Prison Break?

by

In the lead story of this week’s edition of Monday Morning Quarterback, The King reports that the Cowboys’ recent struggles are the result of inner turmoil and a lack of leadership or accountability within the organization. In His words, “We’ve got an asylum here, and the inmates are running it”. His Majesty’s assessment of the situation in Dallas may very well be true—his sources are better than mine—but I take issue with a misleading statistic that he uses to illustrate the quality of the Cowboys’ three most recent opponents and therefore the direness of the Cowboys’ current state.

In the last three games, Dallas is 1-2 — and that’s against teams with a combined record of 8-10.

Dallas’s lone win in the past three weeks came against the winless Bengals. The Cowboys were obviously expected to win that game, and while they did allow Cincinnati to forge a comeback in the fourth quarter, they ended up winning by multiple scores. If you remove the Bengals’ record (0-6) from The King’s statistic, you will note that the Cowboys’ two losses in that span were against teams with a combined record of 8-4. Both of the 4-2 teams that beat the Cowboys this year, the Redskins and the Cardinals, are likely to make the playoffs. The Cardinals are currently leading the NFC West by two games and the Redskins, who made the playoffs last year, are in great position in the NFC East (despite their loss this week to the Rams) after finishing up their inter-division road games with a record of 2-1. Both losses were close, and this most recent one was an overtime defeat on the road. In summation, the Cowboys have lost two close matches to likely playoff teams in the past three weeks. Disappointing, to be sure. But the sky is hardly falling down in Dallas. It took two fluky plays, a kick return for a touchdown to start the game and a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown to end it in overtime, for Arizona, a team that had scored 44 points against previously undefeated Buffalo the week prior and had the home-field advantage in this match-up, to beat the supposedly self-combusting Cowboys.

From misleading to useless and counterproductive—take a minute to analyze the next two statistics that King uses to back up his “Storm Clouds in Dallas” storyline:

Score: Dallas 79, Foes 78.

First downs: Dallas 54, Foes 54.

If a team loses two games in a three game span, an intelligent observer would expect said team to be outscored and to have fewer first downs than its opponents. That goes without saying. The fact that these two comparative statistics are even suggests that the Cowboys played their opponents evenly over that span. In other words, from these statistics alone, one would probably conclude that the results of those games could have gone either way.

The King may be right to criticize the way that this team is being handled internally—again, he is the lead NFL writer for Sports Illustrated with all of the inside sources, not me—but his flawed use of statistical analysis in this article severely detracts from the argument that he is attempting to make about the Cowboys’ lack of discipline.

Update:

The King, as of 1:24 P.M. has edited his original MMQB posting and added several paragraphs to his lead story after the news broke from Dallas that Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has a broken pinkie and is expected to miss the next three games. His Majesty now has a stronger case for Dallas’s playoff hopes being in jeopardy, but his misleading and unhelpful stats STILL strongly detract from, rather than strengthen, his overall argument.

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