Tuesday, January 1, 2008

No TO Means No TDs for Dallas

The Dallas Cowboys averaged 28.4 ppg this season, second in the NFL to the record-setting, 16-0 New England Patriots (36.8 ppg), but could not even produce a single touchdown on Sunday versus the Washington Redskins, losing 27-6; in fact, the Cowboys have not scored a touchdown in the six quarters since Terrell Owens suffered a high ankle sprain. Despite all the talk about quarterback Tony Romo and tight end Jason Witten, it should be obvious now that Owens provides the juice that makes Dallas' offense go. Pro Bowler Witten has virtually disappeared since Owens got hurt and the Cowboys' running game has vanished as well, accounting for just one net yard (!) against Washington. It is true that Dallas had already wrapped up the number one seed in the NFC playoffs prior to the Washington game and thus "had nothing to play for," as the cliche goes, but it is also true that other than Owens and injured center Andre Gurode the Cowboys played their regular offensive starters until midway through the third quarter.

Owens not only was the most dangerous receiver in the NFC this season--ranking first in touchdowns (15), first in receptions of 20+ yards (22), second in yards (1355) and third in receptions of 40+ yards (6) despite missing a game and a half due to the ankle injury--but he attracted so much defensive attention that he opened things up for other players. Some people say that Witten is Romo's favorite or most "dependable" target but Witten is not as productive as Owens nor does he attract so much defensive attention that he opens up opportunities for his teammates to make plays. Witten had more receptions than Owens but he had fewer yards, less than half as many touchdowns and just 58.3% of his receptions accounted for first downs; among players who had at least 20 receptions, Owens led the league in the latter category, with 85.2% of his receptions producing first downs. New England's Randy Moss beat Owens in total receptions (98-81), touchdowns (23-15) and receptions of 40+ yards (9-6), but Owens outdid Moss in yards per reception (16.7 to 15.2), first down percentage (85.2 to 75.5) and receptions of 20+ yards (22 to 18), so one could even make a case that Owens was the best receiver in the NFL this season.

Owens' output is even more remarkable considering that he is 34 years old. Albert Breer of The Dallas Morning News points out that 11 of the 18 "modern-era" wide receivers who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame played until they were at least 34 and none of them were nearly as productive as Owens was this season; only Charlie Joiner even came remotely close, with 70 receptions for 1188 yards and seven touchdowns in 1981 (it must be remembered that some of those Hall of Famers played before the 1978 rules changes that made the NFL more of a pass oriented league). Owens caught more touchdowns than any other 34 year old ever has and his 1355 receiving yards in 14.5 games trails only Marvin Harrison's 1366 yards in 16 games in 2006. Jerry Rice still holds the record for the 34 and over group with 108 receptions in 1996, his last full season before a devastating knee injury that cost him virtually the entire 1997 season. Just to give you an idea of how remarkable the unparalleled Rice was, consider that he recovered and played seven more seasons before retiring at the age of 42, making more receptions (492, enough to tie with Walter Payton for 105th on the career receptions list) after what could have been a career-ending injury than many good receivers had in their entire careers.

Unlike some players who put up individual numbers without having much impact on their team's won-loss record, Owens has been to the playoffs with four different starting quarterbacks and his production has been remarkably consistent with each of them, as the chart at the end of this post shows.

Whether or not the Cowboys make it to the Super Bowl depends significantly on how well Owens' ankle heals before the team's first playoff game.

Terrell Owens' production in his first 21 games with various starting quarterbacks


Steve Young.....75.....1184.....11.....1996-97

Jeff Garcia.....127.....1804.....15.....1999-00

Donovan McNabb.....123.....1959.....20.....2004-05

Tony Romo.....121.....1978.....21.....2006-07

(ESPN "Sunday Countdown" graphic)

No comments: