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.
What Are Realistic Expectations for Cowboys LB Sean Lee?
For many years, Linebacker Sean Lee has been the face of the Dallas Cowboys defense. However, that's quickly changing. The young duo consisting of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have taken over the linebacker position by dominating the field from sideline to sideline with their explosive talent. As a rookie, Vander Esch filled in for Lee at the weak linebacker position when the veteran went down injured and never gave the job back.
Currently, uncertainty surrounds Sean Lee, who took a pay cut earlier in the year to stay with the franchise he's played for since the beginning of his professional career in 2010. What will his role be in a young fueled defense in the upcoming season?
As we've all been able to see throughout his career, Sean Lee is one of the best in the game when he's healthy. Unfortunately, that's not very often. His injury proneness led him to a position change years ago, when he was moved from the MIKE (middle linebacker) to the WILL (weak side linebacker) position. Now, those two spots are taken care of.
Where does this leaves Lee? The main question is whether or not he'll move to the strong side. Many question if this would be the correct call, given that he could be at even more risk of suffering yet another injury in a position that leads to more contact. The other option would be for him to be Vander Esch's backup at WILL.
Lately, it seems like the Cowboys will indeed move him to the strong-side. After all, it only makes sense to have your best three players on the field at the same time. On minicamp, the Cowboys have been playing the veteran at SAM, letting him get reps and grow comfortable in what seems to be his new job.
But even if Sean Lee starts lining up on the strong side, what can we expect from him next season? The way the NFL offenses operate now leads to teams sending their nickel packages to the field more often than not. For the Cowboys 4-3 defense, that means three cornerbacks, two linebackers. When that's the case, it will be Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith who we see out there, not Lee.
Damien Wilson was the team's "starter" on the strong side, and he only managed to get 286 snaps, according to Pro Football Reference. That represents 28% of the team's total snaps. Even if Sean Lee becomes the starting strong side linebacker, we likely won't be seeing him as much.
Even still, I'd expect Sean Lee's experience to play a big factor when the team needs Jaylon Smith or Leighton Vander Esch to catch their breath. Lee could jump in and play a few snaps at any LB spot and do a good job at it.
After all, we can't forget that despite his injuries, Lee is a remarkable player on defense. He should still be one of the smartest linebackers with extraordinary instincts. There's a reason why, before Vander Esch arrived to America's Team, the defense crumbled without him. Last year, despite losing the starting gig, Lee still had 118 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and an interception. The longtime veteran can still play.
It will be odd for Cowboys Nation to watch Lee on a completely new role. It's also hard to put the finger on what his production will look like at the end of the year. If there's one thing we know though, is that the veteran will work hard every practice trying to get the most playing time he can. We should be excited about the team's top three linebackers.
Dak Prescott Impresses, Draws Compliments All Minicamp Long
Dak Prescott stood before the media Thursday in a Stetson Cowboy hat, answering questions about his upcoming contract extension.
“I’ve got my cowboy hat on, so I’m a Cowboy, we’ll say that.”
Prescott has cemented himself as the franchise quarterback of America's Team, and now it's time for the franchise to pay him like it. Set to earn roughly $34 million per year (according to recent rumors/reports), Prescott is going to be a very rich and comfortable man in the near future.
But, for now, he still plays under his fourth round rookie contract. You wouldn't be able to tell by watching him on the field, however. Though it was just minicamp, Prescott was impressive as ever over the last couple weeks of practice, earning praise from all levels within the organization.
Veteran Jason Witten complimented both Prescott's anticipation and accuracy, saying his throws have been "off the charts" at minicamp. Prescott himself said that this is the best he's felt since he's entered the league, and it certainly makes sense for this to be the case.
"Is it three years under my belt or just seeing defenses a whole lot more clear, being quicker and faster in everything I want to do, having great teammates around me? Who really knows the answer, but I feel great. I feel confident, and my teammates do, as well.” - Prescott to DallasCowboys.com
If Prescott was ever going to be comfortable, hungry, and ready to go, this is likely the time that it would happen. He has three relatively successful seasons under his belt, and ended 2018 on the best stretch of his career. He is the unquestioned starting quarterback for this team, and has the backing of every key decision maker in the building.
Prescott now has an offensive coordinator who he has not only worked closely with (in some capacity) since he entered the league in 2016, but is also being lauded for his creativity as an offensive mastermind. His quarterbacks coach, Jon Kitna, has been receiving similar praise for how he can coach up Prescott and get his footwork consistent, to help him "throw it through a Fruit Loop."
The time is now for Dak Prescott, and it's encouraging to see how he is responding to this increased pressure and responsibility. Then again we should have no doubt that he will respond positively, as he as throughout his entire young career.
Whenever faced with adversity, Prescott has answered the bell. Now he has all the supporters he needs, and just needs to prove them right.
Does RB Ezekiel Elliott Have A Chance At NFL MVP?
Who is the Cowboys best player?
As a running back, it's quite possible that Elliott is both the best of that bunch and the least important to the team's overall success. NFL.com's Adam Schein disagrees with the latter statement, however, placing Ezekiel Elliott among his top ten contenders for 2019 NFL MVP.
"I think the Cowboys are going to challenge for the Super Bowl in 2019 -- and I think Zeke fuels this team. When Elliott runs for 95-plus yards, the Cowboys are 19-4; when he falls below that benchmark, they're 9-8." - Adam Schein
Schein's prediction will no doubt make Cowboys Nation swoon, but does Elliott really have the opportunity to compete for an MVP award?
For one, this would require the Cowboys be among the best teams in the league this season. It's quite possible, as they did win 10 regular season and 1 playoff game a year ago, but it will have to happen once again for Elliott to be considered.
Next, Ezekiel Elliott would have to put up incredible numbers. Well, it's safe to assume this will likely be the case if condition one is met. Elliott is going to get a lot of opportunities to touch the ball each game, and finding himself among the league's rushing leaders has never been an issue for the young running back. Especially if the team has a lead and is running the ball to kill clock.
Even if both these conditions prove true, though, Elliott will still have trouble getting himself in the real MVP discussion. These awards tend to go to certain positions, and running back is not among that list. If Dallas has such a successful 2019, and their offense is clicking, it's more likely Dak Prescott will be the one contending for that MVP honor.
I know to some it sounds crazy, but Prescott will likely need to be closer to MVP level than Elliott if the Cowboys are to contend in the way Adam Schein suggests in his article.
So, likely, Schein should have named Prescott among his top ten MVP contenders, not Elliott.
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