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Cowboys @ Rams: The Day After, By The Numbers

A look at the Cowboys thrilling comeback-and-hold-on win over a very game Rams squad. Numerically focused, of course!

And here's your (unexpected) player of the game...
And here's your (unexpected) player of the game...
Dilip Vishwanat

6:06: Time remaining in the second quarter when the Cowboys fell behind 21-0. The 'Boys came back from a 21-point deficit, marking the biggest comeback in a non-overtime game in the franchise's history, edging out the famous 1983 Monday Night Football thriller in which they beat the Redskins 31-30 after trailing 23-3 at halftime, and tying a couple games in which it took overtime to complete a 21-point comeback: a 1984 contest in which they trailed the Saints 27-6 at the beginning of the fourth quarter and 1999's open day win over Washington, when they rallied from a 35-14 deficit.

61.5: The Rams third down conversion percentage. The Cowboys came in to the game yielding only 4.5 third down conversions per game, which had marked real progress after finishing 24th in the league in 2013 in defensive third down conversion percentage. After allowing the Rams to convert 8 of their 13 third downs, the Cowboys have fallen from their lofty perch (seventh in the league coming in to the game). The prime culprit? Giving up too many yards on the ground in first and second downs. To wit:

4.0: The Rams' average yards-to-go on their 13 third down situations. To stop an offense with a young, inexperienced quarterback, the key is to get him in difficult down-and-distance situations, where conversion is dependent upon a slower-developing play wherein he's likely to be pressured. The Rams goal, therefore was to keep young Austin Davis in manageable third down situations - and that's exactly what they did. Only twice did the Rams face a third down and more than five, and eight times created a third and 3 or fewer yards - situations where Austin would make a quick read and throw before the Cowboys had any opportunity to make him uncomfortable.

By comparison, the Cowboys average yards to go on third down was 5.7. That 1.7 yards (1.66, to be precise) makes a big difference over the course of a game. More on key third downs below...

0: Number of Dallas sacks on the afternoon.As mentioned above, the Rams' ability to get Davis in manageable third down situations allowed them to call quick-hitting passes that were off before the Cowboys pass rush could get to him. That said, the Dallas pass rushers spent the better part of the afternoon spinning their wheels against the St. Louis O-line. On one of the few plays they did generate pressure (on an Orlando Scandrick blitz), they forced Davis into making a rushed decision, with the result being a Bruce Carter pick-six.

The lack of pressure is disturbing enough against a signal-caller like Davis, Against the likes of Drew Brees? Yikes...

37: The number of yards gained on the ground by DeMarco Murray, on five carries, on the 8-play scoring drive immediately after the Cowboys fell behind 21-0. After years in which Dallas' offensive braintrust has too easily given up on the run after falling behind, first-year offensive coordinator Scott Linehan kept with the team's bread and butter - and that even after Murray lost two yards on his first carry of the drive. After two passes got the Cowboys out of that 2nd and twelve hole, Murray twice found space on the backside for big gainers (14 and 20 yards). Nice stubbornness, Mr. Linehan.

5: Consecutive drives that ended in Cowboys scores. After opening the game weakly, gaining only 48 yards and going fumble, punt, interception on their first three possessions, the Cowboys offense woke up, and scored on five consecutive drives. To wit:

Drive 4: 8 plays, 80 yards, TD
Drive 5: 5 plays, 42 yards, FG
Drive 6: 4 plays, 83 yards, TD
Drive 7: 7 plays, 62 yards, FG
Drive 8: 11 plays, 84 yards, TD

On those five drives, the Cowboys ran a total of 38 plays (18 runs; 15 passes; 3 penalties; 2 field goal attempts), gaining a total of 351 yards. After adding Bruce Carter's pick six, they turned a 21-0 deficit into a 34-24 lead, a 31-3 run. That's a good afternoon's work; the fact that the Cowboys did it in close to two quarters is remarkable.

