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Colts @ Cowboys: The Day After, By The Numbers

A look at the Cowboys NFC East Championship-clinching rout of the Indianapolis Colts. By the numbers, of course.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The two most dominant performances on Sunday were those by Tony Romo and the Cowboys' defense. I'll start there (Romo first) before moving on to other statistical tidbits of note. And away we go...

28: Romo's rushing yardage on the afternoon. On a couple of occasions this season, we have seen Romo tuck the ball and run the ball; he even made a few big runs for first downs (remember his big run in week three: a pivotal 3rd-and-13 scramble that included juking a Rams linebacker). But we haven't seen this since the Seattle game, when Number Nine reportedly suffered a rib injury. And, of course, we weren't going to see him expose himself after injuring his back against the Redskins.

Well, the running, scrambling Romo is back. On Sunday, he made several nice runs, the most impressive of which was another 13-yarder, this time outside the pocket and down the right sideline. Not only did these runs help extend drives, they announced to the Colts (and to the rest of the league) that the agile Romo who we saw evading J.J. Watt and juking Rams linebackers is back. And, as we'll see below, a healthy Romo is a dangerous thing...

16: Number of consecutive completions during the game, a personal best for Romo. And this gaudy mark wasn't a result of a game full of dinking and dunking; Romo was a perfect 6-of-6 on throws 10 or more yards downfield.

9.2: Romo's ANY/A (adjusted net yards per pass attempt) in 2014, the highest of his career and one of the most efficient seasons in NFL history. ANY/A is an efficiency stat, calculated using the following formula: [Passing Yards - Sack Yards + (20 * Passing TD) - (45 * Interceptions) / (Passes Attempted + Times Sacked)]. Here are the single-season leaders in ANY/A, according to the fine gents at Pro Football Reference:

Rank Quarterback Season ANY/A
1 Peyton Manning 2004 9.78
2 Aaron Rodgers 2011 9.39
3 Nick Foles 2013 9.18
4 Dan Marino 1984 8.94
5 Tom Brady 2007 8.88

On Sunday, Romo's ANY/A was a lofty 14.9. If Romo finishes the 2014 campaign at his present ANY/A number or higher, he will place no worse than third on the above list, behind two of the league's all-time best, in their best seasons. Incidentally, both Manning and Rodgers won MVP honors for their respective seasons - as did Marino and Brady for theirs. Another incidental: Romo is third on the career ANY/A list, behind the selfsame Rodgers and Manning. Final incidental: given the respective QBs career stats, the clear outlier here is Foles, and his 2013 campaign.

128.3: Tony Romo's passer rating in the eleven Cowboys wins for which he has been at the helm. In those eleven games, Romo has a staggering total of 30 TD passes, 3 interceptions, and a 73% completion percentage. Some more Romo-centric numbers:

  • Romo now leads the NFL in completion percentage this season (70.3 percent), passing Drew Brees on Sunday.
  • He also leads the league in touchdown percentage (touchdowns divided by pass attempts) and first-down percentage (first downs divided by pass attempts).
  • He has 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions, a 4-to-1 ratio that has been bettered only by Aaron Rodgers this season.
  • He has a passer rating of 129.0 or above in five of the last six games - all wins.
  • Romo moved to the top of the leaderboard in Total QBR. He's at 82.3, just ahead of - guess who? - Rodgers (81.2) and Peyton Manning (80.8).
  • Romo He has an 84.4 Total QBR in the fourth quarter of games where the score is within seven points, with 70 percent completions, six touchdowns and two interceptions. Rodgers' Total QBR in those situations is 69.5. Manning's is 60.2.

In short, Romo is the meme-busting anti-choker of meme-busting anti-chokers. Speaking of which...

8.94: Romo's yards per pass attempt this December. In the month in which he supposedly folds, Tony Romo is 61-77 (79.2 %), for 688 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. That's a Troy-Aikman-circa-1992 level of efficiency.

