Dallas Cowboys: Five Statistical Nuggets To Stew Over

"There's the third down marker. Don't miss it!"

When you lose a game 27-7, there usually isn't much redeeming value in looking at the stats of the game. More often than not, the immediate impression of such a game trumps most types of rational analysis.

But today is Wednesday, we're already halfway to the next game, the home opener against Tampa Bay, so this feels like an appropriate time to reflect on some stat nuggets that look beyond just the last game.

After the break, we're going to look at five carefully selected statistical nuggets, some of which offer a positive perspective for the Cowboys, some of which may provide reason for concern, but all of which should give you something to stew over for a while.

1. Average scoring drive length

Our own Tom Ryle wrote an article on Monday on how the Cowboys were losing the field position battle and notes that "Bill Parcells used to talk about hidden yardage, which referred to gaining an advantage in field position in an exchange of punts or by having a good kick return. Well, that yardage is so well hidden that Dallas can't find it at all. If that doesn't change, and soon, it could make for a brutal season."

The Cowboys' average field position on their scoring drives after two games is 79 yards from the goal line, the longest of any team in the league. To give you a better feeling for just how much of a disadvantage that is, the table below lists the average scoring drive length for the top five and bottom five teams in the league:

Top 5 Teams Bottom 5 Teams
Rank Team Scoring Drv. Avg. Rank Team Scoring Drv. Avg.
1 Seattle 39 28 Denver 73
2 Atlanta 44 29 Cincinnati 73
3 Arizona 45 30 New Orleans 74
4 Cleveland 46 31 Carolina 75
5 Tampa Bay 46 32 Dallas 79

Getting some short fields from which to run scoring drives will be key for the Cowboys.

2. Romo versus the Bucs

Todd Archer of ESPNDallas dug up this little nugget about Romo:

In three games against Tampa Bay, Romo has 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions. His passer ratings in the three wins have been 148.9, 140.6 and 133.9.

The Bucs have allowed an average of 400.5 passing yards in their two games this season, by far the worst value in the league. Here's hoping that all of this bodes well for the Cowboys on Sunday.

3. What's up with the Cowboys' secondary?

We've all marveled at the Cowboys' ability to play man-to-man, to press at the line of scrimmage and to re-route wide receivers. And that's all great. But after two games, the Cowboys' secondary is ranked close to the bottom of the league in completion percentage allowed. Here's a look at completion percentage allowed, again sorted by top five and bottom five teams.

Top 5 Defenses Bottom 5 Defenses
Rank Team Def. CMP% Rank Team Def. CMP%
1 Philadelphia 44.2 28 Dallas 69.2
2 Houston 50.9 29 Cincinnati 71.0
3 Pittsburgh 54.7 30 New Orleans 71.7
4 Miami 55.7 31 Jacksonville 74.2
5 Seattle 56.6 32 Tennessee 74.6

It's bad enough that the Cowboys pass defense has allowed a 101.8 defensive passer rating. However, that passer rating can quickly change with a couple of interceptions, so I'm not too hung up with the defensive passer rating - for now. But the passer rating brings up another point: The Cowboys are one of only nine teams that have not yet recorded a single interception this season. That's not good. But the real concern here must be the defensive completion rate. There aren't a lot of good things that happen when you allow that many completions.

The only saving grace here is that the Cowboys have kept their average yards per completion fairly low: With 10.1 yards per completion, the Cowboys have the sixth best value in the league.

4. Sean Lee

After two games, Sean Lee leads all NFL players with 26 tackles as recorded by the official NFL scorekeepers. The Cowboys coaches, who keep their own statistics, credited Lee with 21 tackles on Sunday, an effort that tied Lee with Lee Roy Jordan's club record from 1971. But as impressive as those numbers are, they are in part also the result of the Cowboys' inability to get off the field on Sunday.

5. Third down conversion differential

For most stats, you want to produce more on offense than you allow on defense. We've talked about differentials at length here on BTB, most recently about passer rating differential (see also: Cowboys Key To Success in 2012 Is Improved Passer Rating Differential). The bigger the difference between your offensive and defensive passer rating is, the better your team is likely to be.

And the same holds true for third down conversions. If your offense can convert a lot of third downs while your defense prevents the opponent from converting those third downs, chances are that you're going to be successful on the football field. And since I'm a big fan of differentials for almost any type of stat, here's how the Cowboys rank in third down conversion differential:

Third down conversion differential
Rank Team Offense Defense Differential
1 Houston 44.1 10.5 +33.6
2 San Diego 50.0 25.0 +25.0
3 Philadelphia 44.1 22.2 +21.9
4 Dallas 47.8 34.6 +13.2
5 Miami 40.7 27.6 +13.1
6 Pittsburgh 55.9 42.9 +13.0
7 New England 40.7 32.1 +8.6

As much as we collectively like to gnash our teeth after a loss and declare that the sky is falling, the third down conversion differential highlights an important takeaway after two games. The Cowboys are getting one fundamental aspect of football right: they are converting third downs and keeping their opponents from converting third downs. And they are doing that better than most other teams in the league.

They have been hampered by a negative turnover differential, dropped passes and special teams blunders which have kept them from fully capitalizing on their third down strength, but if the Cowboys maintain this type of differential, they're bound to win a lot more games than they lose.

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