13: As in 3rd and 13, the down-and-distance the Cowboys twice faced on the fourth quarter drive in which they took the lead for the first time in the game, at 27-24. The first happened on the Dallas 13-yard line; facing a strong rush, Romo suddenly found a wide-open middle, took off, and juked St. Louis linebacker to gain the extra yards needed for the first down.The last time Tony Romo ran for a first down on 3rd and more than ten yards? You'll have to go way back: in October 2007, against these same Rams.

A few plays later, Romo again used his feet, maneuvering in the pocket to buy time so he could hit Terrance Williams for 20 yards on the second 3rd and 13. Both were clutch efforts in the critical 11-play, 84-yard drive.

99: Tony Romo's near-perfect QBR for the game, after logging 19.9 (49ers) and 63.1 (Titans) QBRs in the first two games. Such a high mark is quite unusual when a quarterback throws an interception, and doubly so when he tosses a pick-six. To wit: over the last three seasons, an NFL quarterback has recorded a Total QBR of 99 or better 11 times; Romo is the only one of those eleven to throw an interception. After being on the losing side of some unusual statistics in recent years, I'm sure Romo will take this one, and happily.

9.4: Tony Romo's YPA. A week after delivering one of his career low yards-per-pass averages against Tennessee (6.07), Romo registered one of his highest in St. Louis. Although he didn't make a lot of difficult throws deep or across the field - see below - Romo was ruthlessly efficient, completing 18 of 23 passes.

1: The number of incomplete passes Romo threw on any one drive. Number Nine threw only five incompletes all afternoon, and distribute them across five of the Cowboys ten drives. And, though he had three second-quarter incompletes, Romo had none in the third frame, and the only fourth-quarter incomplete came on the Cowboys' penultimate drive, when his game-clinching pass to Lance Dunbar sailed wide (their final "drive" consisted of two kneel-downs). That's a long stretch without the ball hitting the ground.

And it didn't hurt that two of his incompletes became long pass interference penalties - the 26-yarder (end zone, Cole Beasley) that set up their first TD and the 33-yarder (right hash, Dez Bryant) that was a big play in their final offensive score.

3: The number of Romo passes of 15 or more yards. Although the Cowboys' QB had a stellar QBR, and a strong YPA, these positive numbers came largely as a result of efficiency, not intermediate-to-long completions. The Cowboys completed only five passes of double-digit length, only three of 15 or more yards and only two of 20 or more yards. For years, short and intermediate passes were a staple of Romo's game (that's how he compiled a historically good career YPA from 2006-11). Even with his (very underthrown) 68-yard bomb to Dez Bryant, Tony Romo hasn't quite escaped from under 2013's dink-and-dunk umbrella.

5:58: The time remaining in the game after Bruce Carter's pick-six extended the Cowboys' lead to 34-24. After a furious comeback, the Cowboys were positioned with a ten-point lead and roughly six minutes remaining, a scenario that reminded me of two recent Cowboys road games, last year's debacle in Detroit (in which, with 6:45 remaining, the Cowboys led 27-17) and last week's Titans game, (the Cowboys took over with 6:22 remaining after the Titans' failed to score on a fourth and goal play). Obviously, the Cowboys lost in Detroit and won in Tennessee; the key difference was their ability (or inability) to run in those games.

Against the Lions, you will recall, they gave up a quick touchdown (on a drive that lasted 3:12) and took over with 3:33 left on the clock. Needing a first down, they twice fed the ball to Joseph Randle, and lost a total of two yards. A third down pass fell incomplete, and they Lions were set up for their epic comeback. In Tennessee, on the other hand, they fed the ball eleven straight times to Murray and Lance Dunbar, eating up 5:50 worth of clock, as well as all three Titans' time outs and the two-minute warning.

