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Cowboys @ Seahawks: The Day After, By The Numbers

A statistically inflected look at the Cowboys stunning, dominating, and thoroughly impressive win against the defending NFL champs. In their crib.

Otto Greule Jr

7:13: The time remaining in the first quarter when the Seahawks built a 10-0 lead. The "old" Cowboys, the team we have become inured to, would have been intimidated and would likely have battened down the hatches and tried to get out of Seattle without any key injuries. Not these guys. After Romo went down after being hit by Bobby Wagner, head coach Jason Garrett didn't even bat an eye; he was the picture of calm, and never panicked. His guys have taken on this demeanor; down by ten, they just buckled on their chinstraps and went to work chiseling away at the Seahawks' lead.

In recent interviews, when asked to compare this team to the group that were spanked by these same Seahawks 27-7, in a game that could have been much worse, Dez Bryant told reporters, "I can tell you that it’s a totally different mindset here in this locker room [than it was in 2012] It’s just different here." When asked the same question, Orlando Scandrick, who, like Bryant is one of these "new" Cowboys'  leaders, remarked:

"We handle adverse situations, and so far we’ve came out on top of them," Scandrick said Wednesday. "You’re not always going to come out of adverse situations, but I think we’ve learned from them all and we’re just a different group of guys."

Ain't that the truth. From the 7:13 point of the first quarter, with Seattle's "12th man" whipped into a frenzy, and their star quarterback requiring attention on the sidelines, these Cowboys didn't blink. Nope, what they did was proceed to outscore the defending champs 30-13.

How did they do it? Lets take a look:

25: Plays run by the Cowboys in the second quarter, compared to five for the Seahawks. After a shaky opening frame, the Cowboys settled down and announced that they were in it to win it, amassing a 151-11 yardage advantage. In total, Dallas enjoyed a 249-75 advantage at halftime - with the majority of Seattle's total coming on a 53-yard Jermaine Kearse gainer on a controversial "rub" play. That play aside, the Seahawks limped to the half after running 15 plays for a paltry 22 yards.

And: on the day, the Cowboys enjoyed a 195 yard advantage, amassing a colossal 401-206 disparity in yards from scrimmage. Yet another impressive stat to emerge from the game.

2.6: Seattle's yards per carry, if we take away Marshawn Lynch's 32-yard run. The point here is that its better to allow an occasional big run than to get gashed repeatedly on the ground. Beast Mode and his fellow backs didn't hurt the Cowboys consistently - or, really, much at all - on the afternoon. By averaging a paltry two-and-a-half per, the Seahawks running game didn't do its part to get Russell Wilson in favorable down and distances. To wit:

8.6: The Seahawks' average distance on third down. Here are the distances to go on Seattle's thirteen third downs: 6, 9, 11, 12, 7, 7, 13, 8, 10, 10, 4, 9, 6. That's a grand total of one third down that was five or fewer yards - and that whenever the Cowboys were able to coax a third down out of the Seattle offense, it meant that they held them to an average of 1.4 yards on first and second down combined. That is, to put a fine point on it, pretty darned awesome.

9: The Seahawks' total first downs, with a big goose egg in the second quarter, as Dallas stormed back to take a 17-10 lead. After surrendering 20 or more first downs 11 times in 2013, and giving up 30 or more on three occasions (and almost a fourth; they once gave up 29), it was a refreshing change to see this new total. The last time the Cowboys held an opponent to single-digit first downs? December 2011, when they walloped a bad Tampa Bay team that had given up on its season.

121: The Seahawks total yards, minus their two big plays: Kearse's big gainer and Marshawn Lynch's 32-yard second-half run. As above, if we take away those big plays, we can really see how mightily the 'Hawks offense struggled: their other 46 plays from scrimmage gained 121 yards, for a measly 2.63 yards per play.

-1: Percy Harvin's total yards from scrimmage, on three carries and three catches. Perhaps Rod Marinelli's most difficult task last week was to find a way to limit the dynamic Harvin from exploiting the open spaces in the defense that Darrell Bevall's offense creates. They gave him no space to operate whatsoever. Every time the ball went Harvin's way, all eleven defenders swarmed to him; as a consequence, Harvin was an offensive non-factor.

