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Cowboys State Of The Union: The Beast Of The NFC East?

The Dallas Cowboys have a .500 record as they prepare to travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. The division rival is at the bottom of the NFC East, but only one game back (2-4). There is a tight race with the New York Giants leading the division (4-2) and the Redskins tied with the Cowboys (3-3). However, Dallas is the only team undefeated in the division (1-0), while the Giants and Eagles each have one loss (1-1) and the Redskins have two (1-2).

After Week 8 of the NFL concludes, the Cowboys could lead the division with a win over the Eagles and a loss for the Giants facing the Miami Dolphins. But Dallas could also find itself at the bottom of the NFC East with a loss in Philadelphia. This rivalry week has some serious implications for the Dallas Cowboys.

As we near the midpoint of the regular season, the Cowboys still have a few lingering questions, but the team is coming off its most impressive victory and a solid four-quarter performance in nearly every aspect of the game. While the victory was against the winless St. Louis Rams, it certainly provides the team some momentum. The revival of the running game is also a great sign leading into the matchup with the Eagles.

A closer look at the state of the Dallas Cowboys and the statistical rankings of division rivals could be proof the Cowboys are poised to be the Beast of the East...

Off. Rankings Total Points Total Yards DVOA Rush Avg. Pass Avg. Sacks Allowed TO +/-
Cowboys 10 6 11 9(t) 8 7(t) 18
Eagles 13 3 10 1 10 3(t) 31
Giants 9 11 7 30(t) 2(t) 16(t) 8
Redskins 22 14 26 23(t) 16 11(t) 29
Def. Rankings              
Cowboys 11 7 3 2(t) 8(t) 8(t)  
Eagles 21 13 21 27 20 6(t)  
Giants 23 22 10 18(t) 19 1(t)  
Redskins 6 12 8 22 16 1(t)

Rushing Offense

The game versus the St. Louis Rams changed the Cowboys season rushing stats considerably. Prior to the game, the Cowboys ranked as one of the worst teams in the league in average per rush, but are now tied for ninth best due to DeMarco Murray's incredible performance. If the young offensive-line with the (re)introduction of Montrae Holland can continue to improve as they face some tougher competition, the rushing tandem of Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray could become a major factor as the season progresses.

The Eagles are currently the number one ranked rushing offense in the league. They lead in average per attempt and yards per game. Brain aneurisms threaten Andy Reid critics as the Eagles suddenly dominate the league in rushing, however unconventionally. By no means are the birds a run-heavy team. They rank tenth in attempts, but a quarter of those and a third of the yards are from quarterback Michael Vick who averages over eight yards per carry and 60 yards per game. LeSean McCoy is also a Top 10 running back in the league and a threat in his own right.

Uncharacteristically, the Giants and the Redskins (under Shanahan) are not as effective rushing the ball as most predicted. The Giants past rushing success seems to have taken a big hit by the breakup of their dominant o-line as age and injuries have led to several changes. The Redskins need to find a passing attack and manage turnovers to give their offense a chance to establish the power-run game.

Rushing Rankings: Eagles - Cowboys - Redskins - Giants

Passing Offense

The Giants have one of the most efficient passing offenses in the league, tied (2nd) with the Patriots averaging over nine yards a pass. However, the Cowboys lead the division with nearly 300 passing yards per game. The Giants have allowed the most sacks in the division, but also have thrown the fewest interceptions. The NFC East has three teams in the Top 10 for passing yards and passing average, the Eagles joining the Giants and Cowboys on the list. The Redskins are respectably average considering the limited talent at the skill positions.

Three teams rank in the Top 10, yet all three clearly have weaknesses that must be addressed in the fight for the division and a playoff berth. The Eagles must get Vick under control and reduce his offensive turnovers, which would be greatly assisted if their o-line continued its weekly improvements. While they have only allowed a few sacks, it is clearly despite the o-line play and primarily because of Vick's ability as a rusher.

The Giants o-line needs to do a better job protecting Eli Manning, but he has also improved his decision making and is accepting some sacks in an attempt to avoid turnovers. Eli led the league in interceptions last season though ranked second in fewest sacks. This season he has split the difference and ranks in the middle of the pack in both.

