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Reassessing 2014 Cowboys Opponents: Adjusting For DeMarco Murray

The Cowboys have been so strong on the ground that their performance may have skewed the stats of the seven teams they've played this year. Which is why we're making up a new stat, the "DeMarco-Murray-Adjusted" run defense ranking.

Wesley Hitt

Increasingly, when talk turns to the Cowboys and their success in the run game, we're hearing comments about how the teams the Cowboys have played so far weren't very good against the run in the first place. Occasionaly, that is followed up by an argument about how the upcoming opponents have much better run defenses.

Is this line of thinking simply confusing cause and effect, or is there some validity in those arguments? Let's take a look at the numbers to find out.

Take the Seahawks. In six games so far this season, they've allowed 513 rushing yards, or 85.5 yards per game, which makes them the sixth best run defense in the league. However, included in that total are the 162 rushing yards given up to the Cowboys in Week 6. If we deduct that game from the Seahawks' total - effectively adjusting for DeMarco Murray - their rushing yards per game drop from 85.5 yards to 70.2 yards per game. And those 70.2 yards would rank the Seahawks the number one rush defense in the league through Week 7.

Here's what the DeMarco-Murray-Adjusted rush totals for the Cowboys' seven opponents this year look like:

Team Current Ranking DeMarco-Murray-Adjusted Ranking Change
Team Games Yards Yds/G NFL Rank Games Yards Yds/G Adj. rank in Rank
Seattle Seahawks 6 513 85.5 6 5 351 70.2 1 +5
San Francisco 49ers 7 594 84.9 5 6 467 77.8 5 - -
New Orleans Saints 6 619 103.2 11 5 429 85.8 7 +4
Tennessee Titans 7 866 123.7 22 6 646 107.7 14 +8
Houston Texans 7 830 118.6 20 6 690 115.0 19 +1
New York Giants 7 854 122.0 21 6 698 116.3 20 +1
St. Louis Rams 6 870 145.0 28 5 747 149.4 31 -3

With the exception of the Rams, all opponents gave up more rushing yards to the Cowboys than they averaged against their remaining opponents. As a result, most of the teams above improve their Murray-adjusted rank.

As they say, you can only play the teams on your schedule, and while it is true that the Cowboys have faced some suspect teams against the run like the Texans, Giants or Rams, they have also played three of the top ten run-stuffing teams in the league. The Cowboys' ground game has worked equally well against all opponents, whether they were ranked high or low, a strong indication that the Cowboys' success on the ground isn't predicated on the quality of the opponent as much as many would have you believe.

We can do the same exercise with the upcoming opponents. The Cardinals are currently the number one ranked team in the league against the run, and the Cowboys play them in two weeks. Over six games, the Cardinals have allowed 435 rushing yards, or 72.5 yards per game. Part of the reason for that ranking is that the Cardinals are a good team against the run. Another part is the fact that they simply haven't played any of the top rushing teams yet. Here are the six teams they've played so far this year and where each team ranks in rushing yards per game:

49ers: 11th | Giants: 15th | Redskins: 21st | Broncos: 25th | Chargers: 29th | Raiders: 32nd

Obviously, you can't fault the Cardinals for their schedule, but we can do a DeMarco Murray Adjustment here as well, except instead of doing it retroactively, we'll do it proactively.

The Cowboys are averaging 160 yards per game on the ground. Add that total and an extra game to the Cardinals' numbers, and they'd get a DeMarco-Murray-Adjusted 85.0 yards per game, which would rank them sixth in the league behind the DeMarco-Murray-Adjusted Seahawks and 49ers.

Here's what the DeMarco-Murray-Adjusted rush totals for the Cowboys' remaining opponents this year look like, with the Redskins and Eagles having the pleasure of getting adjusted twice:

Team Current Ranking DeMarco-Murray-Adjusted Ranking Change
Team Games Yards Yds/G NFL Rank Games Yards Yds/G Adj. rank in Rank
Arizona Cardinals 6 435 72.5 1 7 595 85.0 6 -5
Indianapolis Colts 7 677 96.7 9 8 837 104.6 11 -2
Chicago Bears 7 759 108.4 14 8 919 114.9 16 -2
Washington Redskins 7 723 103.3 12 9 1,043 115.9 18 -6
Jacksonville Jaguars 7 772 110.3 15 8 932 116.5 19 -4
New York Giants 7 854 122 21 8 1,014 126.8 23 -2
Philadelphia Eagles 6 746 124.3 23 8 1,066 133.3 25 -2

Outside of the Cardinals and perhaps the Colts, the remaining opponents weren't particularly strong against the run to begin with, so the adjustments made to the numbers don't really change the picture much.

We saw above that the Cowboys have already had success on the ground against some pretty good teams. There is little reason not to expect this to continue. DeMarco Murray will probably not be able to keep up his 100+ yards pace for all remaining games, and there's bound to be a game where the running game will be less effective than it has been. But overall, the remaining schedule should not be a big impediment for continued success in the ground game.

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