Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

18 Oct 2007

FO Mailbag: Barber vs. Jones

Jason Stubbs: I am a Cowboys fan... and the biggest mystery is who is a better running back, Jones or Barber. All the fans believe it is Barber, but others say Barber has better numbers because he gets the late-game carries when the defense is tired. How can us Cowboys fans get a real proof that Barber is better on any down at any point of the game?

Aaron Schatz: The idea that Barber gets a benefit from playing more later in the game was somewhat true last year, but it isn't true this year. This year, Barber is better than Jones in every situation. In addition, this year, their usage is much more similar. Last year, 56 percent of Jones carries came in the first half, but only 32 percent of Barber carries. This year, 52 percent of Jones carries come in the first half, and 41 percent of Barber carries.

Last year, Jones was slightly better in the first half, and Barber much better in the second half, and when you combined that with Barber usually taking the second-half runs, it did contribute to the difference in yardage per carry. In Success Rate, however, Barber was always better.

Let's take a look, shall we? First, here is 2006 performance by quarter, with yards per carry and Success Rate:

Qtr Jones Barber Jones Barber
1 4.3 4.1 38% 56%
2 3.8 3.7 47% 53%
3 4.5 4.9 55% 55%
4 3.2 5.7 40% 60%

Barber had fewer yards per carry in the first half -- despite a higher Success Rate -- because he came in for short-yardage situations. That's not as much the case this year, as you will see in a moment. First, here are the equivalent 2007 numbers by quarter:

Qtr Jones Barber Jones Barber
1 2.7 4.0 26% 42%
2 2.9 3.7 31% 43%
3 6.3 6.3 40% 50%
4 4.8 8.4 39% 65%

Another way Barber is better is by down. These numbers combine 2006 and 2007 because Jones only had three carries on third down in 2006.

Qtr Jones Barber Jones Barber
1 3.7 5.7 41% 55%
2 4.9 4.7 46% 58%
3/4 2.5 4.9 50% 50%

Barber is better. Period.

Posted by: admin on 18 Oct 2007

52 comments, Last at 20 Oct 2007, 12:12am by Brian

Comments

1
by B (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 3:19pm

If anybody doubts that Barber is better, just show them the replay where he broke like 10 tackles to avoid taking a safety.

2
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 3:28pm

It still astounds me that Barber lasted until the fourth round. Didn't Shanahan waste a third rounder on Clarett that year? Even though Barber was obviously well prepared to run behind a zone blocking scheme? Sheesh.

3
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 3:30pm

If anybody doubts that Barber is better, just show them the replay where he broke like 10 tackles to avoid taking a safety.
Especially the part where Flozelle Adams tackled Rodney Harrison to help Barber escape after Barber's momentum was stopped in the endzone, before he cut to the right.

Didn't affect the game very much, but Dallas got away with one there.

4
by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 3:38pm

Are there some major outliers, or are the Cowboys just unstoppable on the ground in the third quarter?

5
by Costa (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 3:45pm

At this point, the best thing I can figure in this debate is there must be something really good Jones does in practices when none of the fans or media are watching... SOMETHING... that makes the Dallas coaches see flashes of potential in him and keep giving him chances, because there is nothing in the stats or in just plain watching with the naked eye, to explain why Jones continues to get the share of rushes he's getting over Barber. People oftentimes talk about pass blocking as a possible explanation in situations like this, but from what I've observed, I have seen nothing to suggest that Jones is a particularly good pass-blocker or that Barber is a particularly bad one.

I just don't get it. What could it be that causes the Dallas coaching staff to continue to stick with the Jones after all this time of being so consistently mediocre while Barber has been so consistently excellent.

6
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 4:02pm

"I just don’t get it. What could it be that causes the Dallas coaching staff to continue to stick with the Jones after all this time of being so consistently mediocre while Barber has been so consistently excellent."

IIRC, Parcells said that he didn't think Barber would be able to carry the load of 25+ carries a game.

That still doesn't explain why Jones gets the majority.

7
by B (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 4:14pm

5: To be fair we are talking about Wade "Johnson over Flutie" Phillips making the decision now.