6: Rushes by Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar. In an interesting development, the Cowboys used their peripheral offensive players a lot before halftime; a total of 12 plays in the first half were directed to the likes of Dunbar, Randle, Beasley or Escobar. Most importantly, those 12 plays gained a sweet 212 yards, with the highlights being Randle's 38-yard run on their first TD drive and 21- and 18-yard passes to Dunbar on their second one.

What is interesting is that their involvement tailed off markedly in the second half. Other than one Randle run on the opening drive of the third quarter, the only play that went to somebody other than Murray, Bryant, Williams or Witten was a one-yard pass to Tyler Clutts. I have two theories about why this might have been the case: 1) after two turnovers obliterated a 7-point lead, they decided to ride their showhorses; 2) the plan all along was to give the peripheral guys carries early, so that the big dogs would be rested to get reps late, with the game in the line.

40: Coming into the game, the Seahawks hadn't given up so much as a 40-yard rusher. Midway through the second quarter, both Joseph Randle and DeMarco Murray had eclipsed that mark. On the day, the Cowboys bludgeoned the 'Hawks run defense for 162 yards, exactly 100 more yards than the Seahawks had been yielding per game on the season.

.588: Dallas third down conversion percentage. In my offering to O.C.C.'s mid-week "Six things we're thinking about Cowboys type things" post, I wrote:

on the year, [the Cowboys] have engineered nine drives of ten or more plays, as well as four others of nine plays. Against a tough Seahawks defense that is both difficult to run against and excellent at delimiting yards after catch in the short passing game, Dallas will have to...navigate manageable third downs, and then convert them, to have a prayer of winning.

And that's exactly what they did. On the afternoon, Dallas engineered four drives of nine or more plays. They came into the game converting at better than a 55% clip (the league average is 42%), and increased that percentage. They converted a whopping eight out of their first ten third downs before suffering a dry spell wherein they failed to convert on four straight opportunities. But they finished the game converting two out of three (with the third on the short field goal drive that made it 30-23).

But here's the capper: these were not all of the "manageable" variety. The Cowboys converted third downs of 10, 8, 14, and 20 yards - and Murry almost crossed the chains after taking a dump-off fourteen yards on a third-and-17.

31: Total yards on the Seahawks' final three scoring drives, which totaled 14, 5 and 12 yards, respectively. Other than Seattle's opening FG drive, which covered 64 yards, the Cowboys defense darn near pitched a shutout. Dallas' offense and special teams put the Cowboys defense into a lot of bad positions (drives that started on the Cowboys' 14-, 20- and 42-yard lines as well as a blocked punt for a score) but they stood up strong and tall, limiting the 'Hawks to a touchdown and two field goals and preventing what Jimmy Johnson used to call the "feeding frenzy": when turnovers and scores accumulate and the game quickly gets out of hand (see: end of first half, Super Bowl XXVII)

Compare that to the hefty 354 yards gained on the Cowboys' scoring drives, which brings me to...

30: The last time Seattle allowed 30 points at home was late October 2011, before they had emerged as the tough, fast, young Seattle defensive team that became the Legion of Boom. In other words, this had simply never happened to this group of Seahawks' defenders; yesterday afternoon, they were served a bitter dish they had never tasted. What makes this doubly impressive is that Dallas had no easy scores or short fields, with the exception of their final field goal, when their defense gifted them with a shortie after a turnover on downs.

Other than that, the average length of the Cowboys scoring drives was 70.8 yards. Against the 'Hawks, in that environment? That's impressive work, boys.

63.6: The Cowboys passer rating differential on the afternoon. In games 1-4 this year, the Cowboys had an offensive passer rating of 98.7 and a defensive passer rating of 94.2 for a positive PRD of just 3.5. With a nice little 30+ PRD against Houston, they increased that number significantly. On Sunday, with a huge PRD mark, the Cowboys took an important step closer to the magical 13 PRD that our own O.C.C. wrote about a couple of weeks ago:

When all is said and done, PRD may just be the Robitussin of stats (no matter what you've got, Robitussin better handle it). PRD beats almost any other available stats in terms of how closely it correlates to wins in the NFL. It follows that as a team, you should do everything you can to improve your passer rating differential, no?

