Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Decoding Linehan - Week 16 - Washington


There is no question the theme of 2015 is clear.  Tony Romo was hurt (Dez Bryant, too) and that caused the incredibly unlikely drop from 12-4 to 4-12 in one season.  From near the top of the league to near the bottom of the league in just a few short months.
There is really no denying this truth, although the overall reasons for the fall extend further than that, and that many a franchise has been able to sustain an injury to QB1 without a full collapse.  They may not still be a Super Bowl contender, but they then are either able to make the playoffs or at least contend.  In truth, this team was likely eliminated from the playoffs by Week 8, despite being mathematically alive much longer.  Their ability to respond and react to adversity (or lack thereof) will likely be the lasting memory many of us have.  Even in 2010 when Romo was lost for the year in October and the team went to 1-7, they played competitive football - and won several games - down the stretch to give you the impression that they weren't completely helpless without their leader.
This team, on the other hand, did look helpless in games without Tony Romo.  The final tally is pretty airtight.  In games started by Tony Romo, the team went 3-1.  In games not started by Romo, the team went 1-11.  By that measure, with a $150 million salary cap, you can see that his 2016 cap hit of almost $21 million may leave him horribly underpaid.  It is tough to envision many teams going from 79% win percentage with Romo (since start of 2014, Romo's regular season record in starts is 15-4), and a 8% win percentage without him (1-12 since start of 2014). 
Perhaps he should be paid $100 million a season if he is that valuable.  I challenge anyone to find anything close to that split in NFL history.  I am sure it exists, but nothing comes quickly to mind to demonstrate how dearly a franchise depends on this one human.  Carson Palmer with the Cardinals in 2014 and 2015 is 19-3 as a starter and then the team is 5-5 when he is not there.  Peyton Manning with the Colts was 24-8 his last 2 years and then the year he missed they were 2-14.  This certainly speaks to the idea that QB's should often be credited with wins.  I know this is a conversation that can lead to a physical altercation in some circles, but it certainly does seem like an unassailable truth with Tony Romo.  He is the reason this team wins football games. 
You could look at that from 2 angles.  1) he is great and should be recognized as such and 2) the team did a horrible job preparing, coaching, playing, and designing anything in his absence.  He is great, but to argue he is the best in his line of work would get you laughed at.  Those teams with Brady, Brees, Manning, Rodgers, etc, all have had to play games without their QB and make the team competitive.  This team seems to have failed at that on a routine basis as we now can go all the way back to 2006 and see that in the Tony Romo era, the team is 7-20 all time when he can't start.  If the standard is trying to go 2-2 when your QB misses a month, then they are falling beyond short of that .500 standard.  They barely get to 25% win percentage without their guy.
Here are some numbers from this year, where Romo's numbers were never very good, actually.  When he did play in November, "he didn't look right" and was trying to manage the game through whatever he was dealing with - which clearly, we found out, was a collarbone that was not really healed.  
Anyway, with Sunday's very nice performance from Kellen Moore, we can now look at the 2015 Cowboys offensive numbers in their complete form.  Unfortunately, there is almost no proper way to analyze the offense from a large view because there is almost no large view to be had.  Just smaller fragmented views of tiny samples.  Romo with Randle, Weeden with Randle and Dunbar, but no Bryant,  Cassel with McFadden, but no Dunbar and a hurt Bryant,  Romo with McFadden and Bryant, Cassel again, and then Kellen Moore with no Bryant.  How do you break down 2015 as a whole?
I don't think you really can.  Here is the overall statistical view of the QB position this year: 
Romo 2218312168.68847.315779.4
Clearly, as has been pointed out repeatedly by the Oklahoma State fanbase, Brandon Weeden is the tallest short person in the room.  He had very pedestrian numbers and performances (Capt Checkdown), but compared to his 3 colleagues, one would have to admit that he scored the highest marks for QB efficiency and performance.  That is not really a compliment for a guy who engineered 2 touchdowns during his last 26 offensive drives, but more of an insult to the overall play at the position the rest of 2015.  
If you would like to see the QB production by percentages from each of the 4 forgettable performances, you could look at from this perspective:
Romo 23%25%23%24%31%32%
From this view, you can see that aside from a few poor interceptions, the guy to consider useful moving forward might be Kellen Moore.  His numbers on Sunday were largely hollow as he did not compile any stats of note until the team was down 24-0 and the Redskins certainly went it to a far more causal approach with their defending of the receivers.  Not attempting to slight Moore's day because I actually rate him higher than most people - but I do want people to be realistic about seeing him pass for 435 yards and 9 yards per attempt (which was easily the biggest day in either category in 2015 for any Cowboys QB).  Much of it was because of the unique situation of the game being a laugher from the moment it started.
