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Texans @ Cowboys: The Day After, By The Numbers

A numerically-driven examination of the Cowboys' narrow overtime victory against Houston. You know, the one that aged all of us about five years and featured a pretty nice catch from that Bryant fellow...

Tom Pennington

37: Yards on Dez Bryant's juggling, leaping, suspended in air with a defender draped all over him catch. Since the game ended, I've been trying to rank Bryant's catch among all-time Cowboys' catches - not in terms of import (which it had), but in terms of pure grace, athleticism, concentration and, most importantly, degree of difficulty. After a brief consultation with the other FPWs, we have a short list of all-timers catches, in chronological order

1978: Butch Johnson's diving catch-and-roll against the Broncos in Super Bowl XII
1992: Alvin Harper's one-handed tip, juggle and catch on Monday Night against the Redskins
1995: Michael Irvin's one-handed grab along the left sideline with Doug Evans draped all over him in the 1995 NFC Championship game
2009: Miles' Austin's leaping grab, also against the left sideline, in his coming-out game against the Chiefs
2014: Yesterday afternoon's Bryant catch..coincidentally, also against the left sideline

324: The completion to Bryant gave Romo 324 yards on the day, marking his first 300-yard passing game of the season and the first since undergoing back surgery last December. On a day in which yards were hard to come by, the Cowboys ended up passing for 300+ and running for 140 yards. Minus sacks, that's 456 total yards on the afternoon, as well as terrific balance against a very tough defense.

34: The number of yards on the catch up the right seam that Jason Witten hauled in to become the third tight end in NFL history to surpass 10,000 receiving yards for a career. Witten joins Tony Gonzalez (15,127 yards) and Shannon Sharpe (10,060) in that select club. Sharpe is in the Hall of Fame, and Gonzalez will be there in due time. It's difficult to imagine that The Senator won't be joining them about six years after he retires.

16:41: The Cowboys time of possession on three consecutive first half drives, of 11, 11 and 12 plays - a whopping 34 out of Dallas' 37 first-half plays. After struggling to execute and to sustain drives in 2013 (the Cowboys were at the bottom of the league in all conceivable offensive third-down stats categories last year), the fact that they were able to sustain so many long drives against a good defense was impressive. Particularly so was the fact that on those three possessions, they faced nine third downs, and converted seven of them (if we count the two yards Murray gained on a third-and-one before fumbling to end the first drive).

On those 34 plays, however, Dallas gained only 160 yards, or a fairly paltry 4.7 per play. As a consequence, those three drives resulted not only in the above fumble, but also a punt (after an 11-play, 43-yard drive got the ball only to midfield) and a field goal (after a 12-play, 65-yard march at the end of the half). So, while the Cowboys' ability to execute consistently in the first half was impressive, their inability to generate big plays meant that they faced an inordinate number of third down situations. On those three drives, they had fourteen series (i.e., 14 fresh sets of downs); they converted once on first down and four times on second down. The other nine, as noted above, required third down conversions.

The lesson of Sunday's first half: it's really, really difficult to generate points when you give defenses that many opportunities to get a stop.

58: DeMarco Murray's first half rushing yardage. As Jason Garrett noted in his post-game presser, Murray gained a lot of "dirty yards." Here's how much he gained on each of his thirteen first half carries: 0; 5; 5; 1; 5; 5; 2 (fumble); 5; 9; 7; 6; 4; 4. Compared to the previous Sunday, when he was rarely touched until getting to the second level, Murray was almost always hit on the first level on Sunday - but he managed to generate a succession of steady gainers, the kind of runs that put a team into manageable down-and-distance situations.

That experience will prove invaluable next Sunday, when Murray will almost certainly have a similar experience against Seattle's dynamic defense: the yards, they won't come easily.

464: The projected season total of Murray's total touches on the season. Combining carries, catches and incompletions, Murray was the intended ballcarrier on 39 plays on Sunday. At present, the Cowboys' offense is working well, but they are going to have to find a way to make it crank without Murray in the lineup because Number 29 simply cannot keep up this workload. At the end of the second half, Dallas sent Joseph Randle into the game for two consecutive carries, both of which gained two yards. For his efforts, Randle gained a first down and then set up the team in a second-an-eight...and was never seen again.

