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Cowboys @ Buccaneers: The Day After, By The Numbers

A short, cursory look at a Cowboys' loss that, frankly, doesn't deserve quality analysis. By the numbers, of course.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As I suggested above, this game was too poorly played to merit the hours usually spent on a quality "by the numbers" post. I'd probably feel this way had the Cowboys won; since they lost, it is felt all the more acutely. To ease you into the horror that was Sunday's death march through tedium, I'll begin with the afternoon's only sliver of good news:

196: the number of consecutive games played by Jason Witten, which ties him with Bob Lilly, the great "Mr. Cowboy." Given The Senator's absence on the post-game injury report, I'll assume that he will break the record (and, perhaps, eclipse the 1,000 receptions mark; he has eight catches to go) next week, when Tony Romo returns. How fitting.

34: the Cowboys longest drive on the afternoon, which resulted in Dan Bailey's first and only missed field goal of the season. After an opening three-and-out, the Dallas offense gained at least 21 yards and netted at least one first down on each of its next seven drives. The problem is that they never managed to accrue more than 34 yards or three first downs on any of those marches. In last week's "by the numbers" affair, I noted that the Cowboys struggled to convert on first and second downs, which meant that they too often got themselves into third downs, where they had to convert to sustain drives.

On Sunday, Cassel and Co. put themselves into the same situation, converting on first down only three times and on second down a mere five times, one by penalty (the numbers against the Eagles were five and eight times, respectively). The upshot is that the last two weeks, the Cowboys' offense has put themselves in a situation wherein they have had to convert third downs at a very high rate to sustain drives. Against Philly, they managed a strong 8-16 on third down, so they were able to overcome their incapacity on early downs to a degree. On Sunday, they were a less successful 4-13; as a result, potentially promising 20+ yard drives continually ended in punts.

2.0: the Cowboys' average yards per rush, after totaling 42 yards in 21 carries. Darren McFadden's career renaissance was short-lived; he averaged 1.9 yards per carry on his 17 totes. And, like the rest of the team, he started solidly and then completely fell off. Run-DMC tallied 31 yards on his first eight carries (through the Cowboys' second field goal drive); his final nine carried netted a single yard.

10:34: time remaining in second quarter when Dan Bailey hit the second of his two field goals. So, after scoring on two of their first three drives in the game's opening 20 minutes, the Dallas offense was shut out the remainder of the way. This correlates strongly to the drop-off in McFadden's running totals. An offense that can't run the ball is going to struggle to maintain possession; an offense that can't manufacture big plays is going to have a hard time scoring. An offense that can't do either? Well, you saw the results on Sunday, and they weren't pretty.

12: targets for Dez Bryant. Of those twelve, he came away with only five catches, for a fairly low-impact 45 yards. That means that seven times that Matt Cassel targeted Dez the ball was dropped, batted away, or otherwise fell incomplete. To put that into perspective, the rest of the offensive skill position players were targeted a total of 16 times and came away with 14 catches. Cassel twice threw the ball away; on all other plays to receivers not named Bryant, his completion percentage was an impressive 87.5%. To Dez, it was less than half of that: 41.6%.

To add to this frustrating mix, Dez's completions all came early on; he registered catches on four of his first six targets, but then only one in his final six. Of course, the final two non-catches were the most damaging: a drop of a perfect Cassel pass on third-and-one (most post-game punditry claims this to be the play of the game) and the Cowboys' final offensive play, in which he didn't appear to see the ball particularly well and certainly didn't make the kind of effort to go up and snatch the ball out of the air that we have grown accustomed to see from Number 88.

29: the average points per game yielded by the Tampa Bay defense coming into the game. The prevailing narrative leading up to Sunday was that the Bucs defense was going to give up lots of yards, but that they often compensated for this by creating turnovers. Indeed, they went against the script all afternoon, generating only one takeaway - and that was on Dallas' final, futile offensive snap - but holding the Cowboys to a season low (for both the Cowboys' offense and the Tampa defense) 216 yards.