That said, some of these numbers are fun to examine as the Cowboys did march up and down the field with great ease for much of the day.  If anyone on this planet started Kellen Moore in their fantasy football championship game, they will never soon forget it.  
Unfortunately, as the Cowboys will do from week to week, they were way too generous with the ball again, matching their season high (at NYG and NYJ) with 4 giveaways.  
Clearly, the question with Moore moving forward is to wonder if you can get the good from his game without the 2 throws where he totally doesn't see the coverage that is about to intercept a pass that he thinks is there.  Again, he is not the first QB to have to deal with this conundrum, but at his height and with his arm, he is going to be scored harshly when he throws a slant that isn't there on the goal-line.
Again, he uses a big part of the field and they were killing the Redskins coverage with that "5" route that is a sideline out with a comeback.  I think Terrance Williams caught that pass a half dozen times on the right sideline (as the dots indicate).  
Williams, of course, had his own career day with 8 catches for 173 yards which will prop up his so/so 2015 and offer him career highs in both catches in a game and of course yards.  In fact, the Denver game in his rookie year was his only other 100 yard day.  We still don't know what to make of the Baylor WR after 3 seasons, and as it works, he heads into his contract year next fall.
There isn't much to study here as the game was barely a Quarter old when the Cowboys threw the gameplan in the trash and pretty much played 11 personnel the rest of the way and tried to throw their way back into the game with the straight 2-minute drill offense.
Again, Moore in this environment isn't too bad and looks the part of a competent backup QB in my view.  He is confident in his reads and delivers the ball where it needs to go on a somewhat frequent basis. 
If they do go QB in the 1st Round, I am fine with making that kid the #3 and Moore the #2 if he passes all of his tests in the offseason, which I am sure he will.  
We will break these down and talk them out as the offseason permits, but for now, if you want to look things over on your own with your calculator, here is the entire season mosaic.  
This is somewhat interesting in that if you look at the season totals, you will find that the Cowboys actually faced fewer blitzes.  Perhaps the idea that the best way to deal with a mediocre QB is to drop 7 into zones and make him try to find an opening - especially without Dez Bryant ever being fully fit to cause consternation on the opponent's scouting report.  
Like I said at the top, it is really difficult to analyze this game or this season with any sort of useful data that can teach us anything because it is like we just watched 4-6 different "mini seasons" and the results of all of them were ranging between brutally bad and passably mediocre. Nothing this team did as a whole this season when it had the ball was close to acceptable.  
What is interesting is that they did run the ball reasonably well at times and they did pass protect pretty well all year.  But the sum totals of those accomplishments were barely perceptible as we pointed out yesterday:  
One year after scoring 467 points in the 2014 season (29.2 points per game) and making offense look easy and simple, the team scored only 275 (17.2 ppg). Now, you can say that is all Romo and Dez Bryant, but to give you an idea of just how bad 275 points is in a season, the year Jon Kitna played QB for 9 games and Stephen McGee 1 more, the team scored 394 (24.6 ppg). They could never, ever score this season. It was just too impossible to accomplish actually accumulating points. 
The offense gave the ball away 33 times which is something that reminded us of the Quincy Carter/Dave Campo era which was roughly the last time the Cowboys would average 2 giveaways per game for an entire season. If you want to look at one of the main reasons why a team can't score points, look no further than 33 giveaways and a fair amount of those (including on Sunday) occurring right when you are on the verge of gathering points down on the attacking end of the field. 
Speaking of Carter/Campo, this year's 3rd down offense was the worst since 2001 and 2002. They converted just 66 of 191 3rd downs (34.6%) which was the worst year the Cowboys have had since those two 5-11 seasons. All of this, of course, the year after the Cowboys appeared to have 3rd downs figured out as well as any team in football when they converted 95 of 201 (47.3%) and were near the top of the league.
There is much to sort out.  There is much to study.  But as a fan, the only thing you should be anxious to do is to put 2015 in your rearview mirror.  
Special thanks to John Daigle for assisting all year with the charts and the data.  It is always very helpful to have him on board.  
We are not done, but this is the last regular season weekly Tuesday "Linehan Report" of the year.  Thanks for following along.  Like the Cowboys, we have plenty to do in the offseason.

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