Commentary

FBO: The Cowboys' December swoon

If it indeed just began, do not blame Tony Romo; blame the run game

Updated: December 8, 2009, 1:00 AM ET
By Bill Barnwell | Football Outsiders
Getty ImagesYou look up "gang-tackled" in Webster's, you see this.

Look at the box score of Sunday's New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys game and you'll see a strange one.

Brandon Jacobs 74 Yd Pass From Eli Manning (Lawrence Tynes Kick)

In the NFL, we give both offensive players involved in a reception the same amount of credit for its yardage. In this case, Jacobs accrues 74 receiving yards and Manning picks up 74 passing yards.

Of course, if you watched the game, you know that's an absurd way to split the value of the pass. Manning threw a nice enough 8-yard out to Jacobs from behind the line of scrimmage. From there, though, a poor angle taken by Cowboys' outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, some good downfield blocking and a couple of broken tackles by Jacobs resulted in a stunning 70 yards after the catch, meaning that just less than 95 percent of the yardage gained on the play was accrued by Jacobs' running, not Manning's pass.

Although this is a particularly egregious example, it seems ridiculous to judge a 54-yard bomb downfield that results in 20 yards of YAC the same way that we do Manning's dump-off to Jacobs. Research still needs to be done as to the level of impact quarterbacks have on yards after the catch, but what if we look strictly at the percentage of their passing yards that comes through the air? Who gets the highest percentage of his passing yards off his own arm?

The answer, coincidentally enough, is Eli Manning himself. Among quarterbacks with 10 completions per game or more (with a threshold of 120 completions on the season), Manning ranks as the league leader in percentage of passing yards through the air, at 60.1 percent. If we lower the requirements to 100 completions, he's overtaken by Vince Young, who's at 60.9 percent on 107 completions. Immediately behind them are Mark Sanchez (59.9 percent), Matt Ryan (59.4 percent) and Carson Palmer (58.8 percent).

On the flip side, the quarterback accruing the smallest percentage of his yards through the air is Jason Campbell; only 45.1 percent of his passing yards come through the air. Other quarterbacks below 50 percent include Kyle Orton (45.5 percent), Matt Hasselbeck (45.7 percent), and Matthew Stafford (47.0 percent). The average qualifying quarterback picks up 54.6 percent of his yards on his passes.

It's not that simple to split the value of a pass -- good routes by receivers help create opportunities for yards through the air, and balls thrown in stride create opportunities for yards after the catch -- but it's pretty clear that the current system is merely the simplest thrown-together solution as opposed to something approaching an equitable one. As statistical analysis of football improves, figuring out a better split between a quarterback's responsibility in a passing play and his receiver's responsibility will be ripe for analysis.

Here's a look at Manning and the other players who most helped (or hurt) their teams in Week 13 according to Football Outsiders advanced stats. Click here to learn more about what DYAR numbers mean and how they are computed.

Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) is a staff writer for Grantland.