8
by b-man (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 4:23pm

3: Yeah, saw that on NFL Replay last night. That was hilarious and I have no idea how the refs could have missed it. Adams tossed Harrison down like a rag doll. It looked like Andre the Giant wrestling Billy Barty.

9
by navin (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 4:29pm

Also that carry by Barber was a terrible decision to run back into the end zone. He was very lucky to escape without getting a safety.

10
by Kneel Before Zod! (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 4:35pm

Judging from a Parcells quote I saw somewhere Parcells at least considered it a a matter of keeping the better third down back fresher. Something along the lines of he had a Megget he would have started Barber.

11
by thestar5 (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 4:54pm

9,
Actually no. The commentators said that the refs were about to mark the ball at the one yard line. So it wouldn't have been a safety.

Also, sort of OT, but I was wondering where you guys would rank Barber compared to the rest of the league? As a Dallas fan, it would be nice to get some unbiased (or maybe biased?) responses. I just had an arguement with some Cowboy fans who thought he was top 5, but I didn't think so and I'm pretty sure you will all agree.

12
by Whiskey (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 5:03pm

I drafted Barber for my fantasy team, so I paid closer attention to what Dallas was doing with him, and what they do is they essentially alternate Barber and Jones by offensive series, which is a bit strange.

Here's a related question : how does the Dallas offense as a whole perform when Barber is in instead of Jones?

13
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 5:03pm

"Actually no. The commentators said that the refs were about to mark the ball at the one yard line. So it wouldn’t have been a safety."

The reason he wasn't marked down at the 1 was he started moving backwards, on his own, with two people holding onto him. The chances of him NOT getting tackled in the End Zone are really low, and the only reason thats the way it turned out is flozell adams tackling rodney harrison.

It was a really dumb decision that didn't hurt them.

14
by Brian (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 5:20pm

#11:

DVOA has him listed at #4. I haven't watched a lot of Cowboys games this year, so I don't know first-hand, but that seems to back what the person you were arguing with said.

15
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 5:24pm

It's hard to rank with precision, but Barber is pretty close to a top five back. I guess I'd put, in no particular order, Addai, Tomlinson, Peterson, Brown, and maybe Westbrook in front of Barber, but not many more.

16
by MJK (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 5:29pm

A good way to see if there is SOMETHING that we're not seeing that makes Jones get more carries than Barber is to compare Dallas' DVOA on snaps when Jones is in the game to ones when Barber is in the game.

On thought--Jones does seem to be a little faster than Barber. Maybe when Johnes is in the game, the LB's change their style of play accordingly, which might make open some things up in the passing game? Or something like that? I don't actually know...just brainstorming possiblities.

Or maybe it's something silly like Barber has some incentives in his contract that the coaches are trying to avoid meeting...

17
by Dwayne (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 5:43pm

What I have heard before is that Jones is better on the blocking schemes. Almost every team is using a two back system nowadays, so it really doesn't matter who is called the starter, they are each going to get their touches.

18
by ScottB (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 5:45pm

#11:

I'm a biased Cowboys fan, but I think Barber is in the top 5. He definitely is when he on the field but the top backs in the league get twice the carries.

That said, I don't believe he can handle the full load at RB with his style. He would be worn out by playoff time and a have a much shorter career.

19
by b-man (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 6:11pm

Was there an article like this on Portis vs. Betts last year? The staff must see something that not everyone else does be it blocking, work ethic, durability, etc..

20
by MMM (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 6:17pm

7. Seriously? Rob Johnson didn't play special teams. It's not like he's the one that lost that game.

21
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 6:21pm

"A good way to see if there is SOMETHING that we’re not seeing that makes Jones get more carries than Barber is to compare Dallas’ DVOA on snaps when Jones is in the game to ones when Barber is in the game."

Thats a wonderful suggestion, but DVOA is calculated from the play-by-play, and the only time you see either one in the play-by-play is when they get the ball.

22
by TomC (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 6:26pm

Dr. Z also addresses this in Inside The NFL this week (click my name).

3: Yeah, saw that on NFL Replay last night. That was hilarious and I have no idea how the refs could have missed it. Adams tossed Harrison down like a rag doll. It looked like Andre the Giant wrestling Billy Barty.

Wow, hitting the dead-giant/dead-dwarf pop culture Daily Double. Nice job, b-man.

