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Cowboys believe in analytics, but instincts as well

IRVING, Texas -- On Monday, ESPN unveiled a report for each of the four major sports leagues determining each team’s reliance on analytics.

Though no team in the NFL is "all in" on analytics, the Dallas Cowboys were one of nine teams called "believers."

In the Tex Schramm, Gil Brandt, Tom Landry era, the Cowboys were at the forefront of technology in football with A. Salam Qureishi inputting all kinds of numbers into a computer to help the Cowboys in the draft. If you haven’t seen this FiveThirtyEight film, you should click here. It’s fascinating.

The Jerry Jones Cowboys are not as focused on analytics as those teams, but the Cowboys use GPS-monitoring systems on players in practice to measure just about anything. They are also in a partnership with Pro Football Focus, like a good amount of teams in the NFL.

Will McClay has attended the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in the past, and the Cowboys will be represented at it again this weekend.

Analytics in football might never be able to approach the level of use it has in baseball, but it’s still a tool teams should use for guidance if not final decision-making.

Last season Jason Garrett made four bold moves late in the season that might have been viewed as analytics' driven by some, and gut calls by others.

In the Cowboys’ 41-28 win against the Chicago Bears, Garrett went for it twice on fourth down on the Cowboys’ third possession of the game, with a field goal almost assured. Twice DeMarco Murray converted on fourth-and-1, and the second try was a touchdown to give the Cowboys a lead they would never lose.

In the Cowboys' win against the Washington Redskins in the season finale, Garrett green-lighted an onside kick attempt with the Cowboys ahead 20-7 in the second quarter. The Cowboys recovered the try and effectively ended the game six plays later with a Murray touchdown.

The gutsiest move came in the wild-card game against the Detroit Lions. Facing fourth-and-6 from the Lions' 42 with six minutes to go, Garrett went for it again and Tony Romo connected with Jason Witten for a 21-yard gain. With 2:32 to play Romo hit Terrance Williams for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.

"He really deserves all the credit for that because the book might say, 'Don’t do that,' but when you’re playing to win ...," passing game coordinator Scott Linehan said after the game.

Was that analytics or was that gut?

To me, it was Garrett going with instincts when others might have decided to punt in a three-point game.