2014: Romo's best season. Consider: Number Nine has played in 123 career games. If we look at the top 25% of these games, we get roughly 31 contests. I decided to look at the top 31 games in Romo's career in terms of passer rating and ANY/A to see the year-by-year distribution. To refine it a bit, I broke this into two tiers: the top 15 and then career-high games 16-31. Here's what I found (note that this was before the official numbers for the Colts game were compiled, so it is not included):

Passer rating ANY/A
1-15 16-31 Total 1-15 16-31 Total
2006 2 1 3 3 0 3
2007 1 5 7 2 3 5
2008 0 1 1 0 2 2
2009 2 1 3 3 1 4
2010 0 2 2 0 1 1
2011 2 1 3 3 2 5
2012 1 3 4 1 2 3
2013 2 0 2 1 1 2
2014 5 2 7 2 4 6

Coming into the Colts game, Romo had enjoyed his 5th (NYG II), 11th (Jacksonville), 12th (Chicago), 13th (New Orleans), 15th (NYG I) and 18th (Phlly II) best games of his career in terms of passer rating, and the 6th (NYGII), 11th (NYG I), 19th (Jags), 21st (Saints), 26th (Eagles II) and 31st (Bears) best of his career in terms of ANY/A.

They all moved down one place after Sunday afternoon's doings, as Romo's passer rating checked in as the highest of his career (if we exclude the game that currently hold the perch, the 2006 contest against the Texans, where Romo threw only two passes). In addition, his 14.9 ANY/A registers as the fifth highest of his career, behind only the 2006 Texans tilt, 2007's opening night 45-35 win against the Giants, last season's aerial frenzy against the Broncos (the 51-48 loss); and the 2009 opener in Tampa Bay, a 34-21 win. Pretty lofty company, that.

Looking at this broad canvas, the only other year that really compares is 2007, the 13-3 season when the Cowboys had Terrell Owens playing out of his mind, and a young Jason Witten. That team ran the ball well, giving the fourth quarter over to Marion Barber. Given the emphasis on running in all four quarters in 2014, Romo's yardage totals aren't as high as we've seen in the past, but he and the passing game are much more efficient.

32,971: Romo's career passing yardage, the most in Cowboys history - a mark previously held by the aforementioned Aikman. Fittingly, Romo broke Aikman’s record with the 25-yard TD throw to Witten down the seam that increased the Cowboys’ lead to 35-0 with 4:41 left in the third quarter.

.500: The Cowboys batting average on third downs, with a nice, neat 5-10. Against the NFL's top defense on third down, the Cowboys performed at their league-leading level. In the battle between the immovable object and the unstoppable force, the force won, convincingly.

17: The number of first downs the Cowboys accumulated on their first 33 plays from scrimmage. As you know if you watched the game, Dallas scored on its first four offensive possessions. And, other than the one-play drive in which they navigated a short field thanks to a botched fake punt, these were long, steady marches. On those three long drives, they averaged a gaudy 5.66 first downs per drive. Some of these came on first down, but most of them came on second and third down plays. The Cowboys converted eight of twelve second downs and were a perfect 4-4 against the league's best defense on third down. But converting more than half of their offensive plays for the better part of the first half? That's awesome. Especially when we consider:

5:49: The time remaining in the second quarter when the Colts got their first first down, on an 11-yard sideline pattern to Reggie Wayne on 3rd-and-ten. This happened after the Cowboys had piled up seventeen of their own en route to a 28-0 lead - and didn't amount to much; Indianapolis had to punt three plays later. And this came a week after the Cowboys piled up twelve first downs before the Eagles could register their first of the game, with 11:21 remaining in the second quarter. Similarly, the Cowboys built a big lead, 21-0, before the opposition could manage the most basic measure of offensive success.

The Cowboys are a team that's built to play from ahead. If they are going to continue to dominate first downs like that and build big leads, they will be very, very difficult to beat.

4.33: The average number of plays in the Colts' first nine drives. Indianapolis had eleven possessions on Sunday; the last two came in "garbage time" after the Cowboys had built a 42-0 lead. The other nine looked like this:

Plays Yards Result
4 -1 Downs
3 7 Punt
3 7 Punt
6 18 Punt
8 53 Interception
2 4 Interception
3 4 Punt
7 28 Fumble
3 2 Punt

As this suggests, the Colts simply could not sustain offense against the hungry, quick, and aggressive Cowboys defense. At 4.33 plays per possession, the Colts managed little better than a three-and out for the game. And, this was not because of explosive plays. No, sirree: in the game's first 50 minutes, on these nine drives, the Colts gained a grand total of 122 yards, for an average of 3.12 yards per play.