23
by MC2 (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 6:32pm

I'm not sure what's happened to Jones. He looked like he was going to be a great back his rookie year, but he seems to have regressed since then. I remember watching him on Thanksgiving of his rookie year, and he seemed so much more explosive back then than he does now.

24
by Bobman (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 6:52pm

Billy Barty is dead??? Damn, there goes the Colts hopes for a backup safety. Much as I hate agreeing with Pats fans, I find it happening more and more these days. For a couple more weeks anyway.

It is hard to believe the refs missed that blatant "block" in the end zone. Do that on a pass play and it's an automatic safety.

25
by Gus (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 7:48pm

I think even if getting the lion's share of carries took a little bit out of Barber's game that he'd still be a top ten runner. Jones has never looked like anything but a good back-up to me.

26
by Temo (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 7:52pm

#3- That wasn't the point. He still broke by my count 6 or 7 tackles (and 3 of them looked like solid wrap-up tackles, not arm tackles) on that play.

As for the JJ/Barber thing, as a Dallas fan who watches and reads about the Cowboys closely on a daily basis, I can only give you what the coaching staff seems to think (obviously, doesn't mean they're right)

1. They're worried about Barber's duribility. He loves contact, and loves to run right into people. This makes me an excellent 2nd half back when he's rested and the defense has already played a half of football. So obviously they're figuring they can keep him fresh, uninjured, and ready by playing another back (who's not half bad by his own self) for some series.
2. Tony Sparano (the architect of last year's offense, the play caller last year, and this year's offensive line coach) hated Barber's blocking last season, though it seems evident that he's become better at it this year.
3. They still think JJ is the better open-field runner and are still trying to get him involved in the kind of plays that will enable him to utilize these abilities. He's run some very nice screens so far this year, but the cowboys haven't called them often.

27
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 8:59pm

That wasn’t the point. He still broke by my count 6 or 7 tackles (and 3 of them looked like solid wrap-up tackles, not arm tackles) on that play.
Right, but the hold allowed him to start running to the right (away from angle all the tacklers had been taking).

Without Adams's body-slam hold, Harrison probably still has Barber stopped when Junior Seau arrives. Maybe Barber can break away from two tacklers at once while he's standing still, but the uncalled hold meant he never had to try.

28
by Michael David Smith :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 9:05pm

Re 20: "Rob Johnson didn’t play special teams. It’s not like he’s the one that lost that game."

If Flutie had been the quarterback, the Bills never would have been in a position where a special teams breakdown could lose the game for them.

29
by thestar5 (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 10:01pm

Hmm. Well, I thought you guys would think he was lower. I'm trying to keep my bias out of this so it's hard to say. I thought maybe

LT
Westbrook
Brown
Portis
Gore
Jackson-when not hurt
Peterson
Jones-Drew
Parker? don't see him much
Rudi Johnson? same as Parker
Addai? not sure how much Payton helps him, course I guess Barber's the same way to a lesser extent
LJ? I mean, unless he stays this way. How long does the Curse of 370 last?

Those guys might all be ahead. It seems like Barber may be fringe top 10 but I'm not sure. Does that seem right?

30
by Peter Libero (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 11:20pm

Well, personally I'd say something like:

Tomlinson
Westbrook
Peterson
Brown
Gore
Jackson
Barber
Addai

Where any of the last 4 are kind of up for grabs. I have a very high opinion of Barber, but I might also be biased because I loved him at Minnesota.

31
by Temo (not verified) :: Thu, 10/18/2007 - 11:42pm

Star, I understand what you're saying- he never should have been able to do what he did in the first place. But that doesn't change the fact that after the "tackle" of Harrison, he was able to pretty much run through 6 or 7 different tackles, which displays his running ability. And that was the point of the original comment.

32
by Raiderjoe (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 12:31am

L Jordan would outpefrform Baber is jordan was in Dallas. Jordan is just better oplayer plain and simple.

33
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 12:40am

So I guess that means that Dallas has a better team than Oakland does on offense, doesn't it, raiderjoe?

34
by Raiderjoe (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 1:16am

Dallas better offense than Raiders offense for now. In 2008 Jamarcus Russell takes over and Raiders offense becomes one of best in league.

