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Giants @ Cowboys: The Day After, By The Numbers

All the numbers you'd ever want from the Cowboys' first divisional skirmish, a game Jason Garrett characterized as a "bar fight."

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

As we have oft heard, when playing division games, you can "throw out the records." Yesterday's game offered evidence in support of this thesis, as a hobbled but game New York Giants squad took a much better Cowboys team down to the wire before Dallas wore them down, ending with a less-than-comfortable 10-point victory.

Want proof that the game was evenly matched? Take a look at some of the stats:

First Downs: Giants 20; Cowboys 20
Total plays: Giants 59; Cowboys 60
Total drives: Giants: 11; Cowboys: 11
Red zone effectiveness: Giants 2-2; Cowboys 3-3
Passing touchdowns: Eli Manning: 3; Tony Romo: 3
Penalties: Giants 6-40; Cowboys 6-46

7: We simply must lead off with a celebration of DeMarco Murray's record-setting day. By rushing for 128 yards on 28 carries, he now holds a league record for the most consecutive 100-yard games to start a season. As he has piled up this impressive total, that St. Louis game looms ever larger; although it didn't mean much at the time, Murray eked out an even 100 yards in a game in which the Rams shut down the run for the better part of the afternoon.

It was close: on the Cowboys last drive vs. St. Louis, Murray sat at 93 yards for the game. His first carry gained zero, whereupon the Rams Eugene Sims was called for holding on a play that resulted in a Romo sack, giving the Cowboys a first down. If not for that call, he wouldn't likely have had another chance. Given a fresh set of downs, Murray gained seven, giving him an even century - and then added another carry for no yards, keeping him at that illustrious total.

913: Murray's total yards on the season. After Sunday's total, he leads the NFL in rushing by nearly 400 yards. The next closest rusher is Le'Veon Bell with 542. That's a staggering differential.

12: A nifty stat from Bill Jones: number of consecutive Cowboys touchdown drives that have started with a DeMarco Murray touch on the drive's opening play. This dates back to the first half of the Saints game in week four. It's not magic; the Cowboys are also starting most of their non-TD drives by giving the ball to Murray. On Sunday, for example, the Cowboys had eleven drives. One was the kneel-down at the end of the game. Of the remaining ten, Murray either carried or caught a pass on the first play of eight of them. The other two started off with a Randle run (third drive) and a Romo sack (sixth drive).

The Cowboys' identity is clear: A bunch of players soften the opponent with body blows and Dez, Murray and Romo go for the jaw later in the game.

12.78: Romo's A/YA, or adjusted yards per attempt [total yards + 20 x Passing TDs- 45 x Interceptions], on the afternoon, a total that figures as the tenth highest single-game A/YA of his career. This to go with a 135.7 passer rating, the twelfth best of his career. In sum, it's safe to say that Romo had one of the very best games of a career filled with statistically impressive games - and it would have been higher had Dez Bryant not fallen down on one second quarter pass that resulted in Romo's lone pick.

With Murray running wild, Romo had become - dare we say it - Aikman-esque: ruthlessly efficient. On Sunday, he was 17-23 passing, which was just shy of 75%. And not all of these were the kind of short, high-percentage plays that the Giants coaches want the mistake-prone Eli Manning to make. No, he had several throws that traveled 20 or more yards in the air. That makes him the best kind of quarterback: efficient in the medium-to-long range. And several of them were real gems, especially the second TD, a lovely 26-yarder down the seam to the emerging Gavin Escobar.

9: Romo's number. Also the number his completions in the second half, on nine attempts. After halftime, Number Nine was perfect, passing for 166 yards and a TD. And, as I suggested above, most of this was to his lead dog; when targeting Dez Bryant in the second half, he was 7-7 for a nifty 136 yards, including big gains (44 and 23 yards), near touchdowns (the 24-yarder that got the Cowboys down to the Giants' one) and clutch, Irvin-esque grabs on the last, clock-killing series (10 and 13 yards, the second for a first down).

4: The number of consecutive weeks in which the Cowboys had 400 or more yards of offense. Astonishingly, they haven't accomplished this since - wait for it - 1976. Want another astonishing stat? Dallas kept the ball for 33:49 Sunday, the fourth consecutive time it's had the ball for more than 33 minutes, something the Cowboys hadn’t accomplished since 1980. This is a historic level of consistency we're witnessing, people.

