Go back to the year 2014 with me. Disney's Frozen opens the year as the number-one film in the United States (Thank God we let that go, just kidding the soundtrack is amazing), "Happy" by Pharrell is the number one song of the year (you can clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do), and DeMarco Murray is a good football player.
The Dallas Cowboys had one of the most dominant running games across the NFL in 2014, but that performance transcended far more than that specific season. It was one of the greatest team rushing performance of all time.
Last week I debuted my Price Per Yard methodology and applied it to the 2013 season. You can wet your palate with that appetizer, because today is the main course - 2014's Price Per Yard. Bon appetit.
Price Per Yard: The 2014 Season
I want to reiterate that when it comes to Price Per Yard there is no indisputable winner. This is all data. Numbers. Math. Excel! What it is not is an inconclusive answer. It is up to you, the well-educated and great-taste-having reader, to discern what you will. We're drawing conclusions based on 100% facts. Vamonos.
2014 NFC Price Per Yard
** Click the image to zoom in.
I know, St. Louis and Green Bay are absent. I had a difficult time gathering data for any year regarding the Rams (data was sourced from Spotrac.com), I'm assuming that it has to do with the move to Los Angeles. Similarly I failed to gather the 2014 Packers data, probably because they were scared of the Cowboys.
If you look at Price Per Yard simply as a number, even though you're not supposed to, it would appear that the Dallas Cowboys were kings of 2014 (real kings, not the ever-passing throne HBO shows us on Sundays in the spring); however, in this specific instance, you would be right!
Dallas paid by far the least per yard in the NFC in 2014 and gained the most yards by a significant margin. This means that they're flat out robbing the NFL when it comes to yards on the ground!
We'll circle back to the Cowboys in a bit, let's first look at the rest of the conference. Everyone here... is terrible.
It's fair to remember that the Vikings technically had Adrian Peterson on the books for 2014 and had his situation arise, but there's no excuse for teams like Chicago, Carolina, Tampa Bay, or San Francisco to be devoting so much to the "run game" when they're yielding such poor returns.
The Eagles look like they're really bad at this, but in reality they just have fine taste when it comes to the running game and are willing to pay for it. If you look at it closely while, yes, the Eagles are paying a premium they're also getting one back. Their return is typically matching their investment, at least compared to the rest of the conference, which ultimately is the primary point of Price Per Yard.
2014 AFC Price Per Yard
Shout out to the 2014 American Football Conference for having all of its data available to collect! Huzzah!
A big-time shout out needs to be sent from Baltimore Ravens fans to Justin Forsett, because he allowed them to flourish on the ground in 2014 and have the lowest numerical Price Per Yard in the NFL this season.
The Ravens were the Cowboys of the AFC in that they paid the least AND gained the most. This is, shocker I know, the most exceptional performance that can be achieved.
So much has been made about Joe Flacco's contract and how it's handicapped the Ravens' ability to do a lot financially. When teams are in situations like that it's critical to get insane production for a low-dollar elsewhere, like the Ravens are doing here. If you're Baltimore then you're investing where it matters (Flacco) and where you're investing minimally you're seeing the greatest return in the NFL. That's incredible.
The 2014 Tennessee Titans are among the worst teams that I've seen while gathering Price Per Yard data (I charted 2013-2015). They paid a significantly larger amount per yard and gained significantly less on the ground. So where the Titans think they're strong (at least that's what their money says) they're actually among the weakest in the field. Ouchie.
The Bengals are showing us here what success (from a PPY perspective) can be had with rookie running backs. Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill comprised a majority of their yards (which were a ton) and were both on rookie deals. This point circles back to last week's post in that if you hit on your rookie talent, you're going to get an insane bang for your buck.
The last point that I want to make in the AFC is that the Pittsburgh Steelers aren't as great as we necessarily think that they are. While Le'Veon Bell is still on his own rookie deal and is performing at a high rate, it's not high enough comparable to the NFL. The Steelers aren't investing a whole lot, but they're also not yielding an elite product. You get what you pay for, and the Steelers are paying for someone who is just good enough.
Price Per Yard: Applying The Base Value
Hey-o! We've got percentages now! We're really cooking!
I'll save you some time and give you the sparknotes version of where these come from. Obviously you know what each team's rushing total is, how much they spent on it, and their corresponding Price Per Yard. What you need to know is how good that is relative to something good - The Base Value.
I generated a base value based on the notion that being in the Top 10 is a good thing. Right? Right! I averaged the Top 10 rushing yardage totals and their corresponding Price Per Yards to determine a BV that we could compare everyone to.
