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.