The Cowboys now have both their star wide receivers healthy and Romo is over a month removed from his punctured lung and fractured rib. While the Cowboys currently have the second passing offense in the division, they could be making a strong push for the lead in the division as the season progresses and the offensive line continues to improve.

Passing Rankings: Giants - Cowboys - Eagles - Redskins       

Offensive DVOA

The NFC East has three of the Top 10 passing offenses by average, but their respective offensive DVOA rankings don't quite match up. While the Eagles ranked tenth in both, it seems surprising their offensive DVOA wouldn't be higher due to their rushing efficiency. Then again, leading the league in offensive turnovers would certainly hamper offensive DVOA.

The Giants efficient passing game takes a DVOA hit, likely due to their poor rushing and questionable pass protection. The low turnover numbers and very efficient passing game help New York crack the Top 10 DVOA rankings, and the Redskins offensive woes are summed up by their poor DVOA ranking.

The Cowboys rank well in both passing and rushing efficiency, but the overall offensive DVOA doesn't manage to crack the Top 10. Turnovers and penalties are the usual suspects for the Cowboys offensive issues, but they are also the problems easiest to fix.

Off DVOA Rankings: Giants - Eagles - Cowboys - Redskins

Turnover  Differential

The Eagles and Redskins lead the league in offensive interceptions (11, 10) and the Cowboys are not far behind (8). To make matters worse, the Cowboys are tied for fourth worst in offensive fumbles (5), but are at least surpassed by the Eagles and Vick who currently leads the league in fumbles (7). This explains why Philadelphia ranks so low in turnover differential, but incredibly, while the Cowboys offense is one of the league's worst, the defense has helped overcome the differential to rank the team near the middle of the pack. The Redskins have only one offensive fumble, so their terrible turnover differential is not helped by their otherwise effective defense. The Giants are the only team in the division with a positive TO differential (+4), and have nearly twice as many defensive takeaways as offensive turnovers.  

If Tony Romo can do a better job - pardon the clichés - managing the football and the running backs take better care of the football (Choice is averaging one fumble every fourteen carries), the team should continue to climb the turnover differential rankings as the aggressive defense continues to improve and learn more of Rob Ryan's intricate schemes.

Turnover Rankings: Giants - Cowboys - Redskins - Eagles

Rushing Defense

Besides the Cowboys, the NFC East teams have had serious problems stopping the run. All of the Cowboys rivals rank below average in rushing defense and the Eagles are the fifth worst in the league. The Eagles rank slightly better in yards allowed than average per rush, likely because their passing offense forces opponents to play from behind, but the Redskins are still the only average run defense in the division other than the Cowboys. The Eagles and the Giants are also below average in yards allowed, the Giants near the bottom of the league. If the Cowboys can take the lead against any of their division opponents, they should be able to control the end of the game by rushing to close out the victory - much like they did against the Rams.

The Cowboys have allowed the least amount of rushing yards per game and are tied for second-lowest yards allowed per rush. They have allowed the fewest rushing first-downs in the league and have given up only one 20+yard run this season. No team has faced fewer rushes than the Cowboys defense. This is likely a mix of being so good at stopping it that opponents quit trying to run against the Cowboys, and partly because Dallas has played with the lead in most games. If the Cowboys can continue the trend of stopping the run so consistently, opposing offenses will continue to become one dimensional and more prone to Coach Ryan's aggressive schemes. It could also prove a vital factor when the Cowboys face the Eagles league leading rushing offense this Sunday night.

Rush Def Rankings: Cowboys - Redskins - Giants - Eagles

Passing Defense

Every team in the NFC East can pressure the quarterback. In no other category do all four teams rank in the Top 10, but the Beast of the East has always been known for pass rushing and this season is no exception. The Giants and ‘Skins are tied for the league lead in sacks. The stark difference between the divisional rivals' ability to rush quarterbacks and inability to stop the run could prove very telling. If the Cowboys can find a way to both protect Romo from pressure and blitz packages and also run the ball like they did versus the Rams, division opponents could find themselves abused by the Cowboys offense.

