What a difference time makes. I remember way back, when Bleacher Report was just a budding sports blog, writing an article about the 2010 playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings. I claimed that the stats of the two teams showed the ‘Boys out-matched the Vikes with Adrian Peterson and the aging Brett Favre.
At the time, the comments seemed like just good debate to me. But now? Some of those guys were on to something.
We turn to stats for everything these days.
Is Tony Romo an elite QB? Show me the numbers.
Was Marion Barber a beast or a bust? Show me the numbers.
Has Head Coach Jason Garrett improved this team? Show me the numbers.
If you want to know who has what bragging rights and why, suddenly it’s Jerry McGuire meets Car Fax commercials. “SHOW ME THE NUMBEEEEERRRRRRSSSSS!!!”
Gee, that was obnoxious.
Measuring players, coaches and teams by the numbers has become some convoluted pseudo-science wherein everyone – the media included – takes the numbers supporting their position and dumps the rest. I have to admit, it works just as well to destroy a legacy as it does to stuff it, mount it, and hang it on a trophy wall. But what are we really looking at?
When you’re judging a player on his individual stats, you get a good idea of a few of his tangibles. That’s it. You can pull up stats and frame them any which way but loose and still gain zero perspective on a coach or team. Not to say that stops people from having an outlook with some stats sprinkled in here and there, but it’s the perspective framing the numbers, not the other way around.
Take Dallas’ numbers over the past 14 years.
It’s a handy timeframe because it outlasts every player on the roster. So what? We’re not debating an individual effort here so player stats can stay safely locked away in a room, on a shelf, under some dust, in some old stats book at Jerry’s house. I’m speaking from personal experience here because let’s face it, as a Cowboys fan I’ve been met with every type of assault imaginable.
Just think polar bear in a meat market after hours. That about paints the picture.
The poor schmoes rooting for the likes of Cleveland, Buffalo or Miami get less flack than a Cowboys fan. Apparently there’s some disagreement over this whole America’s Team thing making non-Cowboys fans fling poo like monkeys at the zoo.
Anyway, take those numbers and look at post-season wins, like most people do. Hell, look at post-season wins and losses, because there’s only five. Total. Including that Vikings game. Five times that the Cowboys have suited up in the playoffs since 2000. They lost against Seattle and Minnesota and beat an Eagles team they had literally just beaten the week before.
Fourteen seasons of 8-8 to 13-3 that ended in the same waste bin year after year. If you ask a Cowboys hater, at least. They’d say that, with the brief exceptions of blinding possibility in the years over 16 games, the Dallas Cowboys have done nothing. Certainly not enough to warrant being America’s and God’s team.
Enough drivel already. What’s the point?
Tony Romo is the best quarterback in franchise history. His stats say so and there’s really no rational argument against that. Aikman and Staubach have more to show for their time on the field, but their numbers aren’t as good.
Herein lays the problem – if Aikman and Staubach were so masterful, then why didn’t Aikman lead the Cowboys to that fourth Super Bowl in a decade in 1996?
Aikman was more efficient in 1995. 63.7 completion percentage and 2.8% of passes intercepted in 1996 versus 64.8 completion percentage and 1.6% of passes intercepted in 1995. That translates into just 178 extra yards, or just 11 yards a game. Not exactly game changing right there. But Troy was sacked four more times in 1996 than in 1995. Four sacks that could’ve easily been where those 178 yards were lost.
The only thing significant about the differences in the passing game from ’95 to ’96 is that Michael Irvin had nearly double the receiving yards in 1995 that he had in 1996.
On defense, the 1995 team had 36 sacks, gave up 5,044 yards and 18 TDs, and had a +2 turnover ratio. In ’96 it was more like 37 sacks, 4,382 yards and 24 TDs, with a +4 turnover ratio.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Irvin wasn’t able to produce as well in 1996, though he was still the top receiver for the team. The difference in his stats more than equal the lack of efficiency in Aikman’s game from one year to the next. The championship defense gave up an extra 41 yards per game, had fewer sacks and a worse turnover battle, but gave up fewer scores.
Still not convinced? Of what? Exactly!
Look at the stats any way you choose, they’ll never change, even if the argument they’re being pulled into does. Individual stats belong in that book on a dusty shelf in some baron room at Valley Ranch, if you can’t take them in context.
The bottom line is that no team is made or broken by a single player. Being a team sport, you’d think this point would be too obvious to merit a single utterance, let alone an entire article. But time and time again I open up my favorite sports sites and find people ranting about how great or terrible a player is (usually Tony Romo) and how that player is the primary reason for the woes of a team.
