About 75 percent of people know that you can use stats to skew perspectives. The reality is that statistics rarely tell the whole story, but I also find that they almost always tell part of the story.
Let's attempt to complete the story by tossing out a few key stats regarding the Dallas Cowboys four weeks into the season.
That's the percentage of run plays the Cowboys have run this season that have increased their odds of scoring, according to a great statistical breakdown of the offensive line in terms of expected points per play from Jonathan Bales of DallasCowboys.com.
Essentially, the Cowboys as a team are struggling to stay ahead of the chains, which constitutes raising that expected-points-per-play number on every play of a drive. They might be going forward, but they aren't going forward enough. It's that simple, really.
The offense as a whole has a broad expected-points number of -19.49, according to Pro Football Reference, which ranks fifth last in football. And Bales' analysis indicates a lot of that falls on the line, with four of the five starting linemen posting negative expected-points-per-play numbers four weeks into the season (Tyron Smith being the exception).
What's hurting the most is the offense's inability to gain more than four yards on runs on 1st-and-10. In those situations, the 'Boys are only picking up five yards—which is the threshold for increasing the expected points for that particular drive—29 percent of the time.
It doesn't help that the offense has been passing and running in obvious situations thus far. That vanilla approach has to change, but the line also has to get better, period.
Bryant technically has three drops (per PFF), but that's generous. I've seen at least four or five, but drops are tough to agree on. Regardless, Bryant only had one drop all of last season, according to PFF, while ranking 10th among all receivers in terms of his overall rating. So there's clearly something wrong.
The thing about Bryant is they need him to get better, and he's actually regressing. He scored nine touchdowns last season and has yet to reach the end zone at the quarter mark in 2012. His PFF drop rate was a league-low 1.56 last season, but that number has skyrocketed to 12.50 (10th worst in the NFL) in 2012.
Maybe it's an oddly timed slump, but year three is usually when receivers really begin to hit their stride. Why does Bryant's focus appear to be deteriorating, along with his overall level of productivity? And at what point should the Cowboys be concerned about one of their most prized offensive possessions?
That's the average number of yards opposing running backs are accumulating on a per-play basis against the Cowboys when those backs have reached the second level of the defense (five to 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage), according to Football Outsiders.
That number ranks third in the NFL and is a huge reason why Dallas has rarely given up big runs.
Football Outsiders numbers indicate that the Cowboys are rarely stuffing backs at or behind the line of scrimmage. In that category, the 'Boys rank 26th in the league with a "stuff percentage" of 15. But once backs get through, they're being shut down by Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Co.
Lee leads the league with 36 tackles, according to PFF, while Carter has exceeded expectations with 19 on just 177 snaps (63 fewer than Lee). Both rank in the top eight among inside linebackers in terms of stop percentage, which PFF tabulates as the number of defensive stops they're making per run snap.
The Cowboys are still trying to get the pass rush rolling on all cylinders, but at least they've been stout against the run, especially in the linebacking corps.