217: The yardage differential for the Matt Cassel-led offense in weeks seven and nine versus weeks eight and ten. Cassel now has four games under his belt. In those four games, the Cowboys' offense has been like the little girl with the curl, either very good or very bad. To wit:

Week 7 (NYG): 460 offensive yards
Week 8 (Sea): 220
Week 9 (Phi): 411
Week 10 (TB): 217

The average yardage total in odd-numbered NFL weeks is 435.5; the average in even-numbered weeks is 218.5. That's a difference of 217 yards a game. Cassel and Co. have not only fluctuated from week to week, but have done so wildly, gaining half the average yards in even-numbered weeks as they do in odd-numbered ones. If one of the keys to winning in the NFL is consistency, the Cowboys offense, in its radical inconsistency, has been a willing contributor to their record malaise.

8: the number of times in the "Romo era" that the Cowboys have averaged four or fewer yards per play. One was the horrible Christmas night loss to the Eagles in 2006, and another was the season-ender against the Redskins the following year. All others have happened in his absence: two Brad Johnson starts in 2008, a Stephen McGee start against Philly at the end of the 2011 campaign, and three games in 2015: Patriots, Seahawks, and Buccaneers. These numbers suggest that it doesn't matter if a team has a top-three offensive line or a top-five receiver or a Hall of Fame tight end. If the top-three quarterback is out of the lineup, the entire operation stalls.

5: the number of times the Cowboys have been tied or held the lead at halftime during Romo's absence. In addition, they have held two leads and twice been tied going into the fourth quarter during this streak. During the seven-game slide, Dallas has been outscored 111-46 in the second halves of games, which averages out to 15.9-6.6 per contest. The only game in the last seven in which they outscored the opponent was against Seattle, whom they outscored 6-3.

55.9: Jameis Winston's quarterback rating. Typically, an opposing QBR that low results in a victory. Since 1990, the Cowboys have played exactly 105 games in which the rival QB logged a QBR of 60 or lower (on 10 or more pass attempts); Dallas' record in those games is 82-23, which translates to a nifty little .781 winning percentage (indeed, if we were to extrapolate that over a full 16-game season, the final record would be 12.5-3.5). On Sunday, as has been the case this season in sooooo many ways, they managed to provide the exception to the rule.

13.1: the Cowboys' passer rating differential (PRD) on the afternoon. As I have oft noted in my weekly "by the numbers" posts, O.C.C. has deemed PRD differential the "Robitussin of stats" because of its high correlation to winning. Sunday marked the first time in the 'Boys' seven-game losing streak that they enjoyed a 10+ point QBR differential (they had a miniscule +1.6 PRD last week against Philly). Such a differential is substantial enough to correlate to victory, but the Cowboys came away with another loss.

Along those line, Sunday marked the first time since week two in Philadelphia that the Dallas defense generated two or more takeaways. Thanks to two Jeff Heath interceptions, both on tipped passes, the Cowboys held a +2 advantage before the Matt Cassel interception on the game's final meaningful play. Since the beginning of the 2013 season, teams that have a +2 or better TO differential are 141-32 (.815 winning percentage); teams that are +1 are 94-49 (.657). So, for the better part of the game, they Cowboys enjoyed a positive alignment with turnover history, hovering north of six and a half out of ten wins.

I place these two statistics together because they present the two strongest correlations to winning - and the Cowboys have ended up on the short end of both statistics in almost every game during this unfortunate streak. On Sunday, the Cowboys had an edge in both, yet still managed to lose.

5: The Cowboys current draft position: After Sunday's, er, action, the Cowboys currently hold the fifth pick in the 2016 draft. Because there are five 2-7 teams (almost none of whom we would have seen in the position going in to the season), strength of schedule becomes a factor:

2. Tennessee Titans: 2-7 (.465 SOS)
3. Baltimore Ravens: 2-7 (.507 SOS)
4. San Diego Chargers: 2-7 (.513 SOS)
5. Dallas Cowboys: 2-7 (.524 SOS)
6. Detroit Lions: 2-7 (.531 SOS)

Thanks to their strength of schedule, Detroit's victory raises them from the worst record in the league to the #6 pick. And there's the only other bit of good news from Sunday: Yay! Lions win!

63: the minimum number of days between wins for your 2015 Dallas Cowboys. If the Cowboys manage to beat the Dolphins in Miami, it will be the 63rd day since their last victory. That's more than two months; indeed, Friday will mark the two month anniversary of their last win.

Is it any wonder the locker room is getting a bit testy? Hell, I know my living room is...

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