the first half (where you would imagine that the game is still not at a place where the score would dictate play-calling) the Cowboys only ran the ball 38% of the time (28th in NFL). And the Cowboys favorite formation, the "S11" - Shotgun with 1RB (Barber) and 1TE (Witten) which left 3 WRs, the Cowboys passed 82% of the time (31st in the NFL)! I hope Jason Garrett gets this book. They were too predictable, and too caught up in the weapons they thought they had, and in doing so - as they got to December, when they had to play the elite defenses of Pittsburgh, New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia all in a row - you cannot be predictable. However, in fairness to Garrett, he also had to play all 4 of those games without Marion Barber and Felix Jones. Tashard Choice did well, but obviously, he was not game-planned against. The defenses would not let Romo/WRs beat them. And, they did not.

4. Wade brought the blitz when he took over the defense.

We all know that the defense stepped it up pretty well when Wade took the play-calling of the D over from Brian Stewart before the Tampa Bay game, but can we measure it? Yes.

"The Cowboys were much more likely to Big-Blitz one Wade Phillips took over the defensive play-calling from Brian Stewart. Dallas only sent 6 or more on 4.1 of pass plays in 2007 and 7.9 percent of pass plays through the first 7 games of 2008. After Phillips started calling plays in Week 8, the Cowboys sent six or more on 13.0 percent of pass plays, which would have ranked fifth in the NFL for the entire season." - Page 71

5. DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff were awesome. Everyone else in the front 7? Ummm...

That is right. Despite getting all-world performances from 94 and 90 all season long, the rest of the DL and LB was very ordinary. We knew that. But did you know that Ratliff's performance is right up there with the very best Defensive tackles in the NFL? Only Kevin Williams of Minnesota had as many defeats as Ratliff. And Ratliff's 7.5 sacks are as many as New England's Vince Wilfork in his entire career! DT's are not supposed to cause havoc in the 3-4 defense. But, Ratliff, a 7th round pick who is at least 30 pounds undersized makes plays all of the time. Ware, of course, was dominant in sacks - and ranked 2nd in the NFL in Linebacker defeats to Terrell Suggs.

Beyond that, Chris Canty and Marcus Spears were considered merely competent. Igor Olshansky is projected to be a modest upgrade to Canty at a tremendous savings. Keith Brooking is also thought to be a fine replacement to Zach Thomas, despite having been out of the 3-4 since 2003.

There is much more to love about the essay on the Cowboys, and then there are 31 other essays for the other teams in the league. I think the book is well worth the $22, so if you are looking for ways to survive the preseason, this book is for you.

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