Speaking of historic:

100: The fabled century mark, which was eclipsed by both Murray and Bryant on the afternoon. As mentioned above, Murray rushed for 128 yards and Bryant had 151 yards receiving. The more senior Cowboys fans among us will remember fondly that the Cowboys were nearly perfect when Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin would accomplish the same feat. Not only did Murray and Bryant resemble two of the Triplets in terms of their stats, they resembled them on the critical fourth quarter drive that made it 28-14. Dez (as Irvin always did) took the ball down the the one so that Murray (as Emmitt always did) could get the tough final yard.

But there was one other resemblance. Going to the TV timeout with about twelve minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, we saw them doing Irvin and Smith's old "deuce-deuce" handshake.

10: The number of touches by the Cowboys "peripheral" offensive players (i.e., guys not named Murray, Witten or Bryant). Last week, in my "by the numbers" post, I noted that the Cowboys used their peripheral offensive players a lot before halftime; a total of 12 plays in the first half at Seattle were directed to the likes of Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle, Cole Beasley or Gavin Escobar, but that involvement tailed off markedly in the second half, which saw only one Randle carry and a one-yard outlet pass to Tyler Clutts during "winning time."

On Sunday, this trend continued. Dunbar, Randle, Escobar and Terrance Williams had ten touches in the game,  but only one of them - Escobar's electrifying third quarter TD - came after the half. In total, Dallas ran 24 plays in the second half; 23 of those went to Murray (15 runs, one reception) and Bryant (seven catches). Linehan's plan seems evident: give the peripheral guys carries early, so that the big dogs are sufficiently rested for the late reps they'll get with the game on the line.

.642: The Cowboys third down conversion percentage. In a game in which many of the stats were nearly identical, one key difference lay in the respective teams' third-down conversion percentages. The Cowboys were again superb on the "money down," converting 9-14 on the afternoon. The Giants, on the other hand, were 5-13 (6-14 if you count their lone fourth-down conversion). That's three times the Cowboys converted that the Giants didn't. In a game decided by ten points, those three stops made a huge difference.

3: Cowboys drives of 10 or more plays. Once again, the Cowboys demonstrated the ability to grind out long, time-consuming drives (on those three drives, they possessed the ball for 5:59, 5:36 and 4:29, respectively), something that they have been able to do only rarely in recent years. In the season's first month, their ability to convert third downs was largely the result of the improved running game: success on the ground on first and second downs gave the team the "manageable third downs" that were easier to convert.

The last two weeks, however, this hasn't been the case. Against Seattle, the Cowboys average yards to go on third down was 7.76 yards; yesterday, it was 8.28. That means that the last two weeks, when the Cowboys haven't achieved a first down on first or second down, they have had an average of exactly 8.0 yards to go, which means that on those particular first and second downs, they are averaging exactly one yard per play. The lesson here? This offense is getting very, very good at converting unmanageable third downs as well as those of the shorter variety.

While this is thrilling, it's also problematic. To wit:

3: Also the number of the Cowboys' three 3-and-outs in the game, a season-high total. On of the Cowboys' winning streak's chef characteristics has been the offense's ability to sustain offense and chew up clock, especially avoiding three-and-outs. Against Tennessee and St. Louis, they had one such series each game; the New Orleans, Houston and Seattle games saw two three-and-outs each; yesterday, the Giants coaxed three such series from them. The down-and-distance on third down for each of those three drives: 8, 16 and 19 yards. Those are very difficult conversions - and a far cry from the "manageable" down-and-distance formulations that we saw in earlier games.

And here's the key: drive killers. On the second of these, a Ron Leary holding call contributed to the third-and16; on the third, a Romo sack put them in third-and-nineteen. Penalties and sacks, as O.C.C. had ably demonstrated are the most notorious of "drive killers." Earlier in the season, the Cowboys did an excellent job of avoiding these bugaboos. More recently, they have seen more of these, but have also been spectacular at converting the resulting third-and-longs (the legendary 3rd-and-20 play in Seattle was necessary because of a holding call on Travis Frederick - a play that very well should have been a drive killer).

With that in mind, I wonder how sustainable the current formula - run on first and second down, pass on third down - is, since teams are loading up on the box, and we're seeing a lot of third-and-eight or longer.

78: Jermey Parnell's number. All week, people in the know reassured us that Parnell would be just fine in relief of the injured Doug Free. In the early going, this seemed to be misinformation, as Parnell struggled and Romo was repeatedly under duress in the Cowboys first few drives. As the game settled in, however, so did Parnell, who ultimately did a very nice job keeping the right edge clean during Romo's clutch second half. Moreover, a couple of Murray's big runs were on the right side.