While all the teams are in the Top 10 in sacks, only the Cowboys are in the Top 10 in passing average while the others are below par. It seems our rivals may be able to apply pressure, but can also be taken advantage of in the passing game. Even the dream team lineup in the Eagles secondary hasn't proven dynamic this season. While they are Top 10 in passing yards allowed, they are the worst in the division in yards allowed per pass. While they are tied with the Cowboys for eleventh in the league defensive interceptions, the majority came in one game and their linebackers are just as susceptible against the pass as they are the run.

Pass Def Rankings: Cowboys - Giants - Redskins - Eagles

Defensive DVOA

DVOA rankings again show how the Cowboys defense is clearly the best in the division, and one of the best in the entire league. While the Redskins defense is not well ranked in defensive efficiency stats, nor high on the defensive turnovers list, they still manage to rank sixth in fewest points allowed. Their schedule may be the real reason they rank so well in points allowed and DVOA rankings, but their ability to create pressure and force sacks is certainly the most dangerous aspect of the Redskins defense.

The Giants defense also seems to be well ranked in DVOA primarily to their ability to pressure quarterbacks. Not only are they tied for the league lead in sacks, they are also tied for most fumbles forced. Their ability to create turnovers and pressure the quarterback helps the Giants rank tenth in DVOA though their defensive passing and rushing averages are mediocre.

It is odd that such poor rankings in defensive averages (efficiency) in the NFC East would still land two of those teams in the Top 10, but clearly the D is back in Dallas as the Cowboys rank as the best defense in the division and third in the league in DVOA. Rob Ryan is clearly well worth the money and fame.

Def DVOA Rankings: Cowboys - Redskins -Giants - Eagles

The Scoreboard

Analyzing teams based on points scored and points allowed can become tricky due to all the factors involved. But much like turnovers, the incalculable variables can be managed by studying the teams overall effectiveness when offensive and defensive ranks are compared.

While the Redskins rank the best in the division in points allowed, they also rank as the worst team in the division in points scored. Clearly their offense isn't pulling its weight and the team has suffered as a result. The Giants are the opposite. While they rank as the best in the league in points scored, their defense has surprisingly allowed the most points in the division despite their ability to create turnovers and sack the quarterback. It isn't often that a team with such a good turnover differential has a defense that allows so many points.

While the Eagles are one of the best in the league in amassing offensive yards, their league leading offensive turnovers obviously hurts the team on the scoreboard. The turnovers also put their defense in a difficult position, ranking well in yards allowed but nearly the worst in the division in points allowed.

The Cowboys rank second in the division in points scored and points allowed, but basically rank in the Top 10 in both. It makes them the clear division favorite on the scoreboard.

Points Rankings: Cowboys - Giants - Eagles - Redskins

Points Off DVOA Pass Avg. Rush Avg. Def DOVA Pass Avg. Rush Avg. TO +/- Avg. Rank
Cowboys 1 3 2 2 1 1 1 2 1.625
Eagles 3 2 3 1 4 4 4 4 3.125
Giants 2 1 1 4 3 2 3 1 2.125
Redskins 4 4 4 3 2 3 2 3 3.125

It can/will be debated, but the current rankings within the division make it appear like the Cowboys are currently the best team in the NFC East. Not only does their average division ranking display their dominance in the NFC East, but the Cowboys also appear to match up well versus their rivals. They have the best defense in the division and have also had the best results on the scoreboard, even though the team has come up short in the win-loss column. Cowboys fans are likely still struggling with the three losses following dominant starts to those games, so this should come as a relief and good news. For all the problems and questions facing the 2011 Dallas Cowboys, they are currently poised to be the best team in the division.

This theory will certainly be tested. The Cowboys have five division games left in the next ten weeks. While division games are always a scary proposition, the Cowboys defense seems more than capable of handling the Eagles dangerous rushing attack and all the efficient passing offenses in the division. The Cowboys offense also looks poised for big games against their rivals and average (at best) defenses. However, with the Cowboys rushing attack still a questionable weapon for the offense, it will be important for the team to improve by reducing offensive turnovers and penalties.

Studying how all the teams in the division rank in their offensive and defensive efficiency, I would find it difficult not to favor the Cowboys in every division matchup.

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