One-armed Knife Sharpener
- Apr 7, 2013
By Bob Sturm 2h ago
There are many things about this NFL training camp that matter with regards to us crowning another league champion in five months’ time. There are also plenty of things that probably don’t matter, but are being discussed because they affect things like fantasy football or Madden ratings next season.
I would argue this topic is way more the latter than the former.
Football is a sweet symphony of many parts making beautiful music together. We never have much success trying to isolate the specific effect of one player without the other 10 guys trying to help him. How many countless quarterback debates have been waged with people trying to assume that if this guy had the same team as that guy, he would prove to be better? Why can’t my team get my guy the parts he needs, and what would our guy do if he had all the fun parts Patrick Mahomes has to play with?
I would argue that having special individual parts is significant, but to what end? If my team is accumulating over 400 yards a game, does it matter how many players are being used to get to that magic number of 6,400 yards over a season (16 games times 400 yards)? What if we four receivers each had 700 yards — is that markedly different than two receivers with 1,400 yards?
Running backs are their own case study. Are you a run-share team with no player getting more than 200 carries in a year? Or do you use your bell-cow back like we do in Dallas and try to run Zeke near 320 times (20 carries a game all year long)?
Does it matter?
Well, it’s all a matter of degrees. I would argue this is the biggest difference between the major college game and the NFL. At LSU or Alabama, you can assume they have six RBs who might be better than most on their opponents’ roster, and they can use them all or just run a complete conveyor belt of talent on a year-by-year basis. They can do this at all positions — this wealth of talent is what keeps the rich staying rich. No salary cap, no real roster restrictions of relevance. No injuries matter too much, as they just take the wrapper off a new player if an injury occurs, and odds are that guy is also a four-star stud who everyone wanted and he is just waiting his turn, too. They just hog the talent and stay awesome. You look longingly at their recruitment list and complain quietly.
The NFL is not designed this way. All roster numbers are capped, and salary expenditures are, too. You can accumulate the best talent possible, but the rules make sure that everyone gets a chance at nice players. Injuries hurt much more because you likely do not have “special” in reserve. Very seldom does a team not play its most talented options because they want to redshirt so he can get stronger and more mature. If you are on an NFL roster and you can play, they are not waiting very often.
The team with the high-end players can usually boss the league if they are healthy and as good as their contracts suggest. And this year, it is highly suggested the Cowboys have weapons everywhere.
So let’s have the very conversation that Michael Irvin and CeeDee Lamb had last week on TV.
“Can the 2020 Cowboys have three 1,000-yard receivers?” was the question, and to the shock of nobody, they both feel like it can be done right away. I won’t stress how uncommon that is for a rookie receiver, even if he is on a horrible offense and gets all the targets. But for a rookie to join a top offense and instantly become a main cog — well, that would be some Randy Moss stuff right there. Lamb is going to be great, but Moss was singular, so that is a very high bar.
I would also have a couple followups to that question:
“Can the 2020 Cowboys have three 1,000 yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher?” and “Does it really matter and correlate with the win-loss record?”
First things first. Below is the six-decade history of the Cowboys in this regard. Please note that in 1961, the NFL went to 14 games, and in 1978, they moved to 16 games as we have today. 1,000-yard seasons have been badly watered down from 83 yards per game to 71 and now down to 62.5. When we move to 17 games next year, it will drop to just 58 yards per game to get to 1,000 for a season, so at some point here we should recognize the bar dropping for a number of reasons statistically. If you simply went on yards per game, our standard in 1960 for 1,000 yards would equate to about 1,416 over 17 games, so we should make sure we are looking at apples and other apples, not zucchini or rutabagas.
Also, the rules have changed plenty to encourage more offense because it is smart to put some entertainment into your entertainment business. And, finally, coaches have understood the most important truth of all time: A bad pass is seven yards. A good run is five yards. Shouldn’t we pass more at all times?
Ok, now, I want you to study the following graphic which is the Cowboys’ track record by year as it pertains to 1,000-yard receivers and a rusher. They have never gone four-for-four, but they have put three together on three different occasions.
