Advanced Stats News And Notes: Where Are The Cowboys After Two Weeks?

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

With limited data, we can start to see what kind of team Dallas is shaping up to be. Where do they stand as we try to formulate an overall picture of the 2013 possibilities?

Relatively small sample size.

I've said it over and over on twitter and my podcast (click here for the latest) that we just don't know what kind of team we, or anyone else is, after just two weeks. What we can know is what trends appear to be developing and watch over the next few weeks to see if they are becoming rule or abberation. That's what the purpose of this post is, to take a look at some data and evaluations that speak to some areas of concern for the Dallas Cowboys of 2013.

One thing we too often fail to do is look at analysis from outside our cozy haven. Due to an overwhelming disdain for ESPN and the fact that most national insight seem to materialize based on their coverage of the Cowboys, we often miss some really good analysis.

Week 2 DVOA Ratings - Football Outsiders

DVOA (or VOA at this juncture of the season) is a metric that measures success on each play as compared to league average based on "a number of variables including down, distance, location on field, current score gap, quarter, and opponent quality." Due to it being so early in the season, FO can't truly define opponent quality, so for now they are excluding that from their calculations.

Dallas Total VOA (Offense, Defense and ST) is -8.7% after Week 2. It's basically saying that if a team that played exactly at the league average was put in the exact situations Dallas has for two weeks, they would have performed at a 8.7% better clip than the Cowboys. That value ranks them 21st out of 32 NFL teams.

COWBOYS Offense DVOA Defense DVOA ST DVOA Total DVOA
Value -14.9% 2.2% 8.4% -8.7%
Team Rank 25 17 3 21

A positive DVOA on offense, special teams and total value is a good thing, while a negative DVOA on defense is good. I have a sneaky suspicion that you will get a deeper explanation of DVOA and some of FO's other fine and handy metrics in short order.

Dontari Poe's day pushed rookie center Travis Frederick to the bottom of the NFL's center rankings, according to Pro Football Focus. I was interested to see what Frederick would do against a 0-tech, considering this is precisely the type of matchup that Phil Costa struggled most in; a big body directly in front of him.

The article takes a look at Poe's exploits for the game, and summarizes with some amazing freeze frame collages and this quote from Garrett.

"He physically got beat on the one [sack]," Dallas head coach Jason Garrett said of Frederick, "and the other one there was a mis-communication between him and the guard. Ultimately, he’s responsible for making sure that communication is right. One was more physical, the other was more communication and a mental error."

Many folks have said something similar to the following. The defense was awesome all game, they just couldn't get off the field for that final drive. Sturm's POV is that, not getting off the field on that final drive is pretty much the only thing worth using to describe the defense's performance, and you can't really argue with him.

Click the link to see a disheartening gif of a play where Dallas had 9(!) men in the box and couldn't stop Jamaal Charles from breaking out a 16 yard run.

That's not the only nugget of goodness (badness?) in this piece by Sturm. He also opined that the big plays that Dallas relinquished in this game were not the result of blitzing and leaving the team short on pass defense. All three plays occured when the Cowboys rushed only their four defensive linemen. Players just got beat individually.

If you don't know by now, Sturm's blog should be the second destination each weekday after you check in here on BTB. Of course, you'll need to also make BTB your third, fourth and fifth visits...

Refocused Cowboys at Chiefs - Pro Football Focus

The truth of the matter is for all of their exploits, our linebackers have not come close to mastering the new responsibilities put upon them by The Montenelli. It's a tough thing to do and both Bruce Carter and Sean Lee have been graded harshly by the guys at PFF. To wit, here's their take on Carter's day against the Chiefs:

No player was around the ball more often than Bruce Carter, who was one of six Cowboy defenders to play all 71 snaps. The third-year LB showed off his skills in coverage deflecting an Alex Smith pass early in the second quarter, and adding a second later in the fourth. However, as the headline and his -2.6 grade in coverage suggest, Carter certainly took his share of lumps as well. Targeted seven times in primary coverage, he allowed four catches for 44 yards, twice allowing first downs, and also saved by a Smith under-throw. His bigger issues were in support, though, as he missed a pair of tackles, once on a go-route down the middle of the field, and again coming up to make a play on a screen pass. Carter was also responsible for the Dwayne Bowe touchdown reception, as he overran the play and allowed Bowe to take a slant up the middle of the field for the easy TD.

