Traditionally, the NFL has ranked offenses and defenses by the number of yards and points gained or allowed, but those numbers can be misleading, as yardage alone doesn't mean a whole lot by itself.
Today, instead of looking at 'how much' yet again, we'll look at how efficient the Cowboys have been through three weeks on both sides of the ball. And we hand out a To-Do-List for the rest of the bye week.
Team efficiency can't be judged with just one stat, so here's where we take a deeper dive into the offensive and defensive efficiency of the 2009 Cowboys and look at three different groups of stats: Field position, drive efficiency and scoring efficiency. Note: all data is through week three only.
A. Field Position
Quite often when analyzing stats, the focus is on total offense, total defense, individual player stats and other stats that can easily become irrelevant if field position is a big factor in a game. So here's where we look at field position.
According to FootballOutsiders.com (FO), the Cowboys held opponents to an average starting position of 27.8 per drive this year, good enough for 12th in the NFL. Unfortunately, the Cowboys' own starting position per drive was only 25.3, ranked 29th in the league.
To illustrate the importance of these stats, let's take the Bears: Through three games, they led the league in starting position (37.5) on offense and defense (22.8). That differential of 14.7 yards per drive over their 33 drives resulted in a field position advantage (or "hidden yardage") of 485 (!!!) yards in three games. The Cowboys are -73 yards in this aspect of the game over the first three games, a 558 yard difference.
There are two ways to improve your starting field position: Better returns and more takeaways.The Cowboys need to work on both.
B. Drive Efficiency
On offense, not only are the Cowboys moving the ball at a decent clip of 5.9 yards per play (9th in the league), but their 75% Drive Success Rate (measures the percentage of down series that result in a first down or touchdown) is ranked a pretty good 7th in the league. Now if only they'd had a 3rd down conversion rate (41%, ranked 12th) to match, there would have been no stopping the Cowboys.
The picture looks a little less rosy on defense. The Cowboys defense allowed 5.5 yards per play (No. 19) and a 69% Drive Success Rate (No. 20). But help has come riding into town in the first three weeks in the form of the 3rd down defense cavalry: An astonishingly low 24.2% 3rd down conversions allowed is ranked 2nd in the league and has helped keep opposing offenses at bay.
C. Scoring Efficiency
The Cowboys are ranked 5th in yards after three weeks and 21st in points. Is this 2009 all over again?
The Cowboys so far have scored five touchdowns on 28 offensive drives. That 18% drive scoring rate is ranked only 16th in the league. When you move the ball a lot but fail to score, your yards required per point scored (YPP) is bound to be high: The Cowboys rank 29th in the NFL with a 21.8 YPP.
Somewhat worryingly, opponents did not have to work as hard. With 16.9 yards required per point allowed the Cowboys ranked a middling 16th in the NFL. Thankfully, only 14% of opponent drives resulted in a TD (9th). "Bend but don't break" may be an overused term, but at least from a stat point of view still applies to Wade's defense this year.
Dallas Cowboys Team Efficiency Scorecard, week 3, 2010
|LOS/Drive||25.3||29||CHI (37.5)||27.8||12||CHI (22.9)|
||4||T9||PHI, NYJ (1)||3||28||PIT (10)|
|Yards/Play||5.9||8||SD (6.7)||5.5||19||PIT (4.3)|
|Drive Success Rate||75%||4||NE (78%)||69%||20||BAL (54%)|
|3rd down conv.||41%||12||NE (58%)||24%||2||BAL (20%)|
|Scoring Drives||18%||16||NE (36%)||14%||9||PIT (5%)|
|Yards per point
||21.8||29||TEN (11.0)||16.9||16||PIT (25.3)|
|RZ TD Efficiency
||57%||11||PHI (88%)||38%||T7||TEN (16.7%)|
We saw in the Bears example on field position earlier that the differential between offensive and defensive numbers is the key to evaluating these stats. And that's what we'll do next, we'll look at the efficiency differential for each of the stats in the table above. In the table below, I've listed the top 12 teams in the NFL through week three, and show their league rank in each efficiency differential stat.
A couple of things to keep in mind as you look at this table: In 2009, the top 11 teams in this efficiency differential table all made the playoffs. The 17th ranked Bengals were the only playoff team not at the top of this list.
In 2008, 11 playoff participants were ranked within the top 13. The Vikings were the only team outside the top 13 (ranked 19th) to make the playoffs. Unfortunately I do not have the offensive and defensive splits for the red zone TD scoring percentages for 2007 and earlier in order to look at this over a longer period of time. However, the two years are enough to convince me that this is a pretty powerful indicator of team efficiency.
Despite a 1-2 record, the Cowboys make the list after three weeks and are ranked 11th, which is already significantly up from the 18th rank after week 2. Some teams on this list have of course benefited from a soft starting schedule. Other teams fail to make the list because they've faced a particularly tough opening schedule. Over time, this will even out.
|Field Position||Drive Efficiency||Scoring Efficiency|
|Team/ NFL Rank ||LOS/ Drive||TO ratio||Yards/ Play||Drive Success |
|3rd down |
|Drive scoring |
|Yards per |
For the most part, the Cowboys are a top ten team in terms of team efficiency, with three glaring exceptions: Starting field position, turnover ratio and yards per point on both offense and defense.
The Cowboys have a week to address these three points. Our next opponent, the Titans, were ranked 3rd on this list heading into Sunday, largely due to their scoring efficiency on offense and a dominant red zone defense. They will put up a good fight, and the Cowboys will only be able to come out on top if they are the more efficient team.