In reality, the need for such an article, for the abundant and elaborate articulation of the fundamental basis and meaning of the term “team sport,” is kicking us right in our jockeys at every turn. Even my own crew at Dallas Cowboys Nation gets caught up in it. Granted, they’re generally trying to dispel the notion that a player (usually Tony Romo) is the sole bearer of all things good and evil during the course of season, but like so many they get so entrenched in the argument that they propagate its very existence.
Now looky here. It’s time for that bullhonkie to end right now.
A team can’t be measured by the successes and failures of one person.
For Cowboys fans, the people of greatest debate tend to be Tony Romo (Wait, what? Really? Stop!), Jason Garrett and Mr. Skeletor himself, Jerry Jones.
Jones and Garrett are probably the most susceptible to this problem because individual performances are part of the team concept they’re charged with cultivating and managing day in, day out. But all too often Romo is cast – simultaneously – as the hero and villain because he’s the field general. He’s the ultimate leader on that field, calling the shots and making decisions that affect every man on that field, yes?
Do you think DeMarcus Ware saw it that way? What about Rod Marinelli, think he saluted Gen. Romo after every down? Name any player in the game and I’ll give you three crucial things he’s got jack-all to do with.
It’s a team sport guys.
If the WRs aren’t up to snuff, the QB won’t be either. If the front seven miss a beat, the backs pay for it. If the offense goes to town strutting around in their party kicks, the defense can settle into a solid prevent formation and win the war. And when that defense gets caught with its head up where the sun don’t shine, the offense becomes predictable and vulnerable.
That’s basically football suicide. Unless you’re playing against the Cowboys 2013 defense.
Call a meeting with God and mold you a hybrid between Manning, Montana, Aikman, Staubach, Young, Favre and Warner that perfectly encompasses every bit of kickass in every one of those great quarterbacks and you know what? He’s still gonna have to pitch it when his line falters!
So don’t tell me Romo’s a choke artist who can’t win the big games.
Tony Pollard is Just What the Doctor Ordered in Dallas
The Dallas Cowboys have what many believe to be the best running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliott. However, you can never undervalue the importance of depth at any position. When the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft came around, the Cowboys added another weapon to the backfield by selecting Tony Pollard out of Memphis.
If you’re looking for a dynamic player maker with the ability to take it to the house at any given moment, Pollard is your man. The former Tiger averaged a touchdown every 13 touches in college. That’s an absolutely insane statistic when you think about it. He also tied an NCAA record with seven kick returns for touchdowns. Long story short, he can get you six points at the blink of an eye.
The versatility in his game is outrageous and undoubtedly the reason why he was drafted. In addition to running for 941 yards on 6.8 yards per rush, he also had 104 receptions for 1,292 yards. New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has to be salivating about the possibilities with his new toy. Having a running back that can not only carry the load as a runner but also line up at receiver keeps the defense honest. You never know what angle the offense is going to come from.
This has to be a sigh of relief for Ezekiel Elliott. Now, the Cowboys don’t have to overexert him and can bring Pollard in on third downs if need be. Not just to give Elliott a breather but to change the pace of the offensive attack. You can hand the ball off, throw it to him or run jet sweeps when he is on the field. This sets up a potential combo at running back that could be the leagues very best shortly.
Speed, quickness, and agility are all wrapped up in the Tony Pollard package. The Cowboys now have a running back that can line up at multiple positions if need be. Also, this prevents a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on the body of Ezekiel Elliott. This combination has all the potential to set the NFL on fire in 2019.
CB Byron Jones Not Expected To Return Until Week 1 Against NYG
Coming off what was clearly the best season of his career thus far, Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones underwent surgery to hopefully fix a nagging hip injury.
While he earned both his first All Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2018, his first season as a full-time cornerback, Jones still has a lot to prove in the upcoming season. Some still criticize him for his lack of interceptions, and there's no doubt his stellar play slowed down a bit towards the end of the year.
I'm willing to wager that the slight decline had a lot to do with his hip troubles, but nonetheless he must come up with his elite level play once again to earn himself a nice contract somewhere in 2020.
Oh, did I forget to mention it's also a contract year for Byron Jones? As it is for so many important Dallas Cowboys, it seems.
