The Best Defense Is A High-Scoring Offense: Shootout Looming For Redskins @ Cowboys?

Larry French

Using Yards Per Point to predict the outcome of Sunday's Redskins @ Cowboys game suggests another high-scoring affair, but these divisional games have a way of taking on a life of their own.

The Cowboys have a highly efficient scoring offense this season. While the offense "only" ranks tenth in the league with 377.2 yards per game, they rank second only to the Broncos with 30.4 points per game. If you divide the offensive yards gained by points scored, you get a metric called Yards Per Point.

YPP measures how easy it is for an offense to score points (how many yards the offense needs to gain to score a point) and how hard a defense makes it for its opponent to score (how many yards the defense gives up for each point scored). Ideally, the number on offense is as low as possible (your team scores with ease) while you want the defensive number to be as high as possible (your opponent has to work really hard to score points).

"We Are Explosive. That's Our Identity." - Dez Bryant

On offense, the Cowboys rank 3rd in the league with a YPP of 12.4. And before you attribute that rank solely to the Broncos game, consider that the Cowboys were ranked a very respectable sixth before the Broncos game, so this isn't something that happened suddenly.

Unfortunately, the Cowboys’ defensive number doesn't look quite as good. Their YPP of 15.0 ranks them 20th in the league. Compare that to the league-leading Chiefs (27.0) and Patriots (24.6) and you may begin to get a feeling for the enormity of the Cowboys’ defensive futility.

There are many different ways in which YPP can and is being used, and we could go off on many different tangents with this topic, but what we’re going to do today is look at one of the more common uses for YPP: a quick-and-dirty way to predict scores.

The way this can work is by taking the average yards per game allowed by a given team and dividing those by the opponent's YPP to arrive at a predicted score. You can do this using the cumulative season statistics; you can do it using the stats from just the last couple of games; just the home games; whatever tickles your fancy – there is no one single approved way to do this.

Today we’ll use YPP to predict the score for Sunday’s Redskins @ Cowboys game, and we’ll do it using the full season stats - four games for the Redskins, five games for the Cowboys. For their first four games, the Redskins have allowed a league-high 440.5 yards per game. The Cowboys’ YPP value on offense is 12.4. Divide Washington's yards allowed per game by Dallas’ YPP and you get a predicted score 35.5 points.

And here's how much the Redskins are projected to score by this method: The Cowboys have given up 409.2 yards per game over five games, while the Redskins offense has a YPP of 17.2. Do the math and you get a predicted score of 23.8 points.

Cowboys predicted score: Redskins Y/G: 440.5 / Cowboys YPP: 12.4 = 35.5 points

Redskins predicted score: Cowboys Y/G: 409.2 / Redskins YPP: 17.2 = 23.8 points

So there you have it. The Cowboys beat the Redskins in a high-scoring affair.

The Over/Under for the game is set at 53.5 the highest value for any game in Week 6, and the projection above is for 59 points. After starting the season with a conservative offense trying to capitalize on the takeaways generated by the defense, the Cowboys may have now taken a page out of the Green Bay Packers' 2011 playbook: The best defense is a high-scoring offense.

"Offensively, this needs to be the standard in which we play to give ourselves a chance to win." - Jason Witten

Using the YPP of the last four games played to predict scores is a betting system known as the Dudley Method. Another method popular with some bettors is the "Total Dudley Method" which is a calculation of each team's last four games using offensive and defensive YPP to predict the score of a game. None of this is rocket science of course, and there are many far more complicated algorithms out there that try to predict scores. But the nice thing about this one is that it’s simple and it predicts a Cowboys win on Sunday.

Then again, this is a divisional game, and those tend not to adhere closely to any set of rules and predictions. In fact, if the prediction is for a shootout, chances are it could turn into a low-scoring nailbiter. In the last eight head-to-head games, the Cowboys hold a slight 5-3 advantage, but the combined score has oscillated between 13 (7-6 Cowboys win in Week 11, 2009) and 69 points (38-31 Cowboys loss in Week 12, 2012).

How are you feeling about the Cowboys’ chances on Sunday?

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