115: The Cowboys' first half passing yards. One of the chief reasons Dallas faced so many third downs was their inability, as suggested above, to make big plays in the passing game. In the first half, Tony Romo faded back to pass on 21 occasions, and was 13-20 with one sack, for an anemic 5.47 YPA. Nine of those completions went for fewer than ten yards, and Romo had completions of 4, 4, 2, 4, 2 and 3 yards. In many instances, therefore, they ran for more yards per play than they passed.

The combination of rushing on first down and passing on second down ultimately was successful. The Cowboys ran the ball on 22 of 32 first down plays (21 by Murray; one by Randle) Sunday. Romo went 15-of-20 for 185 yards on second down.

57: The offense managed to convert 57 percent on third downs against the league-leading defense in that category. All season, the Texans have thrived on getting opponents into unfavorable down-and-distance situations where they can cause a lot of schematic difficulties - in no small part by isolating the Texans' All-Universe defensive end J.J. Watt in a one-on-one situation against the offensive line's weak link.

4: Tackles by Watt, to which he added no sacks. Sure, he was awesome and disruptive throughout the game. But the Cowboys O-line did a superb job delimiting the potential damage. Oh, and Number Nine had something to say about delimiting Watt's stat totals. Dude has eyes on the back of his helmet...

86: The first half yardage given up by the Cowboys' defense. When we subtract 25 yards lost due to penalties, the Texans gained a total of 61 forward yards in the first frame. While Dallas' offense was working hard for yards, its defense was shutting down Houston's attack, with one minor exception...

5.7: Arian Foster's average per carry in the first half. After gaining only three yards on his first three carries, Foster notched nice gainers of 14, 4, 13 and 6 yards. So, even though Houston was shut out for the first 30 minutes, they did find something they could do well: run, especially inside, and especially against the Cowboys' nickel. Indeed, this ended up being their second half bread-and butter. To wit:

176: The Texans' rushing yards, on 31 carries (a very nifty 5.7 per). The Cowboys did a terrific job shutting down the Texans' passing game: Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for a mere 154 yards and Dallas gave up only one pass of 20 or more yards - and that was on a bubble screen to Andre Johnson. But, as the afternoon wore on, the Texans had more and more success running the ball. After getting only seven handoffs in the first half, Foster toted the rock 16 times in the second frame, collecting 116 yards on the ground.

It was pretty clear that the Texans coaches noted his first half success; on Houston's first drive of the second half, they gave it to Foster five times, and he responded with gains of 5, 2, 4, 33 and 15 for a touchdown to give his team a 7-3 lead. Later, he carried the ball on the Texans final two plays of regulation, as they drove inexorably to a tying touchdown.

This is what  rendered coach Bill O'Brien's overtime decision to have Fitzpatrick pass on third-and-two from the Dallas 48 so puzzling. Houston had been dominating a game but fading (and Rolando McClain-less) defense, with Foster notching 24- and 6-yard carries on their lone OT drive. Facing third and two just inside Cowboys territory, however, he curiously opted to pass, much to the relief of Cowboys fans.

109: The combined numbers of linebackers Rolando McClain and Bruce Carter. With Carter out for the game and McClain on the sideline for its end, the Texans moved the ball seemingly at will, especially on the ground. Arian Foster found nice creases for solid to big gainers, and Houston, who had been stymied for the duration of the game, suddenly scored ten points in the final three minutes. The takeaway here is that, if those two players miss next week's game, the run defense will be hard pressed, when facing Beast Mode, to resemble anything other than the unit that was gouged by the Texans in the second half on Sunday.

.333: The Cowboys' red zone percentage. The reason the two teams were still making meaningful snaps in the final five minutes can be traced to this number. Thanks to a Murray fumble that ended their promising second drive and a Romo interception that terminated their final third-quarter drive, the Cowboys offense failed to take advantage of the defense's fine early work. If we factor in Terrance Williams's dropped touchdown pass on the second-quarter drive that ended in a field goal, the Cowboys gave away between 10-18 points in the red zone on Sunday. The best way to take Arian Foster out of the game? Get those points, and make it a 28-7 game heading into the fourth quarter...