If we were to plug [the Cowboys PRD after four games] into the 2013 regression formula (PRD*0.16+8), we'd get a result that suggests the Cowboys are on track for an 8.6-win season, their 3-1 start notwithstanding.

The regression formula suggests that to reach 10 wins, the Cowboys would need a PRD of 13.

After Sunday's fine performance, the Cowboys PRD on the season sits at 16.7...well into the 11+ win range.

3.0: The Cowboys positive YPA differential. Another highly correlative stat is the difference between offensive and defensive yards per pass attempt. Usually, a YPA differential of +2 is thought to be very good; a YPA of 3.0 or better is indicative of dominance on both sides of the ball. The last time the Cowboys had a YPA differential of +3 or better? Last year's 31-7 demolition of the Rams. Like the 2011 game against Tampa Bay referenced above, that was against a very bad team. To enjoy such dominance against the World Champions? Some mighty good sauce...

83: Terrance Williams' number. On the afternoon, the Cowboys second receiver had two catches for 70 yards. But Williams' impact should be measured less by the total yards than by when the yards came. His first catch of the game, a 47-yarder along the right sideline, came on the first play after Dallas had just squandered a 17-10 lead by twice fumbling inside their own 20, serving as a counter-punch by a willing combatant. The second was the play of the game - and may have been a better catch than the all-timer Dez Bryant made in overtime last week: his 23-yard toe-dragger on third and 20. Each time I watch it on replay convinces me more of its fundamental impossibility.

56: The length of Dan Bailey's second of three field goals, which happened to be the longest of his career. On the day he officially became the most accurate kicker in NFL history, Bailey also booted his longest three-pointer yet. You might recall that Bailey started off in 2011 as a guy who was deadly accurate short but didn't have great leg strength. Over the years, he has extended the distance of his accuracy, and become a rare weapon.

26: The number of fourth quarter comebacks in Tony Romo's career. This one was a bit different than many of the others that populate his resume: this time, his defense gave him not one but two defensive stops after he had engineered the go-ahead score, which came with a healthy 5:00 remaining on the clock. Many of those 26 wins have had to come on the final drive because the Cowboys' defense has oft proved incapable of protecting a lead (um, Houston last week?). Yesterday was a welcome exception.

2: Number of Seahawks losses at home in their last 22 games. Since they beat the Cowboys in their home opener in 2012, including playoff games, the 'Hawks had compiled a 20-1 home record. In short, they have been a team that is next to impossible to beat at CenturyLink field.

1.000: Cowboys winning percentage in games decided by seven or fewer points. As I have oft written, all teams, regardless of quality, tend to hover around the .500 mark in such contests, since close games are more subject to the vagaries of luck: fumbles, tipped passes, weird bounces, controversial penalty calls. Thus good teams don't win close games; rather, they find ways to avoid being involved in close games. The fact that the Cowboys are batting 1.000 is an anomaly; technically, they have been "lucky" to win all three of their close games. As such, this is a trend that we should not expect to continue. Consequently, the Cowboys will need to start piling up larger points advantages to avoid the dreaded regression to the mean.

-1: The Cowboys' turnover differential (and it was -2 for most of the time the game was in doubt). After winning last week against Houston even thought they turned the ball over two more times than did the Texans, the Cowboys have now won on back to back weeks with a negative TO differential for the first time since weeks 2-3 of the 2008 season (they actually started 3-0 despite having a negative TO differential in all three games that season, an indication of how much better than its opponents that team was before it went off the rails.)

In 2008, the opponents in weeks 2 and 3 were the Eagles, who ended up going as far as the NFC Championship game, and the Packers, who had done the same the year before but limped to a 6-10 mark in '08. The takeaway six years later? The only way to win consecutive games against good teams despite having a negative TOD is to be really, really good. Right now, these Cowboys are just that.

And it feels good, don't it people?

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