Using this BV it's even more apparent that the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens were among the best teams at Price Per Yard that I've ever seen over my three seasons of study. They paid the lowest value PPY and gained the most yards on the ground. It's absurd when you really think about it.
Let's look at the 2014 Giants for example. They paid 48.55% more per yard and gained 43.50% less yards! That's horrible! The Giants literally paid more than twice per yard than the Cowboys and achieved less than half the rushing yards in return!
The Texans are almost the poster boys for average Price Per Yard in this season. They paid 5.42% more per yard, but they gained 6.23% more yards. In theory if you pay X more per yard you should have a return equal to X when it comes to yards. The 2014 Houston squad did just that.
Price Per Yard: The 2014 Dallas Cowboys
I'm going to be honest with you here. This is the greatest team that I have ever seen at Price Per Yard in my study.
Did the Dallas Cowboys have the lowest numerical Price Per Yard in 2014 ($10,542.90)? No.
Remember that the BV is an averaging of the Top 10 teams. Remember that the Cowboys are number one on that list. Remember that these Cowboys were the only team to crack 2,000 yards on the ground.
REMEMBER THAT THE DALLAS COWBOYS PAID THE SECOND LOWEST AMOUNT OF DOLLARS PER YARD AND GAINED THE MOST IN THE ENTIRE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE!
That. Is. Incredible.
This Cowboys unit paid 33.72% percent less per yard than the BV (again, these are the Top 10 teams not just some chumps). They also out-gained the yardage BV by 26.07%! What in the world!
The Ravens, who are admittedly very good at this, did pay 36.31% percent less per yard. They also out-gained the yardage BV by a measly 6.73%.
The second highest margin that a team out-gained the yardage BV by is in fact those Ravens. The Dallas Cowboys added 20% to that! That is unprecedented!
What the 2014 Dallas Cowboys accomplished when it comes to Price Per Yard is among the greatest financial return on investments that we have ever seen in NFL History.
The impetus for Price Per Yard was actually the 2014 Dallas Cowboys. It fascinated me to consider that in a year with such high production gained, so little was invested to achieve that result. Price Per Yard proves that through 100% irrefutable evidence.
The 2014 season is the second installment in my Price Per Yard series. You can see the first one from last week here, and look forward to my analysis of the 2015 season next Monday (July 18th). July 25th will be an analysis of all three seasons, and August 1st will be a projection into 2016.
If you have any comments or questions about Price Per Yard, the philosophy behind it, the formula that went into it, or just simply want to talk and/or debate it... you can comment below, email me at RJ@RJOchoaShow.com, or Tweet to me at @rjochoa.
Sean’s Scout: WR Deonte Thompson A Vertical Threat for Dallas Cowboys
Finally addressing their underwhelming cast of wide receivers, the Dallas Cowboys signed journeyman Deonte Thompson yesterday. The seventh-year pro spent 2017 with both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills, hauling in 38 passes for 555 yards and two touchdowns.
Thompson was undrafted in 2012 out of Florida, making both the Cowboys' free agent signings to date former UDFAs. The Cowboys added LB Joe Thomas earlier in the week, who you can learn more about in Sean's Scout as well.
In desperate need of speed and play making ability on the outside, here is a look at what WR Deonte Thompson can bring to the Dallas Cowboys.
WR Deonte Thompson: Strengths
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
Deonte Thompson plays with a great understanding of his own frame, using his length to give defensive backs problems up the field. Not a true "burner", Thompson takes some time to accelerate down the field, but can separate vertically.
Thompson runs smooth routes, using his long strides to get on DBs in a hurry. Once in position to free himself at the stem of a route, Thompson showed the ability to consistently turn his hips and complete a number of underneath and deep routes at a high level.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
Deonte Thompson may not win on many throws "above the rim", but he is above average at the catch point securing passes with his strong hands.
Snagging the ball outside of his frame is not much of an issue for Thompson, who makes the most of his run-after-the-catch opportunities by effortlessly receiving the ball in stride.
At this stage of his career, Thompson may not be an every down player, but this is a player the Cowboys can absolutely find a way to get involved in their sputtering passing offense next season - at the very least replacing the role of FA WR Brice Butler.
WR Deonte Thompson: Weaknesses
Deonte Thompson should not be expected to go over the top on many defenses for the Cowboys in 2018. While the traits are there to flash as that sort of player, Thompson simply is not at his best trying to track down deep vertical passes.
When Thompson does not create separation on his initial burst up the field, there was a tendency for him to get shoved around at the catch point. Still coming up with his fair share of passes, the degree of difficulty on these catches was often increased by his inability to truly play through contact.
