How did the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos get to the Super Bowl? It is possible to sift the season's football data with the help of an electronic computer and build a statistical profile of the two champions on the important variable that separate winners from losers.
By analogy one could liken this to a statistical personality profile of the Cowboys and Broncos, painting them pugnacious in one area, bending in another.
One of the most important stats separating winners from losers is yards per pass attempt (with quarterback sacks counted as unsuccessful attempts. On defense the Cowboys rank first in the league, allowing 3.68 yards per toss. Over a seven-year period the average Super Bowl team allowed 3.8, marking the current Cowboy pass defense among the best of all Super teams of recent years. Under the powerful pressure applied by defensive ends Ed (Too Tall) Jones and Harvey Martin and the inside rush of Jethro Pugh and Randy White, opposition quarterbacks have been sacked 53 times, compared to 35 sacks by the Denver defense.
Seven of the eight playoff teams ranked above average in defensive yards per pass allowed (see the following chart). While the Broncos are above average here yielding 4.87 yards a pass play, they ranked eighth.
But against the rush the Broncos have the edge. They rank first, allowing only 3.26 yards per opponents' rush. Dalls is eighth with 3.61.
Unable to move the ball on the ground against the Bronco rushing defense, the opposition has gone to the air. Denver leads the league in opponents' pass attempts; quarterbacks average 30.4 passes per game versus the Broncos. Univac computer analysis shows a strong relationship between the number of opponents' passes and a team's offense and won-lost record; i.e., the more opponents' passes, the more you score and the more you win.
It may seem foolish for Denver to want to force an efficient quarterback such as Roger Staubach to the air, but that is the key to the Broncos' chances for an upset much as it was in the AFC championship against the efficient Ken Stabler of Oakland.
Run-pass balance reflects well the statistical personality of a team. The typical champion on offense will run the ball twice for every one pass attempt. On defense the winning teams will have a run-pass ratio that is closer to one-to-one, an even balance between opponents' rushes and opponents' passes.
Dallas and Denver rank 10th and 11th on offense with run-pass ratios of 1.52 and 1.67 (that is, they will run 15-16 times for each 1-ass attempts.)
On defense, however, the Super Bowl teams rank first and fifth with Denver showing the advantage. The Broncos have a 1.1 opponents' runpass balance, best in the NFL, while the Cowboys rank fifth with 1.23 (opponents run 11 times for each 10 passes verses Denver, 12.3 times for each 10 passes versus Dallas).
When the Competition Committee met in 1974 to make offense more important vis a vis defense, it changed the rules to benefit the offense. Indeed, the average team today wins on offense. But the divisional champions facing one another in Super Bowl 12 are, by definition, not "average" teams.
(Bud Goode furnishes statistical analyses to several National Football League teams.)