It’s not all in the numbers

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It’s all in the numbers, right? The answer is no. Numbers and statistics surround every aspect of life: school, the economy, the government, the list goes on. Although some are bigger, smaller, more significant or less prevalent, numbers can raise questions and suggest stories. When used and assessed properly, numbers and statistics can be the tools to answering the questions in these hidden stories.

For example, take a look at the Dallas Cowboys’ winning record over the past four seasons. In 2009, the Cowboys boasted a winning season of 11 wins to 5 losses, but since have lowered their wins to become a 500 team of 8 wins to 8 losses. So, are the Cowboys becoming a worse team? Although the team’s dwindling winning record does indicate something, it does not paint the entire picture. By comparing and evaluating total first downs, total offensive yards gained, total number of sacks, and the number of field goals and touchdowns made by and against the Cowboys from 2009 to 2012, one can more thoroughly assess the performance of the Dallas Cowboys.

When comparing first downs, offensive yards, sacks, field goals and touchdowns made by and against the Dallas Cowboys from 2009 to 2012, no matter the scoring record, the team performed at the same level as its opponents. More specifically, when the total number of each category is added, around half can be attributed to the Cowboys. For example, the Boys made 335 first downs in 2009, while their opponents made 286 against them, meaning Dallas was responsible for 53.9 percent of first downs that season. Although the percentage of first downs made by the Cowboys fluctuated only slightly around 50 percent each season, the number of wins to losses fell.

Long time Cowboys fan George Dutter believes that “statistically, our offense has been relatively stable and good, but the Boys major fault is allowing turnovers at critical times, which costs them games. Also, the Cowboys have done a pretty fair job of moving the ball offensively, but they just can’t seem to score touchdowns.”

Scoring touchdowns is one of the keys to winning ball games. In 2011, the Cowboys won two more games than they did in 2010, but the percentage of touchdowns they scored fell by 15.2 percent. In this case, simply looking at a winning record does not tell a complete story; other factors must be taken into consideration.

When looking at the total number of offensive yards made by the Cowboys as a percentage of the whole, like the other categories, the percentages are held tightly around 50 percent, no matter the outcome of the season as a whole. For example, the Cowboys won five fewer games in 2010 than they did in 2009, so by no surprise, the amount of offensive yards attained decreased by 8.8 percent. The next season, in 2011, the Cowboys upped their wins by two games, and offensive yards increased by 3.1 percent.

Another important scoring method factored into a team’s success is the ability to make field goals. In both 2011 and 2012, the Cowboys finished their season with an eight and eight record, but field goal accuracy increased significantly. In 2011, the team ended its season with an 86.5 percent field goal accuracy rate, but in 2012 increased its accuracy a large margin of 7 percent. On the defensive side, the total number of sacks made by the Cowboys’ defense positively correlates with the number of wins and losses. From 2009 to 2010, sacks fell by 16.7 percent, and the Cowboys won five fewer games. For each consecutive season, this positive relationship holds true.

What causes these discrepancies? By solely looking at the winning record, one might conclude that the Cowboys are becoming a worse team, but looking at these different categories specifically tells a different story. According to Andrew Mintz, analytics expert for Bloomberg Sports, “scoring touchdowns is important to win games, but there are so many other factors, like passing yards and rushing yards, that go into a team’s success. Just because a team wins or loses, it doesn’t mean they are doing well or poorly in all categories.” He also added “sports stats can be a complicated thing. Peoples’ entire jobs are based around sports analytics.”

Football isn’t just a sport; it’s a lifestyle for some people. Wife and
mother to four avid Cowboys fans and longtime Dallas resident Lynn Collins
noted, “
over the years, every
Sunday we sit together in the living room to watch the Cowboys play. When the Cowboys are doing well and winning,
the boys and my husband are happy, but when they are doing poorly, they are
yelling at the TV.” As with any sports
team, its successes and failures greatly impact the fans, but with the Cowboys,
it affects an entire city. “
I think it’s funny that the
emotion of the entire city of Dallas on Monday morning rides on whether the
Cowboys won or lost,”
Dutter said.

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