The moral of the story? If the Cowboys' are to succeed in 2014, they'll have to rely on some aspect of the team - anything! - to be a consistent strength. If that strength is to be their running game, they will have to run as they did in Tennessee rather than the way they did in Detroit - and in St. Louis yesterday. The fact that two of Murray's three runs on the Cowboys' final full possession were stopped at the line of scrimmage amounts to a recipe for failure - the same recipe we saw in Detroit last season.

Murray tallied 79 yards on four of his totes. That meant that his other 21 carries netted 21 yards, a total that feels too much like 2011, frankly. On a day in which they couldn't run the ball with anything resembling consistency, the Cowboys were bailed out by a bad defense making a good play - not a result upon which they can rely with any regularity.

104: The penalty yardage differential, in the Cowboys' favor. The Rams accumulated 119 penalty yards to a mere 15 for Dallas, and several of them really stung. A 26-yard pass interference penalty set up the Cowboys' first touchdown; a 15-yard roughing the passer call helped set up their field goal before the half; a 33-yard pass interference call was a key play in the Cowboys go-ahead drive. And the biggest of all might well have been the 5-yard defensive holding penalty on Keith Sims, which negated an 11-yard sack on Romo, and cost St. Louis several precious ticks of the clock: not only did the Cowboys get a fresh set of downs but, as it worked out, when they did punt the ball, the change of possession happened right at the 2-minute warning, so the Rams didn't get to use it as a fourth time out.

After setting up St. Louis to "pull a Detroit," the Cowboys escaped, thanks to the above call and a good play by Mo Claiborne. As I Tweeted during the game, sometimes its better to be lucky that good. Then again, sometimes its best to be good at just the right time...

59: Anthony Hitchens' number. Let team with 13 tackles (10 solo) and a huge fourth-down stop on the Rams first drive of the second half. As Hitchens told reporters post-game, St. Louis called a play on that critical fourth down that they had run earlier in the game. This time, he knew what to do, and shot the gap behind a pulling guard to make a beautiful stop in the backfield. As impressive as the play was, I'm probably more pleased by his recognition skills.They were sorely needed at that moment, because...

228: The Rams' second-half yardage total. Although St. Louis managed the bulk of its scoring in the first half (when they gained 202 yards), they actually had a more productive second half offensively. The key, of course, was that they weren't as fortunate. One drive ended on a fourth-down stop, and another in a field goal. We can make the argument that the Cowboys defense rose up on both occasions, and take that as a mark that they were better after intermission. To my mind, however, it seemed that the Rams did whatever they wanted, and got better at doing so as the game wore on. The real difference? Ahhh, I'm glad you asked...

+1: The Cowboys' turnover margin. After starting the game in a deep hole in terms of turnover margin - they were minus-2 and had allowed the Rams to accumulate 14 points off of those TOs - the Cowboys battled back, getting a second quarter fumble and two fourth-quarter interceptions to come out ahead. And all three turnovers were huge; the first two led to points (on a field goal and a touchdown) and the third sealed the game with less than a minute remaining. When we write the story of this comeback, the shift in turnover fortunes must be an integral part - if not the most crucial aspect - of the narrative.

12: Consecutive game three wins for the Cowboys, going back to 2003. That's twelve consecutive years that they have emerged from week three with a "W," including 2004, when they started 3-10, and 2010, when they started 1-7, with their lone win a week three victory over the Texans. That's all well and good, but Dallas is also 2-9 in week four over the same period, and hasn't won the season's fourth game since beating the Rams 35-7 in 2007. The long history of .500 football in Dallas has too often begun with a .500 September.

5: The number of home games in the Cowboys next six contests - with the seventh game being the neutral site game against Jacksonville in London. After claiming back-to-back road wins for the first time since 2012, the Cowboys can now look forward to a long stretch of home cookin'. Other than a nasty trip to Seattle in mid-October, the Cowboys won't play a true road game until November 23rd. Although the schedule has some tough games looming, Dallas has a superb opportunity to get into position to participate in the NFC playoff race. Its all there before them...

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