This is not a player with a powerful lower body, relying on upper body flex and foot speed to free himself and create plays in space. Overall balance is a strength for Thompson, but he rarely is able to break tackles or move defenders as a blocker in the running game.
WR Deonte Thompson: Summary
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
The Cowboys should know what they are getting in Deonte Thompson, who has not had the benefit of great quarterback play in recent seasons. The hope in Dallas is that a number of receivers on the bottom of the depth chart can stand out this summer to make the team out of a crowded room.
This group of Ryan Switzer, Lance Lenoir, Noah Brown, and KD Cannon will now include Deonte Thompson - who should have the edge over most of these names.
Thompson won't be the difference in the Cowboys' offense having a bounce back season in 2018, but his raw athleticism and effortless ability to serve as a deep threat could surely make an impact in Dak Prescott's progression.
Using Win Probabilities To Evaluate Decision Making: Cowboys Kick Vs. Raiders
The Philadelphia Eagles have surpassed the Dallas Cowboys in more ways than one, but on Super Bowl Sunday, their willingness to "be aggressive" and "take chances" shined through the most. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was congratulated by the masses for not coaching scared, and instead going for it on key fourth downs and even attempting trick plays.
When you really evaluate those decisions, however, they shouldn't even be thought of as "risky." If anything, they were simply the obvious call.
Over the last few months I have been working with win probability models, looking to validate and refine those available to the public. I can't share too much about the work as of yet (there will hopefully be a published article in the future), but the work is certainly promising.
What I can say is this. Dennis Lock and Dan Nettleton worked to utilize random forests to estimate win probabilities before each play in an NFL game. These "forests" are similar to decision tree machine learning, cycling through random trees of past data to predict future outcomes.
Brian Burke has been utilizing his model for a while now, and Pro Football Reference has a simple, yet effective model as well. For my project, I have been working to find the "best" ways to estimate those win probabilities in order to inform decision making by head coaches and coordinators.
If you aren't utilizing analytics correctly in today's NFL, you're falling behind. And if you aren't willing to take calculated risks based off of what these numbers say and mean, you are really falling behind.
How does this all relate to the Cowboys?
Well, Cowboys Nation has been pretty consistent in their main criticism of head coach Jason Garrett: he's too conservative. They say he coaches scared, and they believe he punts the ball away too often between the 40's. Numbers accumulated by writers such as Bob Sturm and Marcus Mosher back up these claims, but I wanted to examine Garrett's decision making through the win probability lens.
I took to Twitter to ask the fan base for specific scenarios in which they felt Garrett was too conservative. Then, I ran these situations through the win probability model to determine how these decisions affected the outcomes.
Over a series of posts I will detail what the model says about the Cowboys' decision making in these key moments. First, we go back to December of last season where the Cowboys had their season on the line in Oakland.
Cowboys at Raiders, 2017
One instance which was consistently brought up was ironically from a Cowboys win. Yes, a win!
The Raiders had played the Cowboys close all game long, and with their season on the line Dallas was in position to put those pesky Raiders away. Tied at 17 they entered a fourth and goal situation at the Raiders' 1 yard line. The Cowboys decided to kick the field goal and grab a 20-17 lead. While Dallas did hang on to win, this was only because of a miraculous play by Jeff Heath which resulted in a fumble and a touchback.
Many of the fans who tweeted at me seem to think the Cowboys should have went for the touchdown on fourth down, rather than take their three points. But what does the model say?
Prior to the fourth down play, the Cowboys had about an 85% chance to win the game. After kicking the field goal and kicking the ball away to Oakland, that probability went down to just above 80%. Had the Cowboys gone for it and been stuffed at the Raiders' 1 yard line, that probability would have dropped all the way to just over 57%.
But the model does believe that Garrett made the right decision. Of course, had Dallas scored a touchdown, the game would've virtually been over, but the variance in probabilities suggests that kicking the field goal and taking the sure points was a good move.
Next week, I explain where Jason Garrett and company may have gone wrong during a key 4th down decision against the Los Angeles Rams. If you have any suggestions for plays/situations you'd like evaluated, please comment below!
Cowboys en Español: Nuevas Contrataciones, ¿Podría Ser Allen Hurns la Siguiente?
La agencia libre de los Dallas Cowboys comenzó un poco tarde, siendo el último equipo en toda la liga de la NFL en realizar una contratación este offseason. Ahora, con algunas caras nuevas en el equipo, comienzan las preguntas inevitables. ¿Qué jugadores tendrán un impacto y qué jugadores serán una contratación irrelevante?