35
by Josh (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 1:20am

As an owner of Julius Jones in my fantasy league, I hate this article.

36
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 1:33am

Was Barber used the same way in Minnesota? I just remember him and Maroney getting tons of carries in the Music City Bowl it seemed like.

37
by Raiderjoe (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 1:54am

to lionsbob

yes they both played same way at Minnesota. both were Rbs.

38
by A for Anonymous (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 2:00am

No stats, just throwing this out there, but I've counted three 20+ Jones runs taken back by penalties, and I don't remember them actually affecting potential tacklers. When Barber has a good run, penalties seemed to be ignored, like Flozell Tackling Rodney, but this should eventually become negligible.

39
by kachunk (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 2:53am

re 27 I don't think it was a hold. Adams' hands were "inside the frame." He did use that to bodyslam Harrison, but it seemed to be to be legal. He didn't wrap him up, simply grabbed two handfuls of jersey in the chest area.

40
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 3:14am

eh, I meant the sharing carries-I was wondering if Barber III had ever carried the entire load or split carries a lot in college as well.

41
by Staubach12 (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 4:56am

here's the full quote from Parcells about Barber:

"He's so versatile that he's a perfect guy to finish a game for you. Actually his versatility hurts his status as a featured back. I'll tell you, though. If I'd have had a third down back at Dallas, a Dave Meggett type, I'd have made Barber my featured back."

42
by andrew (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 8:07am

should the heading for the first column of the last table be "down"?

43
by azibuck (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 9:54am

#28, so MDS, you're saying the Bills would have had a big lead? I thought that too, since Rob Johnson was a horrible QB who couldn't outplay a mediocre QB like Flutie on his best day.

44
by Eli Manning: Mike Periera\'s Lover (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 9:59am

#39: Thats the very definition of a hold. Its just harder to catch when its inside the chest area. A lot of kids are taught to 'block' that way. I remember 7th grade football, my coaches were up front with us - they said, 'grab them here, inside their shoulder pads; its holding, but the refs won't see it'.

45
by Peter Libero (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 10:59am

Lionsbob: Yes, his freshman year, before he got injured and redshirted, and then Maroney arrived. Once both of them were together, it became impossible to keep either one off the field, so they shared carries. Barber then fled to the NFL to avoid being overtaken by Maroney, and then Maroney killed it his junior year while sharing carries with Gary Russell. 2006 would have been Russell's year to take over, but he got kicked off the team and declared for the draft in the spring, and didn't get picked.

46
by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 11:01am

Re: 29

I'm pretty much with you. Barber is probably a Top 10, but Top 5 is kinda pushing it. Giving Barber even the largest benefit of doubt, I'd still put him behind (in no particular order) LdT, Westbrook, Addai, Gore, & Ronnie Brown. But I'd say he's definitely in the same group as Rudi Johnson, Jackson, Edge, MJD, Parker, Portis, Alexander.

47
by DougFlutie\'sbigbrother (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 3:28pm

re:5 with nods to 7 and 20. The answer is Wade Phillips.

48
by DougFlutie\\\'sbigbrother (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 3:34pm

anyone that thinks my little brother was anything other than a great QB doesnt understand football. He's a winner and that's something you cant teach.

49
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 5:39pm

With all due respect to Wade Phillips bashing, and I just love picking on that guy, Jones and Barber have been splitting the carries much more evenly this year than they had under Parcells.

50
by Staubach12 (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 8:13pm

I'm pretty sure the Cowboy's struggles in the first quarter have something to do with the fact that JJ gets the first two series of every game.

I have seen on cowboys message boards people chart drives with Jones vs. drives with Barber in the game. The Cowboys are significantly more successful whenever Barber is in the game.

Re: #21--Since Jones and Barber always stay in for an entire series, it would be pretty easy to figure out who is in the game from the play-by-play. Just assume that the same back is in for the entire series.

51
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 10/19/2007 - 8:42pm

#34: Ah, it's been hilarious to see the regression from Raiderjoe's "Raiders will be one of the surprise teams in 2007" to "Raiders will be one of the surprise teams in 2008."

I'm waiting for the 2009 version.

52
by Brian (not verified) :: Sat, 10/20/2007 - 12:12am

#12: That's the right question to ask.