Cowboys Nation begins a week-long chat with ESPN Insider and Scientific Football publisher K.C. Joyner. K.C. brings his fresh 2012 metrics to the discussion of all matters related to the Cowboys offense and the team’s passing defense. Today, he suggests the team’s game planning was out of sync with its personnel in 2012.
Cowboys Nation: We can start this going in ten different directions with the Cowboys. There was a lot of flux last year on the offense. Every name player went up, went down, had injury issues. Every player has question marks entering the 2013 season.
Let’s begin with the lightning rod, Tony Romo. I imagine his bad decision metrics skewed the wrong way in 2012, especially after he was coming off a career year in 2011.
K.C. Joyner: I’m looking at him now. Romo tied for 24th in bad decision percentage, [with a 2.3% number]. He tied with Colin Kaepernick. I don’t know if that’s good or bad to be tied with a first-year starter who was thrown in halfway.
To put him in perspective, Phillip Rivers had a 2.4% bad decision metric and he was seen as having a bad year. Ben Roethlisberger had a 2.4, and it was hardly his best year. From that perspective, Romo’s 2.3 looks bad, but I’m of two minds with Tony Romo.
Upside, 2.3% if you’re a risk taker of the caliber of Tony Romo, where he likes to take a lot of chances, make a lot of risky passes down the field, that’s not a bad rate for a guy like him.
I think the Cowboys don’t really have a very cohesive sense of where they want to go as a team. By that I mean they have Tony Romo on offense, you’ve got a gunslinger, a guy who can take a lot of chances. What I think is they’ve decided they want to center this offense around Tony Romo, but they don’t want him to be a bad decision maker. So they’re throwing more safe passes. We’re going to give him a lot more safe reads. This is speaking in general of the 2012 season. Things changed as the season progressed, but in general they had him try safer things.
But you look at the Cowboys offense and think, you’re trying to run a safer offense, and I’m not sure that’s where you want to go. You have Romo, you have Miles Austin, you have Dez Bryant. You’ve got some guys who can really stretch the field, guys who can really threaten defenses. If you have that kind of talent and you’re not attacking vertically, because these are two guys who can torture a defense at will if they’re playing as well as they can…
I have a theory as to why that is, so overall, when you’re looking at Tony Romo, his 2.3 bad decision percentage would not be bad if he was playing in a higher-risk offense, but when they’re dinking and dunking, it’s not as good a rate as it might appear.
CN: From a metrics perspective, compare what he did with what he did the year before. How much of a metric decline did he have from the first season to the last?
KC: Let’s put it this way. From a volume rate versus a percentage rate, Tony Romo had fifteen bad decisions in 2012 and he had ten in 2011. From a volume rate, ten to fifteen is a lot, but from a percentage rate, he only rose one half of one percent. Now, that’s significant in BDR. One percent jump is huge, and half is significant.
But Romo threw 126 more passes last year than the year before [a 19% increase in attempts]. So one half of one percent of that is not that many bad decisions. Let’s put it this way, it goes from ten to fifteen, but he also threw 126 more passes. If you throw that many more passes, and his bad decisions stayed at the 2011 rate, you would still expect two or three more just because of the increased volume. If you factor in the value you have two more. It’s not much different than it was in 2011.
The Cowboys had an analytics person who was helping them determine, what’s the sweet spot in your run pass mix? Should you run the ball six out of ten times? Pass the ball six out of ten times? What I understand, the sweet spot was pretty high. The Cowboys as a team averaged 3.6 yards per rush and Romo’s yards per attempt passing was 7.6.
Now, there are some factors which lower the rushing total. When you’re rushing and you’re near the goal line and you need two yards or one yard to score, the rushing attempt will only go for those yards. Or, if it’s 3rd-and-1, you might get a yard or two and you have to factor kneel downs into the equation. There are situations which will keep the rushing numbers low.
The idea is you should throw the ball as much as you can because the productivity gains are so much more. And the Cowboys spiked their passing numbers last year.
Here’s the thing though. The Cowboys have built their team, on offense and defense, kind of like the Raiders of the ’70s in a way, where Al Davis had the idea that we want to collect as many big, fast, strong guys as we can. We want to play what I call bully football.
The Cowboys have been very good at getting big, fast, strong guys. You can say whatever you want about the personnel side of the Cowboys game, but one thing you can’t say is they don’t get big, fast strong guys. They get guys to play bully football. But you can’t play bully football when you’re throwing the ball 650 times a year. That’s a faster-paced, more space-based game. You’re not going to wear the other team down that way.
What you should do is throw deep, get a lead, and then just grinding on the other team and in the 4th quarter you finish them off. Last year, the Cowboys played more of a space game and to me, the Cowboys seem to be saying, we want to throw the ball more and their personnel says run a different type of football. Until they decide we’re going to change our personnel to match our philosophy or change the philosophy to better match the personnel, they’re always going to under-perform.
Next: Was the 2013 draft part of a philosophical break, and what do the metrics suggest about Jason Witten’s future?