Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

21 Aug 2008

Five Downs With The Dallas Morning News

I'm pleased to announce that we'll be doing a new feature this year with Tim MacMahon on the Dallas Morning News's Cowboys blog, answering five questions related to the Cowboys in a weekly feature we're calling "Five Downs". (Yes, I know.)

This week, we're looking at Roy Williams, Pac-Man, and who the most underrated Cowboy is.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 21 Aug 2008

23 comments, Last at 23 Aug 2008, 6:31am by Jamie


by bravehoptoad (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 1:26pm

You know, I think this question-answer format is an easier way to read team trends than the way FO usually presents these, in bullet points.

It was a fun article to read, and as always it's eye-popping the kind of authority FO writers can speak with.

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 1:32pm

Nice article, and I see the comments were also very positive.

Why exactly does Roy Williams have a job still? Is his run support that amazing? Or is he just completely coasting on rep?

by Cosmos (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 2:05pm

Most Safeties don't get kicked around as hard for 100 tackle season that included 5 picks and several sacks but Cowboys have seen him give up some easy touchdowns in man coverage and he doesn't look to hit (kill shot) like he use to, partly because of his "renewed" faith. He's downfall is as over rated as people say he is.

by nat (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 2:26pm

I love the format. And I love that Bill got it right with Williams.

In particular, he considered both the number of times Williams was targeted, and his (lack of) success when targeted. So we know that QBs sought him out and took him to pieces.

I wish he had done the same thing with the artist formerly know as pacman. But, alas, no comment on how often Jones was targeted. So I'm left wondering. Did Jones benefit from being the lesser of evils in a great defense, or did he cover well? If he were truly shutting down WRs, it would show up most in a low targeted rate, not in his per-pass rate stats.

by Temo (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 2:39pm

The comments are unusually positive, especially for Dallas fans, who are usually the type to say "Football is played on the field, not in your mom's basement with a spreadsheet! LOL! Cowboys '08!!!" And I say that with love for my fellow cowboy fans, albeit the redneck ones =/

I especially liked this one: "I rarely watch football, but I read FO somewhat regularly. Great addition to the blog here!" Who saw THAT one coming?

About Roy Williams: The reason he's still playing is because his coverage skills are not a result of his lack of talent. Most people around the cowboys agree that he's got talent out the ass, but that his technique (see: Tackling, Horsecollar) sucks. Darren Woodson himself said recently that it's somewhat Mike Zimmer's (former Cowboys D-Coordinator) fault and somewhat his own (Woodson, that is).
When Roy Williams came into the league, he was never really taught how to play disciplined defense, basically he just lined up and looked for the ball. Hence, he ended up with a lot of picks and big tackles/forced fumbles. But Woodson always handled the assingments, and Williams never had to worry about footwork, lining up, etc. It worked well for the time, but it really retarded William's development. And the last two years are the culmination of that . So he still keeps playing, and the word is that he's been much more receptive to coaching, though it may be too late for him.

by Temo (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 2:48pm

Also, I think you were mistaken about Cowboy injuries. What you meant to say is:

The Cowboys have benefited from an unusual amount of health which enabled them to post a great record. They should not expect such unusual performance in that area in the future. So we look for them to decline.

However you cannot say what you said: the Cowboys' offense are overdue for a year full of injuries

If injuries are random as FO has claimed, then the Cowboys cannot be "overdue" for an extraordinary amount of injuries, more than a guy who rolls a "12" with 2 dice 100 times in a row should expect to roll a bunch of "2"s. He can only be said to "expect" rolling 7's (the most probable outcome).

by Tom D (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 3:01pm

Re 6:

You're assuming injuries (or lack there of) are discrete events with no baring on each other. I'm not sure that's a correct assumption.

by Temo (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 3:04pm

7. The alternative is to say that having good health one year actually has an effect on the health of a team the next year. Or that having an injury to player effects another player. Neither of those things seems plausible.

Unless you're saying something else altogether.

by Bill Barnwell :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 3:07pm

I think I didn't state my point clearly about their injuries. They're not "due" for a tragic injury season like the Rams 2007 because that's obviously never the case; they're just due for a yearful of injuries as opposed to 2007, when they didn't have a serious injury after Week 1.

I don't think Roy Williams going to church has anything to do with Roy Williams struggling in coverage. Plenty of defensive backs go to church. They can still stick on a man.

by foos (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 3:09pm

We can certainly use more information on the Cowboys.

by Rusty G (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 3:48pm

@ #6 - I wrote Bill saying the same thing. I think the "year full of injuries" was probably just a misstated way of saying a "year of normal injuries", which relative to the past would seem like a lot, especially to us Cowboys fans!

@ #7: If we're presuming "year full of injuries" means something above the mean, and we assume that Cowboys players are neither more nor less inherently injury prone, then I'd sure like to understand how having fewer than league average injuries in a previous year would lead to a reasonable mean projection of an above league average number of injuries in the next year.

Hell, if I was building, say, an autoregressive model (ARCH, etc.), I would suspect the opposite relationships - injuries tend to be recurring, so the projection would be sub-mean on the basis of fewer injuries to recur.

