What The Football Outsiders Stats Say Is Ailing The 2-2 Cowboys

Donald Miralle

The Cowboys are sitting at 2-2 and not everything is running as smoothly as anticipated. We look to Football Outsiders to see what their stats have to say about what's ailing the Cowboys.

Two weeks ago, we looked at what the Football Outsiders stats had to say about the 1-1 Cowboys. At the time, the debate was about offense versus defense, and which unit should get more credit/blame for the results of the first two games. We concluded that overall, the Football Outsiders stats suggested that the Cowboys' issues could be found on both sides of the ball.

Now that we've reached the quarter mark of the season, we're going to revisit that original post and have a look at where the team has improved and where it hasn't. To do that, we'll compare and contrast the Week 2 and Week 4 Football Outsiders (FO) metrics. Four weeks are still a small statistical base, but there is value in looking at these numbers anyway - and they are all we've got.

Overall team efficiency.

With four weeks of data, FO are back to using their proprietary DVOA rating (which adjusts performance for down and distance situations and more) for their rankings. The data is adjusted for opponent strength, although this early in the season, "opponent adjustments are only at 40 percent strength; they will increase 10 percent every week through Week 10". Here are FO's Team Efficiency Rankings after two and four weeks:


Overall Team Efficiency (Rank)

Overall Offense Defense Special Teams
Week 2
21 25 17 3
Week 4
16 10 20 16

So there you have it: After four weeks, the FO metrics suggest the offense is a top ten unit while the defense isn't. But let's dig a little deeper.

Offense

FO use Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) as a measure to rank offensive skill position players. DYAR gives the value of a player's performance compared to a replacement level player at the same position, adjusts it for the game situation and opponent, and then translates that into a yardage number.

As can be expected from a unit that improved from 25th to 10th, some of the key offensive players also improved their individual rankings:

Yards Above Replacement, Offense, through Week 4, 2013
Player POS DYAR Week 4 Rank Week 2 Rank Change
Romo QB 302 5 21 +16
Murray RB 34 13 26 +13
Bryant WR 94 8 30 +22
Austin WR 11 56 40 -16
Williams WR -3 62 62 - -
Witten TE -4 29 26 -3
Hanna TE 5 n.a. 29 - -
Escobar TE 5 n.a. n.a. - -

Despite being ranked tenth overall, not everything is rainbows and unicorns on the offense. Romo, Murray and Bryant look good, very good even, but the Cowboys are getting only average play from their remaining wide receivers and their three tight ends. The Cowboys got Williams more involved against the Chargers, targeting him eight times for seven receptions (and a fumble at the goal line), so that's a good start (except for the fumble). But the tight ends, especially Jason Witten, have not stood out much so far in the passing game, and Austin is once again suffering from Hammy-itis.

Another big part of the overall offensive rank is the O-line. And FO agree with many other sources that the O-line may have finally been fixed:


Offensive Line (Rank)

Run Blocking Pass Protection
Week 2
13 11
Week 4
7 10

The offensive line is ranked 10th in pass protection with nine sacks allowed, and seventh in adjusted line yards, which essentially calculates how much push the offensive line gets in the running game. The Cowboys O-line is far from perfect, but it is light years ahead of where it was last year and it is - wait for a it - a top ten unit!

The offense still has its issues, but the ingrained reflex of blaming everything on the offensive line won't fly anymore in 2013.

Defense

In raw yardage stats, the Cowboys defense ranks 27th against the pass and third against the run. In terms of DVOA, the ranking isn't markedly different:


Overall Defense (Rank)

Overall
Pass defense
Run defense
Week 2
17 20 6
Week 4
20 20 9

And not much has changed between Week 2 and 4. The pass defense is still an issue, while the run defense looks good for the most part. Here's an overview of some of the stats for defensive front seven.

Pass Rush Run Blocking
Overall Power Success Stuffed 2nd level yards Open field yards
Week 2
9 11 2 2 16 22
Week 4
13 16 9 15 15 9

The front seven have regressed slightly, both in the pass rush and in runblocking. Here are the definitions for the metrics used in the table above.

Power Success: Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer.

Stuffed: Opposing runner is stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage

Second level yards: Percentage of rushing between 5 and 10 yards out from the line of scrimmage

Open field yards: Percentage of rushing yards more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage

The interesting thing about theses numbers is that they suggest that the defensive line has regressed up front. The D-line has found it harder to stop short runs and are stopping less runners in the backfield. At the same time, the run defense is getting better at stopping long runs, an indication that the linebackers, safeties and corners are getting better at tackling runners early.

For the pass defense, FO also offer an interesting metric by looking at the DVOA versus different types of receivers. Here's how the Cowboys fared so far:

Pass Defense
vs. #1 WR vs. #2 WR vs. Other WR vs. TE vs. RB
Week 2
30 27 16 27 4
Week 4
25 29 7 22 17

The Cowboys' pass defense is porous across the board - as you would expect from a pass defense that ranks 23rd in passing YPA allowed and 24th in defensive passer rating. You're not going to win a lot of football games if you can't defend the pass.

Overall, the Football Outsiders stats suggest the Cowboys offense is a top ten unit, driven largely by the offensive line and some of the skill position players. On defense, the front seven look like a slightly above average unit, but the key issue for the Cowboys is their pass defense. Yet the pass defense cannot work without the front seven getting pressure on the opposing QB, as Jason Garrett noted after the Chargers game:

"It starts up front," Garrett said. "We didn’t get to Philip Rivers enough. We did not make him uncomfortable. We did a good job in the first three games making the quarterback’s job hard, hitting him, getting him off the spot. We didn’t do that last week. We have to do it this week."

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