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The Dallas Cowboys Are 1-4. Sooo ... What Now?

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Let's ask a basic question - "How can you win/lose a game when a given set of stats suggests that the opposite result should have happened"?

It's a valid question: The Cowboys have out-gained every single opponent so far in terms of yards, yet are 1-4. They have gained 2,000 yards in five games, and allowed only 1,407 - that's 118 yards per game more than their opponents, and still they're 1-4.

Sooo ... If stats are for losers, and the Cowboys are losers, would a look at the stats explain why the Cowboys are losing? You might be surprised at the answer. Follow me after the jump as I explore this logical fallacy.

You are what your record says you are

At 1-4, the Cowboys are ranked 27th in the league with a .200 winning percentage. Have the Cowboys simply been unlucky? Consider that all four Cowboys losses came by seven points or less. No other team in the league has four losses that were that close. The Chargers, Lions, 49ers, Browns and Packers have three each.

One way to find out if the Cowboys are simply unlucky is to use the Pythagorean Formula (explained in great detail here). The formula can basically tell you which teams won or lost more games than they should have and therefore which teams were lucky and which were unlucky.

The formula suggests the Cowboys should have 2.3 wins at this point in the season, instead of the one win they actually have. That difference of 1.3 makes the Cowboys the third least lucky team in the NFL, behind only the Chargers (1.8) and the Lions (2.1).

Okay, the Cowboys were unlucky. But if we rank all NFL teams by Pythagorean Formula, the Cowboys would still only be ranked 23rd. So basically, even if they had been less unlucky, they would still be pretty bad.

Volume Stats

With exactly 400 yards gained per game so far, the Cowboys are the third highest ranked offense. And with 281 yards allowed per game, the Cowboys have the fourth best defense in the league. Only three other teams are in the top ten in both rankings (Chargers, Giants and Saints). Top ten offense and top ten defense yet still 1-4? Goes to show you what to think of volume stats.

The picture changes of course when you look at points scored and points allowed. The Cowboys have allowed 22.2 points per game and rank only 21st in the league. They are only marginally better in points scored, ranked 17th with 20.4.

For every point scored, the Cowboys have had to gain 19.6 yards. That is the 30th worst value in the league. The Cowboys are collecting yards like there's no tomorrow, but are not scoring enough points off of those yards. On defense, the Cowboys are giving up a point for every 12.7 yards allowed to the opponent, also the 30th worst value in the league. The difference of -6.9 yards in this stat is only surpassed by the the 49ers and Panthers. Wonderful company.

The Cowboys appear to be highly effective in gaining and preventing raw yardage, but much less so in scoring or preventing the opponents from scoring.

Efficiency Stats

When you break down the NFL game, it basically consists of three separate phases. You get the ball, you move the ball, you score. We'll look at how the Cowboys have done in all three phases of the game using an efficiency scorecard for the offense and defense (explained in great detail here):

Dallas Cowboys Team Efficiency Scorecard, week 6, 2010


Stat Value Rank Best
LOS/Drive* 25.4 31 CHI (26.5)
30.5 21 NYJ (24.6)
9 T14 NYJ, KC (4)
4 T31 PIT, DET (15)
Yards/Play 6.0 4 SD (6.5)
5.3 18 NYG (4.3)
Drive Success Rate* 74% 3 NE (78%)
69% 22 NYG (58%)
3rd down conv. 46% 4 NO (51%)
32% 3 BAL (27%)
Scoring Drives 22% 10 IND (29%)
19% 19 PIT (9%)
Yards per point
19.6 30 PIT (12.8)
12.7 30 PIT (24.7)
RZ TD Efficiency*
55% 15 PHI (75%)
55% 20 TEN (26%)

* Data through week 5 only.


Here's what this multicolored table can tell us. The Cowboys are terrible in starting field position. This is both a function of the lack of turnovers created by the defense and an atrocious return game. But once the Cowboys have the ball, things start popping. The Cowboys offense is top five in yards per play, drive success rate and 3rd down conversions. The Cowboys are moving across the field at a clip that few other teams can duplicate.

So why is the offensive yards per point value so bad? Because they have to travel further than most other teams to score, due in part to their low starting LOS and in part due to the penalties that keep throwing them back. And when they do finally get into scoring position, their conversion rate is average.


Color-wise the table looks a lot better than it actually is. All three yellow cells are borderline red (if you buy into the classification of 1-10=green, 11-20=yellow, 21-32=red). Think of the defensive side of the table as seven red cells and one green, and you' ll get a better understanding of what's going on with the Cowboys.

The Cowboys special teams cannot effectively control the opposing return game, and the defense is severely limited in its ability to create turnovers. The defense is giving up too many yards per play and as a result the opposing drive success rate is fairly high. The only saving grace for this defense is its tremendously low 3rd down conversions allowed.

But if you have a defense allowing 5.3 yards a pop, chances are your opponent is getting yards without having to face too many 3rd downs. You think I'm kidding? The Cowboys have faced the second lowest number of third down attempts per game (11.4) of any team in the league. In an effort to get opponents into 3rd down (and preferably long) situations, the Cowboys defense is giving up too many big plays that circumvent 3rd down attempts alltogether.

The Cowboys opponents have a relatively easy time of scoring against Dallas. The only reason the points allowed for the Cowboys isn't through the roof is because the opponents haven't gotten enough chances. Again, I kid you not: The Cowboys offense leads the league in time of possession with 33:47. As a result, the defense has the lowest TOP of any team in the league. Also as a result of the strength of the offense, the Cowboys defense has faced a league low 53.6 plays from scrimmage per game.

The Cowboys offense has clearly been hiding some of the deficiencies of the defense. Without the offense shouldering a large part of the game the defense would look a lot worse than it currently appears on paper.

This is on Wade, and he needs to fix it.