@ Bill: Again, good segment, and well presented!

by Cosmos (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 4:55pm

#9 "I don’t think Roy Williams going to church has anything to do with Roy Williams struggling in coverage. Plenty of defensive backs go to church. They can still stick on a man."

Bill, I was referring to his own words that he doesn't try to go for the the "de-cleat/knockout hit or aim to hurt people" when he hits (or tackles) like he did when he was younger. Part of that type of play is what built his "hype" to begin with. He stopped playing with the edge that made him a young star. Thats how he ended up with his own "Jacked-Upped" segment on ESPN. By laying people out.

by Quentin (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 5:02pm

Yes, because horse collar tackling is far more gentle.

by Temo (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 5:15pm

Hey, lucky me, I happen to have his exact quote on hand:

(Responding to people questioning why he doesn't hit people as hard as he used to)"People will say Roy is really not making any big hits. Ever since I rededicated my life to God, OK, I haven't been making the big hits, but we got further than we ever did when I was living of the world. When I rededicated my life, you know what I'm saying, God showed me that you don't have to live of the world and I will bless you. He has basically overflown my cup. He has shown me so much.
"Please believe the hits will come as we get more comfortable with my defense, with the 3-4 and coach Phillips' way that he wants us to play. Please believe the hits will come. I mean, I'm going to have to get comfortable in this defense."

That sounds more like someone who is feeling increasingly uncomfortable than someone who is unwilling to hit people because of his religion.

by bartleby (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 7:03pm

How about something like this for every team?

by Broker (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 8:51pm

15: There's a book I could recommend....

Good article! Congrats on the connection.

by hyroshamy (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 10:33pm

I could not disagree more with the comment about Tony Romo's "risky, daredevil" style in this article, and its potential to lead to injuries. According to the FO book, Romo was 4th to last in the league in knockdown percentage last year(only 3 quarterbacks in the league were hit or sacked fewer times per pass attempt than Romo). Also, his agility in the pocket leads to more of the less-punishing, drag down kind of hits than kill shots when he does get tackled, in my opinion, although no objective measure exists to back me up. He only ran the ball 22 times last season, two fewer times than "pocket passer" Tom Brady, and 54 fewer times than Vince Young. If a player rarely gets hit, and rarely takes big hits, than how is his playing style dangerous? Isn't this point the kind of thoughtless, based-on-reputation statement FO was created to dispute?

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 10:44pm

If injuries are random as FO has claimed, then the Cowboys cannot be “overdue” for an extraordinary amount of injuries, more than a guy who rolls a “12″ with 2 dice 100 times in a row should expect to roll a bunch of “2″s. He can only be said to “expect” rolling 7’s (the most probable outcome).

As Bill pointed out, saying that someone is "overdue" isn't necessarily a Gambler's Fallacy.

In your terms, the guy who rolls 12s 100 times in a row isn't due to roll a bunch of 2s. He's due to roll a 7... which is still way lower than his average up to that point.

by Temo (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 10:58pm

Which is why, Pat, I phrased my question as "what you meant to say", rather than "no, your reasoning is wrong". The way he had stated the idea was misleading as to his real point, and deserved clarification.

And even as you and Bill stated it, "due" is not technically the correct term. In statistics, we are very careful to not use this term in cases where it is not merited.

The word "due" implies that the event in question is likely to happen based on past events. I.E. when I say "I am due a promotion at work this year" I am saying that based on my past work, I can expect a promotion. The Cowboys are not any more likely to have injuries than any other team this year (unless you want to say they are old or whatever), so they can never be ascribed the word "due".

The idea behind the whole "unusual health" is that a team that achieves a certain performance standard based on a certain amount of health will regress if that amount of health regresses to the mean. Therefore, a team that has gotten unlucky with injury has underperformed where they would with a standard health record, and vice versa. But you cannot say that a team is "due" for any degree of injured-ness unless you're talking about their age or some other factor that will affect their health.

by Temo (not verified) :: Thu, 08/21/2008 - 11:00pm

Sorry, post got truncated:

Technically, then, you cannot say that a guy who rolls a bunch of 12's is "due" to roll a 7. He's expected to roll a 7, which the guy who has rolled a bunch of 7's is also expected to do. Neither one is due for a 7.

by thestar5 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/22/2008 - 3:32am

9, Very good article Bill. One quibble though. Weren't the injuries to TO and Romo serious? Those two injuries probably cost the Cowboys a win over the Giants in the playoffs. I guess if you mean in terms of games missed then they weren't. However they were certainly very critical to the outcome of the season.

by Temo (not verified) :: Fri, 08/22/2008 - 9:00am

By the way cosmos, Hard Knocks the other night had an entire little segment with Roy Williams talking about how much he loves to "de-cleat" people. Trust me, his struggles on the field have nothing to do with ethical issues related to his religion.

by Jamie (not verified) :: Sat, 08/23/2008 - 6:31am


Roy had zero sacks last season, I'm unfamiliar with your use of several.