So when will Byron Jones be able to return to the Cowboys' lineup? Well, the initial date reportedly set by Jones and the team was late July, giving him a chance to practice and play a bit before the season opener in September. But, according to the Team Site this week, that date may be pushed back a bit, and we might not see Byron Jones until that season opening game against the Giants.
"As for Jones, all along the Cowboys have been targeting his return for the season opener, but hopefully at that. So, don’t expect to see much of Jones in training camp, and if so, certainly no more than individual and walk-through drills." - Mickey Spagnola
Ultimately, as long as Byron Jones is good to go when the regular season starts, that's all that matters, but the fear of rust when Jones returns is a real one.
It's tough to go from no live football straight to the meaningful games, but if anyone would be able to do it it would be the guy with the freakishly athletic traits. The guy who can get out of the bed in the morning and set athletic records at the Combine.
And, of course, that guy is Byron Jones.
Dak Prescott: Calm Under Pressure
When the 2016 NFL Draft came around the Dallas Cowboys were in search of the heir apparent to Tony Romo. Unfortunately, coming off an injury-plagued 2015 season, Romo would find himself on the shelf again after suffering a broken bone in his back during a preseason game against the Seahawks. However, the Cowboys had an ace in the hole, in the form of Dak Prescott who they drafted in the fourth round.
The idea was the groom him for a few years before taking the keys to the car so to speak from Romo, but fate had another idea in mind. Prescott would be thrust into the starting lineup against one of the Cowboys most hated rivals to start the season, the New York Giants. Added to that, was the pressure of living up to Romo's stellar resume as the franchise's all-time leading passer. After struggling in a tough 20-19 loss, no surprise there for a rookie quarterback, Prescott began to take flight.
Over the next eleven games he wouldn't suffer a single loss as the Cowboys were sitting pretty at 11-1. What made this streak more impressive was the efficiency of Prescott. He threw 19 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions over that span. In the process, he set an NFL record for the most passing attempts to start a career without an interception with 176. This broke the previous record held by Tom Brady of 162. It didn't stop there, as he also set a rookie record for completion percentage (67.8), was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
The Cowboys would finish 13-3 and win the NFC East. With home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the franchise only winning two postseason games in 21 years, Prescott was definitely under the microscope. After the offense struggled to produce points in the first half and fell behind 21-3, Prescott lead a furious comeback. Helping the team storm all the way back to tie the game at 28 and again at 31. He finished with 302 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first playoff start against future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers. Even though the team lost 34-31, Prescott proved how much of a gamer he was as he basically went yard for yard and point for point with one of the NFL's elite signal-callers. It was clear the Cowboys were in good hands going forward.
2017 started off well as the Cowboys were 5-3 and firmly on pace for another playoff run. Unfortunately, All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott lost his fierce battle with the NFL over domestic violence allegations, and Dak along with the offense struggled. After a 9-7 season and falling one game short of a Wild Card berth, the pressure on Prescott heading into the next season was immense.
Once 2018 came about Prescott had more pressure than ever with Elliott back for a full season. After a slow 3-4 start the Cowboys traded for Pro-Bowl Wide Receiver Amari Cooper, providing the team with it's first true number one receiver since Dez Bryant. Putting even more expectations on Prescott to turn things around, and boy did he ever.
He would complete 71.6% of his passes in the final eight games of the season, and the Cowboys won seven to finish 10-6. Now, with another division title under his belt, came a playoff matchup with Super Bowl-winning Quarterback Russell Wilson.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were hanging on to a 17-14 lead. They faced a 3rd and 14 inside the redone with just over two minutes left. After dropping back a few steps, Prescott scrambled for 16 yards setting up a first and goal from the one-yard line. The team held on for a 24-22 victory but here's why that scramble was so important.
If the Cowboys don't convert that 3rd and long that would've set up a field goal attempt. Assuming it would have been successful, that would've only put them up 20-14. Giving Seattle a chance to more than likely win with a touchdown and an extra point or two-point conversion. Prescott essentially won the game with that 3rd down run. Proving once again there's no situation he can't handle.
He's set an NFL record for completion percentage in the first three years of a quarterbacks career at 66.1 percent. No quarterback has won more games than him since 2016 except Tom Brady. No one has more game-winning drives than him since he entered the league. His 13 primetime victories are tops in the NFL over the last three seasons. Simply put, Dak Prescott is a winner and doesn't fold under pressure, instead, he embraces it. There are no bigger lights in the NFL than the ones that shine in Dallas. With those lights come huge expectations and pressure, and it's clear this young man is made of the right stuff to handle it.
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