Are The Cowboys Who Their Record Says They Are?


The other day I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, who is a fan of a different, yet equally mediocre team, and I said something that sounded insane.

Nov 22, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) talks with head coach Jason Garrett in the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving at Cowboys Stadium. The Redskins beat the Cowboys 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

“I would rather my team be on the road to 5-11 than 8-8.”

I said it out of annoyance, frustration, heartbreak, etc.  I didn’t really analyze what I thought was a throwaway comment, but then I realized that there was more substance to it than I liked.  I realized that 5-11 last year (plus future picks to move up) landed the Redskins RGIII.  R-G-Effin-Three.  The wunderkind that made the Cowboys defense look like the JV team.

I also realized that there is a submission to the inevitable when you realize what your team is (bad) and where they’re headed (nowhere).  You can start watching college football and find out what future superstar your team is going to draft in April.  You can begin watching the young up-and-comers on your team and see what the future might look like.  Maybe you can start daydreaming about what former Super Bowl winning coaches might be available to come bring your team back to prominence – though I suppose there’s some of that even in this town.

When you‘re a fan of an 8-8 team, you hang on to that hope, because your team has a little flicker of light in it until the very end.  You start looking at the schedules of your division rival and pencil in wins and losses.  Then you look at your team’s schedule and try to figure out just how they can get to 10 wins and a playoff birth.  Once you’re in the tournament, anything can happen.

And then you lose games that you had penciled in as a W (Redskins).  Then your division rival wins games you had penciled in as a L (Packers)for them.  The math starts to get fuzzy.  You live and die every week, but ultimately the result is what it was always going to be.  Mediocrity.

But there’s always hope they can turn it on and make a run!  Hope… sigh.

Murray Returns?

If this is finally the week we see the return of DeMarco Murray, there will be much ballyhoo made over the predicted uptick to the running game.  While I think that Murray is the most talented back currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster, I think it is easy to overinflate the expectation of his impact.  Murray has been out for six and a half games now, so I just wanted to refresh our memories of his performance.

Those aren’t his individual stats, but rather the run game as a whole.  I split the running production against the Ravens in half to represent him coming out of the game shortly after the second half began.  Besides strong personal performances against the Giants (131 yards) and Baltimore (93 yards), his run production is pretty underwhelming.

How have the Cowboys fared since his injury?

Not as well, clearly, but still pretty bad.  We can place the blame of the ineffective run game in a lot of places – playing too many games from behind.  Coach Garrett’s play calling.  Terrible offensive line.  I’m sure we could find a way to blame Jerry (offensive line).  Felix Jones.

But are we sure Felix Jones has been that bad?

I am not trying to prove that Felix Jones is better running back than DeMarco Murray.  The data shows that Murray outgains Jones on running plays by .8 yards per carry.  On first and second down, there is no question who should have the ball in their hands – but Felix Jones is better in almost every other category, even excluding volume and opportunity.

Jones is clearly the better receiver of the two backs and subsequently makes up for his lower Yards Per Carry average, outgaining Murray by .15 Yards Per Touch.

Jones has also been more efficient in turning his Touches into scores.  In 92 touches, Murray only reached the end zone only once.  Meanwhile, Jones has averaged a Touchdown every 23.8 touches.

If nothing else, I think this clearly displays that both backs can be useful and serve a function in this offense – hopefully.

Fat Felix has come a long way since failing the conditioning test in Preseason.

Who are the Cowboys?

A couple of weeks ago, I began tracking how the Cowboys perform against their opponents’ average.  This was in the hope that I would discover some truth about this team – that there would be a revelation that could help me predict where this team was head.  If it has, it’s a very unfortunate truth.

Basically this calculation tends to confirm what I think most of us have subjectively come to grips with – this team is middle of the road.  They’re basically a non factor.  They score .7 points above what defenses usually allow, and allow .1 points below what opposing offenses usually score.

As a point of comparison:

The Eagles score 5.9 points fewer than opposing defenses normally allow, and give up 2.3 points more than offenses normally score.  Bad.

So, out of curiosity more than anything, I ran this calculation for the remainder of the season just to see how it projected out the “playoff push”.  Obviously there are going to be variables here that aren’t accounted for and a lot is going to change over the coming weeks, but here it is anyway.

The raw data predicts wins against the Eagles and Saints and losses in the remainder of the games, leaving the Cowboys with a 7-9 record and firmly in Mediocretown, USA.

This calculation isn’t going to fully accommodate the Saints recent resurgence or the Steelers struggles sans-Roethlisberger, but it just gives a general idea.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cowboys lost against the Saints and found a win against either the Steelers or Redskins.  Either way, I think it leaves this team in about the right ballpark – 8-8 or 7-9.

I sincerely hope that I’m wrong and that the Giants fall back down to earth and the Cowboys find a way to win all their upcoming games.  What was once discussed as an easy end of schedule isn’t looking so easy anymore.  The Bengals, Saints, and Redskins are suddenly very tough teams to beat, and I think a lot of people were penciling those games in as W’s as recently as a few weeks ago.


Having said all of that, my predictions – and predictions as a whole – are not an exact science.  Here is my record so far this season:

At this point, I guess the correct outcome 63.64% of the time, so I’m not exactly Nate Silver.  If I’ve hit on any particular data point, it has been with margin of victory.  I can tell you with pretty high accuracy (.3 point variance) what the scoring margin between the two teams will be – just not always who will score how much or who wins the game.  Those are pretty important metrics.  Sigh.

Anyway, I’m going to stick to my calculations for this week again and see how it goes.  Hopefully I move to 8-4 for my predictions and the Cowboys move to 6-6.

The end of the Andy Reid era is fast approaching in Philadelphia and the Eagles are beginning to close shop, though someone forgot to tell Bryce Brown.  Despite Mr. Brown’s sudden emergence, the injury plagued Cowboys’ defense finds a way to just barely contain this offensive (ha) juggernaut.  Tony Romo throws the ball for 50+ times for the win and Cowboys fans have their hope reignited for the week.

Cowboys 27, Eagles 17