Carter did redeem himself with his play rushing the passer, picking up a sack and two unblocked hurries on his four rushes, but failed to make many positive plays against the run, grading -1.7 for his efforts.

Jason Garrett Should Have Punted - Advanced NFL Stats

Ever sit there yelling at your computer screen that a coach should go for it on fourth down? Probably a million and one times. I bet you never thought that you'd be screaming for them to punt the ball, down by four on the opponent's side of the 50 with time winding down?

That's exactly what Matt Meiselman says should have happened instead of Dallas having Split'Em nail his 53 yarder in the fourth quarter against Kansas City.

With 3:50 to play in the 4th quarter, Dallas trailed Kansas City 17-13. It was the Cowboys’ ball, but they faced a 4th and 10 from the Chiefs 35. They held all three of their timeouts and undoubtedly still had a decent opportunity to come away with a win. Garrett had a decision to make: should he go for it? Punt? Or a kick a field goal?

Based on the 4th down calculator, the Cowboys chose the worst of the three options, and it wasn’t even close.

Should Garrett have punted? For that, Meiselman looks at a helpful metric known as EP, or Expected Points, which we'll dive into shortly.

Based on this chart, Dallas had a 25% chance of winning if they tried to convert the 4th down, a 36% chance of winning if they punted, and an 18% chance of winning by attempting a field goal. The punt may seem like the best choice, and it most likely is, but a case can be made for going for the first down because succeeding would have raised the Cowboys’ win probability all the way up to 49%. It’s nearly impossible to make a case for the field goal attempt, however. Dan Bailey did in fact convert the 53-yarder, raising his team’s win probability to 24%. But as you can see on the chart, that’s still lower than a punt by a significant margin.

ANS regularly looks at two key statistics to describe what has occurred over the NFL landscape: EPA and WPA. EPA refers to Expected Points Added, while WPA stands for Win Probability Added.

Brian Burke does a much better job of explaining the high worthiness of these metrics.

(EPA)

The value of a football play has traditionally been measured in yards gained. Unfortunately, yards is a flawed measure because not all yards are equal. For example, a 4-yard gain on 3rd down and 3 is much more valuable than a 4-yard gain on 3rd and 8. Any measure of success must consider the down and distance situation.

Suppose the offense has a 1st and 10 at midfield. This situation is worth +2.0 EP. A 5-yard gain would set up a 2nd and 5 from the 45, which corresponds to a +2.1 EP. Therefore, that 5-yard gain in that particular situation represents a +0.1 gain in EP. This gain is called Expected Points Added (EPA). Likewise, a 5-yard loss on 1st down at midfield would create a 2nd and 15 from the offense’s own 45. That situation is worth +1.2 EP, representing a net difference of -0.8 EPA.

(WPA)

WPA starts with a Win Probability (WP) model of the game of football. Every situation in a game gives each opponent a particular chance of winning, and a WP model estimates those chances. The model created here at Advanced NFL Stats uses score, time, down, distance, and field position to estimate how likely each team will go on to win the game. For example, at the start of the 2nd quarter, a team down by 7 points with a 2nd down and 5 from their own 25 will win about 36% of the time--in other words a 0.36 WP.


Stats are tools, and each tool has its own purpose. WPA is what I call a narrative stat. Its purpose is not to be predictive of future play or to measure the true ability of a player or team. It simply measures the impact of each play toward winning and losing.

I highly advise you click on the headers to get the full glossary definition of what Burke has done with these numbers. Then have fun with this interactive experience where you can judge Dallas' performance against the rest of the league, week-by-week since the 2000 season. Including, of course, last week in Kansas City.

Advanced NFL Stats: Team Stats Visualizations

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