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Cowboys @ Eagles: The Day After, By The Numbers

A look at the Cowboys road win over the Eagles. Organized according to the number, of course.

Joseph Randle acquitted himself will in DeMarco Murray's absence.
Joseph Randle acquitted himself will in DeMarco Murray's absence.

In a game that pundits predicted would be a shootout - "take the over!" - the Cowboys won a defensive struggle with two long second-half touchdown drives. As might be expected, therefore, most of the numbers will focus on the defense. Most, but not all. Let's take a looksee, shall we?

.000: Nick Foles' completion percentage on throws 15 or more yards downfield. He was 0-8 on the afternoon on such throws, which was a primary contributor to his piddling 80 yards passing. And it wasn't just Foles who was limited; in the Eagles' first six games, they have registered 42 "explosives" - plays of 20 or more yards. On Sunday, they managed one: a 26-yard Mat Barkely to Riley Cooper pass long after the final outcome was settled. How were they able to limit an offense that previous had seen few limits? Well, one key stat was...

55: LeSean McCoy's rushing yards, on 18 carries, for an anything but gaudy 3.1 yard average. In recent years, McCoy has been a Cowboys killer, twice gaining 149 or more yards and averaging 7.0 yards a carry. More importantly, he often made the Dallas defensive ends pay for hard upfield rushes with sharp-cutting off-tackle runs. When he's working it like that, it allows the Eagles play-action game to get going - especially giving time for deep routes to DeSean Jackson to develop.

On Sunday, McCoy had little room to run and, when he did, several players, Sean Lee and Barry Church in particular, did fine work coming up to tackle him in the developing hole. With no running game slowing down the pass rush, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly had to resort to methods other than play-action to move the ball. I found one three-play sequence to end the first quarter to be particularly interesting:

1. Scandrick fights through traffic to make a terrific stop on a bubble screen
2. Carr and Selvie corral McCoy for a loss after several other defenders sniff out a screen to the other side.
3. Carr comes up and makes a nice tackle, hitting Eagles TE Zach Ertz low after a short gain.

To this point in the game, the Cowboys pass rush had been harrassing Nick Foles, so Kelly tried to go with perimeter plays that negated the Dallas pass rush, but the back seven played them superbly, working through traffic and making sure tackles. Indeed, they tackled better on Sunday than they had all season.

50: Sean Lee's number. The Cowboys' MLB had 11 tackles, 1 tackle for loss (when he came up to nail McCoy for a loss when it looked like Shady would get the edge), a pick, a pass deflection. A few days ago, I wrote an article that wondered if he and Bruce Carter were being over-rated by Cowboys fans. Yesterday's performance made me (gladly) eat my words.

176: Total yards surrendered when the game still mattered - i.e., to the point where Matt Barkley threw his first interception, to Lee (at that point, the Cowboys had more than doubled Philly's total, amassing 363 yards of offense). In total, the Eagles high-flying offense had 14 drives, which went as follows:

missed FG (end of first half)
FG (after 10-play, 17-yard drive following a DeMeco Ryans interception return)
Int #1
Int #2
Int #3

That's some pretty darned stifling defense.

22.1: The Eagles' average starting field position, a figure which falls to 18.4 when we take out the one drive when they set up shop at the Cowboys 30 after Ryan's interception return. One of the reasons that the Dallas defense was so successful was that they continually had the benefit of long fields to defend.

3: Interceptions of Matt Barkley. For too long, the Cowboys have frustrated their fans by not finding the oppositions weak spot and picking at it relentlessly (remember the playoff game in Seattle in 2006, when the 'Hawks had recruited Pete Hunter off the street to play defensive back, and Dallas failed to challenge him? That's one of many examples). In addition, it seems that they too often "play down to the level of competition."

The larger point is that this team hasn't shown the bullying attitude wherein they clearly enjoy beating up on a weaker foe, or exploiting a weakness until the other team cries uncle. This season, we have seen glimpses that this is changing. A rookie QB came into the game, and they welcomed him to the NFL by confusing and harassing him relentlessly. That's what veteran players are supposed to do to an inexperienced rookie: beat him up.

3: Also the number of games this season in which the team has led from start to finish, after having exactly zero such contests in 2012. To my mind, this is further evidence that this squad enjoys putting the pressure on opponents, taking and, ultimately, extending, a commanding lead as the sacks and interceptions pile up in the second half. Which leads me to...