1: The Colts' rushing yards, on ten attempts. As the Cowboys often did in recent years, the Colts, with an ailing and moribund offensive line, hoped to establish a running game in order to protect their franchise quarterback. And, as we often saw with the c. 2011-2013 Cowboys, this was quickly abandoned as the team struggled to run the ball and/ or fell behind. They ran on all three plays in their first possession, ran once the next time they had the ball, and then more or less gave up the quest.

As I mentioned above, this team is built to play from ahead. One reason for this is that the Dallas defense can succeed if and when they can make the opposing offense one-dimensional. When they slam the door on the other team's running game while building a big lead, this is exactly what happens.

22.5: The Cowboys' passer rating differential (PRD) in 2014. Back in the season's first month, our own O.C.C. wrote about PRD's import:

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.

Thanks to impressive PRD differential the past two weeks (on Sunday, Romo outpaced Luck by an even 110.0; last week, he enjoyed a 48.5 advantage against Mark Sanchez), the Cowboys have blown past the 10 win mark and have their eyes set on a 12-win season (the formula above suggests an 11.6-win total).

6.4: The YPA differential enjoyed by the Cowboys on Sunday; the Cowboys averaged 11.4 yards per pass, while the Colts had only 5.0 on the afternoon. 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. A YPA of more than five yards? That's redonkulous...

8:24: The time of possession on the Cowboys' opening drive, a 15-play 80-yard march. In addition, they had possessions of 6:31 (10-play, 67-yard, TD) and 6:17 (10-play, 75-yards, TD) on the day. Earlier in the season, when the Cowboys were establishing themselves as a tough, run-based offense, they regularly ground out long drives such as these, enjoying substantial advantages in plays run and time of possession as a result. In the middle of the season, opposing teams began to scheme to take this away, stacking the line to stop DeMarco Murray.

In the last three weeks, a healthy Tony Romo has been able to make them pay for stacking the box, throwing deep and intermediate passes to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten in particular. In response, teams have begun to back off, seeing that Romo and the passing game pose an even nastier threat than the Cowboys' bruising running game. And the result is a beautiful offensive balance, a situation wherein Linehan and Co. force rival defenses into picking their poison. Either way they go, it's still poison.

2: The Cowboys turnover differential. After muddling through the middle of the season with a series of negative turnover differentials (and still, amazingly, managing to win more than one of those games), the Cowboys have been on the positive side of the ledger of late, registering +2s in each of the last three games. One of the primary reasons for the Cowboys defensive success has been their ability to generate turnovers, and thus delimit their opponents' successful possessions. Eight times in the last three weeks, they have managed this feat, getting key stops via turnover.

Wondering how the Cowboys have scored just over 40 points a game in their last three contests? Their +6 TO differential in the last three is a huge contributing factor.

100%: Terrance Williams' perfect game. On the afternoon, Williams was targeted twice, and had two catches for two scores. As the team moves into the playoffs, it's important that Williams rejoin Bryant, Witten, and Beasley as a weapon in the passing game. On Sunday, he got back onto rival defensive coordinator's game tapes. In particular, his 43-yard touchdown catch will keep them awake at night: he engineered a perfect release, gained impressive separation and hauled in Brandon Weeden's pass with his hands, not his body. And, speaking of hands...

3: The number of seasons in his career in which Number 88 has amassed 80+ catches, 1,000+ yards, and 10+ touchdowns. This puts him atop some illustrious company. The number of times other Cowboys greats managed totals such as these: Terrell Owens 2, Michael Irvin 1, Miles Austin 1. Go Dez..

22: Emmitt Smith's number. With his 58 yards on Sunday, DeMarco Murray passed Smith's 1992 season (1,713 yards) and landed a mere 28 yards behind Emmitt's 1995 total of 1,773. I suspect we'll see Murray play against Washington only long enough to break that record, whereupon he'll sit on the sidelines and let his broken hand heal for the playoffs.

18: The number of NFC East Championships the Cowboys have won. Since the NFC East began as an entity in 1970, Dallas has been at the top of the heap more than any other team. The others: Philadelphia, 9; New York, 8; Washington, 8; St. Louis/ Arizona, 2. As the T-shirts that the players found in their lockers after the game state, "the Cowboys run the East." Once again, they do.

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