"Oh the places you'll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all."
- Dr. Seuss, "Oh The Places You'll Go!"
That's right. I broke out Dr. Seuss in this piece.
It's time for Jason Garrett's Cowboys to go places, as there is nothing left between them and the playoffs except for 16 regular season dates; the first of which is this coming Sunday night when they host the New York Giants. We all know the basics about the Giants, that's pretty much how it goes when you face each other twice a year and their system's basically been in place for 9 years.
What we should do is review the nuances to what has worked for the Giants and what has worked against them. For this, we circle back to our good friend, advanced statistics.
Many Cowboys fans (and some media) have come out predicting a dominating opening game win over the Giants, to which I say... simmer down. The Giants that missed the playoffs were actually a better team than the one that won the Super Bowl in 2011. Check out Football Outsiders take: The Giants finished with a 9-7 record for the second year in a row, and in many ways were a better team in 2012 than they were the year before. New York scored 35 more points and allowed 56 fewer points than they did in 2011. Football Outsiders' advanced statistics tell a similar story, as the Giants improved from 12th to seventh in total DVOA.
The Giants might fail to make the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, but it will most likely come from a late-season collapse. They've averaged a 6-2 start the last six years, and owe their late season collapses to pourous pass defense. The hope is, the pass defense is horrible from the outset and with injuries to many key pieces, it could happen.
Key Additions: RT Justin Pugh, DT Cullen Jenkins, DE Damontre Moore, LB Dan Connor, TE Brandon Myers, WR Louis Murphy, DT Shaun Rogers*
Key Departures: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, S Kenny Phillips, DE Osi Umenyoira, TE Martellus Bennett, WR Domenik Hixon
Depth Chart Changes / Injuries: RB Andre Brown (broken leg), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (back surgery), S Stevie Brown (ACL), C David Baas (knee), RT David Diehl (thumb), DT Cullen Jenkins (new starter), SLB Spencer Paysinger (new starter) MLB Dan Connor (new starter), RB David Wilson (new starter), C Kevin Boothe (moved over from LG)
One thing Tony Romo shouldn't do this coming Sunday night is panic should the team fail to be successful on first or second downs. The Cowboys have always been one of the leagues best in converting third-down opportunities. 2012 was no different as they were successful with 43.9% conversions, good for fifth best in the league.
On the other side, the Giants defense was horrible at getting off the field; opponents converted third downs 42.4% of the time. That was good for third-worst in the NFL.
Not only shouldn't the Cowboys panic, but should they find themselves in long distances early due to sacks, TFLs or the dreaded (and expected penalties), they should focus on trimming the distance down to a manageable length as third-down success should be waiting for them. Here's why.
DVOA is a metric that compares how much better a team performs against the league average in the exact same game situation. Say it's 3rd and 10 on the opponent's 40 and your down by 7 in the third quarter. Football Outsiders has taken all similar situations and computes what percentage your team is better or worse than that average.You can go here for a more detailed explanation. On offense, having a positive DVOA is good, while on defense having a negative DVOA is good. That means that opposing offenses do worse than the league average against your defense.
Per Football Outsiders, the Giants' defense third-down DVOA was middle of the pack in 2012, -2.3% (17th).
- The Giants are a great play-from-ahead team. In fact the Giants had the best offensive DVOA in the league with the lead. When losing it's an entirely different story. Their offensive DVOA dropped to 15th. They are more successful at running plays with the lead than every other team, but are just an average offensive team when trailing.
- On first down, the Giants pass 52% of the time, 10th most in the league.
- Even as a pass heavy team, they do not abandon the run when trailing in the 2nd half: 32% runs, good for 9th in the league. If Dallas is able to get a lead on the Giants, don't expect them to just start airing it out and leading to greater turnover risks. The Giants will continue to attack on the ground.
- Formation-wise, you can expect to see Eli under center just as much as in the shotgun. Giants were in Shotgun or Pistol 48% of the time, good for 16th in the league.
