Why we do we use stats when discussing the Cowboys or in the NFL in general? One reason is as an explanation. Stats can be used to explain past events in a very specific and objective manner. One of the issues with using stats for their explanatory power is that you can run into problems with causation. We see this with all of the numbers that show that teams that run the ball often win football games; the running isn’t a cause of running, but a result of it.
That’s why the best way to use stats—or at least to figure out if they’re useful outside of being explanatory—is to make predictions. It’s really easy to use stats to explain past phenomena, but far more difficult to make accurate predictions. However, the latter purpose is the one with which I’m most concerned. Predictions display true understanding.
So starting today, I’ll use some numbers to project Cowboys players in 2013. The goal will be searching for the most predictive stats. Last year, I projected Anthony Spencer to have a career-high nine sacks. I did so using his historic pressure rate instead of sack totals because the former is less volatile and more predictive.
Today, let’s take a look at linebacker Bruce Carter. Carter really has just one season of stats to examine, and he compiled them in just 11 games last year. The linebacker played 625 snaps in 2012, recording a tackle on 70 of them. That’s an 11.2 percent tackle rate. In comparison, Sean Lee’s tackle rate was 17.5 percent, although Carter’s number is still respectable.
In 2013, it’s certainly possible that Carter’s tackle rate jumps with the switch to the 4-3 defense. He’ll be playing outside—a more natural position than inside for the 240-pound linebacker. Carter will also play more snaps, assuming he remains healthy. If his rate of snaps per game remains steady, he’ll be looking at around 900 over the course of the season. At a 13.0 percent tackle rate, Carter would record 117 total tackles.
Carter played 307 snaps in coverage in 2012. He was targeted on 41 plays, allowing 32 completions (78.0 percent) for 300 yards (7.32 YPA). It’s probable that Carter’s coverage numbers will improve with the scheme switch and another year in the league. Playing a whole season, Carter will probably be targeted around 60 times, allowing in the range of 43 catches (71.7 percent) for 400 yards (6.67 YPA).
Final 2013 Projection: 117 tackles, 43 catches allowed for 400 yards
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.