Cowboys 1,000 Yard Seasons - By Year
|RB NO. 1||WR NO. 1||WR NO. 2||WR NO. 3|
|2019||Ezekiel Elliott||Amari Cooper||Michael Gallup|
|2014||DeMarco Murray||Dez Bryant|
|2013||DeMarco Murray||Dez Bryant|
|2012||Jason Witten||Dez Bryant|
|2010||Jason Witten||Miles Austin|
|2009||Jason Witten||Miles Austin|
|2007||Jason Witten||Terrell Owens|
|2006||Julius Jones||Terry Glenn||Terrell Owens|
|1999||Emmitt Smith||Rocket Ismail|
|1998||Emmitt Smith||Michael Irvin|
|1997||Emmitt Smith||Michael Irvin|
|1995||Emmitt Smith||Michael Irvin|
|1994||Emmitt Smith||Michael Irvin|
|1993||Emmitt Smith||Michael Irvin|
|1992||Emmitt Smith||Michael Irvin|
|1991||Emmitt Smith||Michael Irvin|
|1985||Tony Dorsett||Tony Hill|
|1980||Tony Dorsett||Tony Hill|
|1979||Tony Dorsett||Drew Pearson||Tony Hill|
Last year’s team missed the playoffs altogether (8-8), the 2006 team was a wildcard team that lost in Seattle (sorry, Tony) and the 1979 team went 11-5 but was also quickly dismissed by Los Angeles in a game best-known for being Roger Staubach’s last, with left guard Herb Scott catching his final pass illegally.
Not exactly an overwhelming correlation to success: The three teams that had three 1,000-yard seasons were all between mediocre and decent, and none won a single playoff game. I am not suggesting it is bad to have great performers, but I also don’t know if anyone should care beyond the fantasy football owners.
That said, I think the four obvious candidates to pull it off in 2020 — Lamb, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott and Michael Gallup — are all capable, and the three returning players did it last year. Sure, the team did not have a great year in the win column, but tracing that back to good players at offensive skill positions would be a massive stretch that I will leave for those in the media who focus on their stretching.
Can they do it? Sure. But what is the overall point? Last year, they nearly got to all of the absurd team-yardage stats. It was statistically crazy. But while that team pretty much matched Kansas City in yardage, it certainly did not in wins or trophies.
We can safely report for anyone unclear on football: Total yardage has very little to do with total wins. Efficient offense is closer, but total team excellence is what really gets you there. We know this, but sometimes it is good to prove it.
Now, it is interesting to see that there are a few teams in NFL history with three 1,000 yard receivers. Did any of them also have a 1,000-yard rusher?
I am happy you asked. Let’s look:
Teams With Three 1,000 Yard Receivers
|YEAR||TEAM||RECORD||RB NO. 1||WR NO. 1||WR NO. 2||WR NO. 3|
||11-5, lost AFCC||Winslow||Joiner||Jefferson|
|1995||Atlanta||9-7, lost WC||Heyward||Metcalf||Mathis||Emanuel|
|2004||Indianapolis||12-4, lost DIV||James||Harrison||Wayne||Stokley|
|2008||Arizona||9-7, lost SB||Fitzgerald||Boldin||Breaston|
These are the five teams who have had three 1,000 yard receivers. Two also had rushers hit 1,000!
I am guessing nobody mentioned the famous Falcons team of 1995, who had June Jones and Jeff George with a version of the spread offense that absolutely put productivity to the test. They finished 9-7. Then there was the actually famous 2004 Colts, who ran into the Belichick wall in Foxboro. Make no mistake, though: They were pretty awesome.
The 1980 Chargers were amazing with Air Coryell and Chuck Muncie at RB and an amazing number of targets. They probably should have won the Super Bowl that year.
The 1989 Washington team missed the playoffs altogether (thanks to the 1989 Cowboys and Steve Walsh), Craig Heyward was a force running the ball for that 1995 team in Atlanta and Edgerrin James was the lead RB for both the 2004 Colts and the 2008 Cardinals despite missing a lot of time in Arizona during the season and finished with 514 yards.
Look, 1,000 yards is an arbitrary number, and some teams just missed it by 10 yards or made it by 10 (see: Steve Breaston’s 1,006 receiving yards for Arizona ’08). I don’t think this means much of anything.
But assembling talent does. It creates matchup issues all over the field and can drive a defense crazy because you simply let them declare their own demise with however they decide to play you. You should have answers everywhere.
Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott have never had this much, although Randall Cobb did post 828 yards last year as the fourth potential 1,000-yard weapon, so it was hardly out of range even before CeeDee Lamb arrived.
Can they do it? Absolutely!
Does it matter? Only for you fantasy owners. I wish your teams good health and good luck, but that will be my only fantasy advice all year. It has no bearing on the real thing, other than the obvious. Good teams have really good players, and the 2020 Cowboys have no shortage at those important spots.