- Their most common personnel grouping is 11 (one back, one TE, 3 WRs) which they ran 46% of the time for a tremendous success rate. 11 personnel yielded a DVOA of 30.1%. Expect to see a lot of Nicks, Cruz and Randle on Sunday night, which elevates the importance of Orlando Scandrick and..
- BW Webb. The Giants struggled the most against dime defenses. Out of all defensive formations faced, their worst DVOA was against six defensive backs (-9.8%). Strangely, they favored facing Nickel formations more than base defenses.
- The Giants had their most success running up the middle, ranking first in the league in Adjusted Line Yards (explanation here) between the guards, 4.76 yards per play. It will be interesting to see what happens here for a couple of factors. They are without their starting center, David Wilson might be more of an edge rusher, and Dallas has transitioned to a 4-3 and is without Jay Ratliff. The ability to run inside might be the sneaky theme of the game.
- The Giants ran a league-leading 57 running back draws in 2012 to the tune of 5.8 yards a carry. Remember our draw plays? (Please come back, please come back..)
- NYG defense were front-runners just like the offense, just not to the same extent. They ranked eighth in DVOA with the lead, and dead last when behind. So get ahead early, and things work better against the Giants than they do against every other team.
- The Cowboys defense should get a chance to catch their breath as the Giants rarely force a three and out. Do so on only 13.5% of drives
- The Giants ran with 5 DBs pretty often, 51% of the time, ranked 11th in the league. A lot of times they do it differently than most, going with 3 safeties. That will be pretty difficult in this game, as they only have three healthy safeties at the moment.
- Playing off of that, New York floods the box at a higher rate than most, averaging 6.44 men in the box which ranks 10th in the league. They'd put the safety in the box as he would have the ability to retreat and cover tight ends. Well, not Jason Witten of course.
- The Giants ranked 28th in the league in sacks by DBs. They want their cover men to cover on passing downs.
- The personnel grouping that had the best average performance against the G-Men D was 22, two backs and a tight end. DVOA rating of 36.6%
ANY/PA = Adjusted Net Yards per Passing Attempt. It is very highly correlated to team success as it takes into account sacks and interceptions to further improve the picture of how well a team's passing game is working. The formula is as follows:
(Passing Yards - Sack Yards + Passing TDs *20 - Interceptions*45) DIVIDED BY (Passing Attempts + Times Sacked)
|Rk||Tm||Off. ANY/PA||Def. ANY/PA||Differential|
|3||Green Bay Packers||7.4||5.1||2.3|
|4||San Francisco 49ers||7.1||4.9||2.2|
|15||New York Giants||6.6||6.4||0.2|
Passer Rating: The well-known stat is normally a very good indicator of team performance as well. Simply the difference between your team's rating and what rating their opponents have accrued when playing them.
|Rk||Tm||Defense Rate||Offense Rate||Differential|
|1||Green Bay Packers||76.8||108.3||31.5|
|4||San Francisco 49ers||78||101.2||23.2|
|16||New York Giants||88.7||87.2||-1.5|
So there's a snapshot of the game within the game for the Cowboys and Giants. No one suggests that statistical analysis is going to dictate how one play, one game or sometimes even one season will play out. There's a key difference in whether or not a stat is predictive or descriptive. What you should always take away though is that each team has a crew of number crunchers that is return all of these statistical nuances on their own performance and that of their opponents to their respective head coaches. It factors into game-planning and team focuses, and now you have some of that ammunition in preparation for what we'll see come Sunday night.
More from Blogging The Boys:
- Freeze Frames: One Last Look Back At The Preseason
- Cowboys vs. Giants: 5 Questions With Big Blue View
- Dallas Cowboys Game Plans: Scouting The New York Football Giants
- Thin Blue Line Gets Thinner For Dallas: DT Ben Bass Out
- KDP's 10 For 10 Is Back! 2013 Week One Pick'Em Contest
- Cowboys Fixing The Last Issues Before The Season Starts
- Giants @ Cowboys Media Roundup: Who's Picking The Cowboys?
- Dallas Cowboys News & Notes: Will Brian Waters Play Versus Giants?