33.6: The Cowboys passer rating differential on the afternoon. Earlier this week, O.C.C. penned another terrific piece in which he argued persuasively that passer rating differential offers one of the highest observed correlations to NFL success:

Over four games this year, the Cowboys have an offensive passer rating of 98.7 and a defensive passer rating of 94.2 for a PRD of just 3.5. If we were to plug that PRD into the 2013 regression formula...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.

With a nice little 30+ PRD on Sunday, the Cowboys took an important step closer to the magical 13 PRD of which The Cool One speaks.

2: Number of games in 2014 in which the Cowboys have failed to register a sack; Sunday's contest was the second of these. However, they were able to get six hits on Texans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. As has been the case all season, the Cowboys defensive line is getting pressure but not getting home. Thus far, the lack absence of sacks hasn't been a killer; it's hard to imagine that this will continue to be the case however.

2: Also the number of Dallas' two fumbles that were recovered by Houston. In 2013, one of the few things the Cowboys did well was to recover fumbles: they recovered a league-leading 67.6% of all fumbles, both their own and those of their opponents. On offense, the Cowboys fumbled 18 times, recovering ten; their opponents fumbled sixteen times, and Dallas recovered 13 of them! That's a total of 23 recoveries for 34 fumbles. An analysis of fumbles from 1990-2012 shows that Dallas recovered six more fumbles than would be expected.

Thus far in 2014 - especially on offense - they seem to be suffering a regression to the mean in this regard, as I suggested might happen in mid-June. In five games, the Cowboys have fumbled nine times: five on offense; once on defense (J.J. WIlcox, after recovering Jimmy Graham's fumble); and three times on special teams (thank you, Dwayne Harris). On defense and special teams, they appear to be continuing their 2013 ways, recovering three of the four fumbles lost. On offense, however, they have lost four of five fumbles - all four of DeMarco Murray's fumbles on the young season.

Thus, not only has Murray been the victim of misfortune this season, the Cowboys have been incredibly unlucky when he does let go of the ball, failing to recover a single one of his droperooskis.

2: Also, the Cowboys' negative turnover differential.The last time the Cowboys won with a turnover differential of negative two? 2009, in the overtime thriller at Kansas City, which was mentioned at the top of this article as Miles Austin's coming-out party. 2009 was also the last time they made the playoffs. As per O.C.C.: Prior to yesterday's game, the Cowboys' record since 2000 in such games was 3-21. The moral of the story is that you have to be a pretty good team - or a lucky one - to overcome a -2 TO margin, especially when two of them are in the red zone.

I've oft written that the mark of a good team is that it avoids close games, which are subject to the many vagaries of the game that make it one of the "luckiest" of sports. On Sunday, the Cowboys' real failure wasn't allowing Houston to rally and tie it in regulation, nor was it the failure to slow down Arian Foster. It was their inability to take advantage of scoring opportunities that they worked so hard to create. Sunday could, and probably should, have been a comfortable win - had the Cowboys made two or three red zone plays that they failed to make.

Good teams aren't "clutch," nor do they "learn how to win" by making plays late. No, good teams learn to step on opponents' necks and refuse to let up. They make the plays that extend leads, thus avoiding lucky bounces, bad calls, and weird plays. By failing to do so, the Cowboys showed this fan that they're not yet ready to be classified as a "good team," regardless of record.

9: Number of game-winning field goals in Dan Bailey's career, after yester-afternoon's OT upright-splitter. My favorite post-game moment was the look on Jason Garrett's face when he was asked by Calvin Watkins whether his confidence in Bailey wavered after he missed a 53-yarder in regulation. Garrett affixed him with a cold, "what-are-you-a-freakin'-idiot?" stare before asking him "have you watched our football team for the last few years?" Go here to see Garrett's reaction if you missed it (jump to the 0:36 mark).

.417: The winning percentage of the Cowboys five opponents on the season (the four teams they've beaten are a combined 7-12). Any and all evaluations of the Cowboys at this point in the 2014 campaign must be tempered by the quality of their opponents, as they have only beaten one team that has a winning record after five games. Unless the Redskins shock the world later tonight, Dallas will have an opportunity to face a second winning team. With San Francisco having an up-and-down year and New Orleans looking like a flawed club, Seattle should offer the first real championship-caliber litmus test.

The Seahawks were initially installed as an 8.5-point favorite...

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