Sólo el tiempo lo dirá. Las piezas que añadieron los Cowboys no son agentes libres de gran renombre pero podrían llegar a tener algún impacto en el 2018. Sin embargo, no todas las adquisiciones de Dallas han sido por medio de la agencia libre.
Hace unos días, los Raiders y los Cowboys acordaron un trade por el fullback Jamize Olawale. Días después de perder a Keith Smith (quien fue contratado por... los Raiders), Dallas no quiso echarse todavía otra necesidad encima, así que solucionó rápidamente su hueco en la posición que le abrirá camino a Ezekiel Elliott.
Además de enviar a Olawale a los Cowboys, los Raiders consiguieron una selección de quinta ronda de parte de Dallas y ellos entregaron su sexta ronda. En otras palabras, los Cowboys sólo renunciaron 19 turnos en las rondas tardías del Draft por un fullback que será de ayuda constante para esta ofensiva.
A pesar de ser tres años más grande que Keith Smith, Olawale le brinda a los Cowboys potencial para participar en el juego aéreo así como en el terrestre.
Por la agencia libre, los Cowboys obtuvieron ayuda ofensiva y defensiva.
Joe Thomas, (no, no el que todos conocemos como uno de los mejores tackles de la historia) el linebacker que viene de los Green Bay Packers, usará la estrella este 2018. Mi compañero y escritor de Staff Sean Martin escribió una excelente pieza analizando a detalle al nuevo defensivo.
Thomas definitivamente no será un titular, pero sin duda ayudará a un grupo de equipos especiales que necesitan bastante apoyo esta temporada. Además, es un linebacker rápido y atlético que podrá brillar como un jugador de rotación en una defensiva que incluye a Sean Lee y a Jaylon Smith.
Esta contratación no hace que los Cowboys dejen de tener una gran necesidad por un LB, pero da una profundidad que urgía a la posición.
El último movimiento y quizá el más discutido por los aficionados de los Cowboys es la adquisición de Deonte Thompson. Un receptor abierto que ha batallado para conseguir una casa en la NFL llega a un equipo que cuenta con nombres como Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams y Cole Beasley, pero que aún necesita mucho más producción.
¿Acaso la adición de Thompson al roster hace que WR deje de ser una necesidad para el equipo de los Cowboys? Claro que no, pero añade un talento que quizá pueda ayudar al equipo en ciertos aspectos.
Thompson es un jugador muy rápido, lo cual es algo que esta ofensiva necesita para abrir el campo un poco más. Un corredor de rutas bastante sólido con manos seguras. Thompson viene probablemente a ser una versión mejorada de Brice Butler por $2.5M.
Quizá fue un error de parte de la administración garantizarle un millón de su contrato. ¿Por qué garantizarle dinero a un jugador que ni siquiera debería tener un lugar asegurado en el equipo? Sin embargo, Thompson parece ser un contribuidor a la ofensiva.
Pero no fue el WR en la agencia libre del que se ha hablado esta semana en el mundo de los Dallas Cowboys. De hecho, aún después de firmar su contrato, no es el más discutido entre los aficionados.
Allen Hurns, receptor que fue cortado de Jacksonville, es un jugador que podría llegar a hacer un impacto inmediato en la ofensiva de Dak Prescott y proveerle al QB un potencial mejor amigo. A pesar de que muchos esperarían que conseguir a Hurns significaría decirle adiós a Dez Bryant, la verdad es que no sería necesario.
Hurns podría tomar el rol que Terrance Williams posee ahora como receptor "Z" y llevar a esta ofensiva a otro nivel. Todd Archer de ESPN reportó que la reciente adquisición de Deonte Thompson no significa que la posibilidad de ver a Hurns usando la estrella ha acabado.
Todos queremos ver acción en la agencia libre, aunque a veces lo sensato sea ser conservadores. Así como muchos aficionados de los Cowboys se quejan de la falta de movimientos, muchos aficionados de los Steelers y los Patriots agradecen que sus equipos tengan esta filosofía de no gastar mucho en agencia libre.
La diferencia son los resultados en el campo.
Sin embargo, Allen Hurns definitivamente parece como una opción muy viable para los Cowboys, y una adición que simplemente tendría mucho sentido. Sólo queda esperar si lograrán firmarlo o si un equipo (como los Jets, quienes han mostrado mucho interés y tienen bastante espacio en el tope salarial) logra convencerlo de no regresar a Dallas.
Por ahora, esperamos. Quizá hasta que los Cowboys firmen a alguien más. O quizá hasta la llegada del NFL Draft.
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