And here's the good news: in Parnell and Mackenzie Bernadeau, the Cowboys have two very serviceable backups capable of coming in and holding their own over a short stretch should one of the starters get nicked. I'm not sure the line was as effective yesterday as it had been the past couple of weeks, but if there was a drop-off, it wasn't much. The days of the entire offense coming unglued when the likes of Cory Proctor came into the lineup are a distant memory.

3: Plays of 20 or more yards by the Giants offense. On the day, the Cowboys' defensive numbers weren't much to write home about: 352 total yards; 6.1 yards per play; 7.5 yards per pass; 4.0 yards per rush. Looking at these, it appears that the Dallas "D" didn't stop any aspect of the Giants' attack. What they DID do is delimit the big play. New York had no plays of 30 or more yards, and allowed only a 22-yard Andre Williams run, a 21-yard pass up the seam to TE Larry Donnell and the 27-yard touchdown pass to TE Daniel Fells.

Other than that, they really made Big Blue work for everything they got. Subtract Andre Williams's 22-yard run - which was the result of a Justin Durant over-run - and the Giants had 25 for 82 yards on the ground (3.28 per) and Williams's total was a 17 for 29, for a paltry 1.7 yards per carry. In my review of the Seahawks game, I made the point that it's better to allow an occasional big run than to get gashed repeatedly on the ground. The Giants managed to generate some rushing yardage (104 yards on the ground), but much of it came from irregular sources (an 11-yard Eli Manning scramble, for instance). For the vast majority of the afternoon, Williams, New York's primary ball carrier, did nothing. The takeaway here? Although the numbers don't immediately show it, the Cowboys absolutely shut down the run.

2: Strips of Giants TE Larry Donnell, the second of which gave the Cowboys a +1 turnover margin, the first time in three weeks wherein they enjoyed an advantage in this category. Against both Houston and Seattle, the Cowboys managed to win despite a negative turnover margin. With a -1 TO margin staring the Cowboys in the face through almost 50 minutes of game time, it looked like this unenviable trend would continue (although, all Cowboys fans agree, Terrell McClain CLEARLY stripped Williams on the Giants' first third-quarter drive. Not to worry, Barry Church and Durant got theirs...)

1.1: The yards-per-play differential in yards on the afternoon. Although both teams ran the same number of plays, the Cowboys were much more productive on their snaps, with the majority of that coming from...

3.2: The YPA differential. The difference between offensive and defensive yards per pass attempt is a favorite of stats geeks, since it tends to be highly correlative to winning percentage. Usually, a YPA differential of +2 is thought to be very good; a YPA of 3.0 or better is indicative of dominance. Last week, the Cowboys had a YPA differential of 3.0, the first time they had enjoyed such a difference since last year's 31-7 demolition of the Rams. The last time they had a +3.0 or better in consecutive games? The back-to-back shutouts to end the 2009 season.

0: Number of Cowboys sacks on the afternoon. As I mentioned on Twitter during the game, the one thing keeping this from being a complete team is the lack of a pass rush. Dallas has six sacks in seven games, which puts them second-to-last in the NFL, ahead only of the Rams. Certainly, they have been more successful at generating pressure than that woeful sack total would suggest. On Sunday, however, they rarely pressured Manning - or at least, didn't do so consistently. As a result, there were far too many plays when he could stand in the pocket and find open men.

If the Cowboys are to make anything of this glorious run in which they currently find themselves, they'll have to boost this number. Late in the season, teams succeed by winning matchups on the respective lines of scrimmage. It's one thing not to knock the likes of Austin Davis or Eli Manning (they are, to my mind, of comparable quality) off their rhythm. But guys like Aaron Rodgers will skin them alive if they give him the time they afforded Manning on Sunday.

.200: Opponents winning percentage the week after they play the Cowboys. In 2005-06, we heard that teams usually had less juice the week after facing off against Parcells' big, physical Cowboys units. More recently, we have seen reports that teams have struggled the week after playing physical squads in Seattle and San Francisco. In 2014, this team might well be the Cowboys. Dallas' opponents on the season are 1-4 (w/ one bye) the week after playing the Cowboys, and are giving up an average of 30.6 points per game after facing the bruising Cowboys O-line. The lesson in this? Playing Dallas hurts.

6: Number of Cowboys wins on the season, which puts them in rare company. As Bum Phillips used to say about Earl Campbell: "I don't know if he's in a class by himself, but I do know that when that class gets together, it sure don't take long to call the roll." Inspired by that story, I tweeted the following after the game:

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