2: the number of consecutive wins by 14 or more points. I have long said that the Cowboys trouble isn't that they can't win close games (all NFL teams hover around .500 in games decided by a touchdown or less) but that they get involved in too many of those close contests. In the last two weeks, the game has been decided roughly by the middle of the fourth quarter (both times by a clinching interception), so that the last five to seven minutes factor in as "garbage time," which is exactly what you want when your team is on the winning side.

In garbage time, mistakes, bad calls, bizarre bounces of the ball, picks on ball batted at the line of scrimmage, etc., can't hurt you. In three of their four wins, the Cowboys have had the game won with at least five minutes remaining on the clock. That's what good teams do; they eliminate the possibility of the game's many chance elements. One way they do this is to generate...

15: Turnovers on the year. As KD tweeted yesterday, the Cowboys have nine picks on the year, which is two more than they had in all of 2012. Years ago, Jimmy Johnson had one of his guys study turnovers and the conclusion was that fumbles are largely a matter of chance, but that teams can generate interceptions. If we believe this to be true, then The Men of Kiffin are indeed better at creating turnovers than Ryan's Rejects were last season. As a result, they are better built to protect (and to extend) late leads.

And now to the offense:

21: Joseph Randle's number. The rook has a lot to learn, especially in terms of pass protections (he was replaced by Phillip Tanner on obvious passing situations). But I thought he showed better vision and burst than the man he replaced, DeMarco Murray. Although he has less straight-line speed than Murry, he makes quicker cuts and picks his way through traffic a bit better. Also, he made a nice catch in the middle of the Cowboys' first touchdown drive, turning his body to make the grab on a throw that was behind him. Randle is one of several youngsters on offense who is making a mark. Which bring me to...

0: Miles Austin's catches against the Eagles. In the last two weeks, Austin has zero catches on seven targets. When Terrance Williams was drafted, those of us who "follow the money" speculated that he was selected as Austin's replacement, and that the timing on the part of the organization was wise, given that the team wasn't likely to bid Miles goodby until after the 2014 season, which would give Williams the two years of seasoning college receivers tend to need before making a legitimate contribution at the pro level.

Clearly, Williams has no interest in that timetable. He has developed at a staggering rate, and he (and Cole Beasley's ascension as a dynamic presence in the slot, where Austin was deadly over the last several years) has already made number 19 an afterthought. Since Austin's last catch, Terrance Williams has 19 receptions for 320 yards and 3 TD, and Beasley has 17 grabs for 160 yards and a TD. During what proved to be the Cowboys second touchdown drive, in a close, one-score game, when they got into the all-important Red Zone, where the Cowboys have had trouble in recent years, who did Romo throw to? Beasley twice, followed by the scoring strike to Williams.

3-4: The defensive scheme that the Cowboys have faced each of the last two weeks. As we know from the years when Dallas employed this scheme, the idea is that rushers can come from anywhere. Indeed, in the past two weeks, the Redskins and Eagles have sent 5-7 rushers numerous times, putting tremendous pressure on Romo. Yesterday, they frequently had a "clean" rusher with a straight shot at Number Nine.

And this is nothing new. The Cowboys have long struggled against 3-4 teams, especially on the road. As the great Bob Sturm has shown us, under Garrett our Beloved 'Boys have struggled - whatever the reason - mightily to generate more than 20 points on the road. In the past, this was usually because they seemed to play scared, scheming to avoid big defensive plays rather than to generate them on offense.

Yesterday, much of this narrative continued, with one key difference: they didn't "play scared." Perhaps it was because of the threat the Eagles offense presented, but they came out and let it all hang out, showing a lot of spread formations and throwing on roughly two-thirds of their offensive snaps. Clearly, Garrett and Bill Callahan have significantly more faith in their offensive line; the next step is for that to result in a flurry of scoring on the road. Next week in Detroit would be a terrific time for that particular advance.

1: The number of stinkers put in by the Cowboys this season. At 4-3, they have two losses to undefeated 13-1 AFC West teams, in games that went down to the wire. That leaves the loss at San Diego as the outlier - and, from my seat on the couch, the Chargers game was the one where they played without the "relentless spirit" to which Garrett constantly refers. They may not be at full strength, but these Cowboys play really, really hard and make the opposition earn everything they get.

How can you not root for a bunch of guys like that?


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