3: The number of times since October 28, 1990 (when a 3-4 Cowboys team went up against a 2-4 Rich Kotite coached squad) that the Eagles and Cowboys have faced off with each team sporting a losing record. Two of those matchups were in 2012, as a Dallas team hovering just under .500 twice played a Philly team mired in the midst of an eight-game losing streak. The third time was last night.
For a rivalry that has featured snowballs thrown at coaches, revenge games, bounties on kickers, and playoff eliminations, last night's affair marks one of the low points. Much like both games in 2012, we witnessed a mediocre game between two bad teams, one of which still harbored playoff hopes despite being very flawed and another in the midst of a record losing streak. As is usually the case when two bad teams play each other, one team lost the game more then the other team won it. How did the Cowboys manage to lose the game? Let's look at the numbers...
100: Career NFL touchdowns for Matt Cassel, after throwing exactly zero TD passes in four seasons at USC. Surely, no other player in league history comes anywhere near this disparity.
.68: Cassel's second half completion percentage. After a pedestrian first half in which he went 8-14 for 98 yards, with the majority of that on a 51-yard strike to Dez Bryant, Cassel opened it up in the second frame, going 17-25 for 201 yards and two of this three touchdowns. The narrative during the Cowboys Romo-less losing streak has been that the culprit has been close-to-the-vest quarterback play. On Sunday, that was not the case. Cassel compiled a 105.0 quarterback rating, which is typically good enough to win. Since 2007, Dallas quarterbacks have enjoyed a passer rating of 105.0 or better 57 times; 43 of those games resulted in victory, a nice little .754 winning percentage.
11: number of targets for Cole Beasley, who caught nine of them for a career-best 112 yards. After three targets and no receptions in Cassel's first two games, Beasely went from invisible to safety blanket. With the Eagles working to take away Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, often bracketing both men, The Bease enjoyed a lot of single coverage and exploited it for the better part of the night.
5: the number of times this season the Cowboys have responded to an opponent's touchdown with a TD drive of their own. Here they are, in case you were wondering:
Game 1: Giants score to make it 23-13; Cowboys respond with 6-play, 76-yard drive to make it 23-20
Game 3: Falcons score to make it 21-14; Cowboys score on 6-play, 80-yard drive to make it 28-14.
Game 4: Saints score to make it 7-3; Cowboys respond with 10-play, 80-yard drive to make it 10-7
On Sunday night, the Fighting Cassels twice managed this feat, and twice more answered Philadelphia field goal drives by marching to matching field goals. In a season in large part characterized by the offense's inability to respond, the Cowboys offense did a superb job rallying and keeping the team in the game.
2: The number of times in Cowboys history when they have had a 100-yard runner, two 100-yard receivers and a quarterback who has thrown for at least 299 yards. The first time was the 1999 season opener, the thrilling come-from-behind 41-35 overtime winner in which Emmitt Smith ran for 109, Michael Irvin had 122 receiving yards, Rocket Ismail added another 149 (thanks to the 76-yard game-ender) and Troy Aikman threw for a fat 362.
The other was Sunday night, also, strangely, an overtime game. Both Dez and Beasley surpassed the 100-yard mark, Darren McFadden has a workhorseman like 117 yards on the ground and Matt Cassel threw for 299 yards. The difference is that, in 1999, the Cowboys defense was able to coax a punt from the Redskins on the first drive in OT before Aikman and Co. uncorked their game-winning drive (which was a 95-yarder).
And this brings us to the real story of last night's game (and, increasingly, of the season): the defense. Let's take a look...
5: The number of Philadelphia possessions after Sean Lee went down on the first defensive play of second half. Here's what happened on those five drives:
-7 plays, 95 yards (TD)
-3 plays, no yards
-10 plays, 63 yards (FG)
-6 plays, 45 yards (FG)
-9 plays, 80 yards (TD)
This is an all-too-familiar history. In 2013, after Lee was injured on the first play of the Saints' second drive, the Saints remaining eight possessions resulted in six touchdowns, a missed field goal and a kneel down to end the game. Later in the season, after being limited to 120 first-half yards, the Packers scored on all five of their second half drives (save a final kneel-down series) after MLBs Justin Durant and Ernie Sims were injured at the end of the first half.
In both examples, the Cowboy defense utterly collapsed after losing their starting middle linebacker mid-game. And that's why the Cowboys drafted Anthony Hitchens in the 2014 draft's fourth round. Coming into the draft, Hitchens was highly respected for his work ethic, makeup and overall approach; he is a guy capable of steadying the defense in the (likely) event that Lee gets dinged and has to leave the game. But the fact the he, too, was hurt, opened the proverbial floodgates, much as it did on two notable, horrible, forgettable occasions in 2013.
15: the number of 79+ yard scoring drives given up by the Cowboys on the season. On Sunday night against the Eagles, they yielded scoring marches of 80, 80, and 95 yards, with the latter two occurring in the second half. This continued a season long trend in which the Cowboys defense has given up long, gutting second-half drives. Of the fifteen 70+ yard scoring marches, eleven have come after halftime, including two occasions in which the opponent has taken possession inside their own five and managed a score: in the second Giants game, New York took possession at their own one after a Matt Cassel interception and drove for a field goal; and last night, when the Eagles engineered a 95-yard scoring march on their first possession in the second half.
I took a look at the drive charts from this season's games, and found the results instructive. As a way to illustrate my findings, I've made a table for each half, and marked three-and-outs in red and 79+ yard scoring drives in green. All scoring drives are in bold. Here are the first halves:
And here are the second halves:
In the first halves of games, Dallas' opponents have had 43 possessions, and have managed seven touchdowns and seven field goals, which gives them a scoring rate just under 33% (14-43). In the second halves of games, the number of possessions doesn't change drastically (up a tick to 24), but the scoring rate jumps astronomically, up to twelve touchdowns and nine field goals (as well as blocked field goal and missed field goal drives). And, as mentioned above, eleven of the opposition's fifteen 79+-yard marches have happened in the second half.
The Dallas defense has logged an impressive sixteen three-and-outs in the first halves of games, but only five in the second halves - and only one of those after the second drive of the second half. its pretty clear that the Cowboys defense is wearing down and getting exposed the further they play in games. During their six-game losing streak, the Cowboys have had a very real chance to win five of them and have trailed at halftime only twice. The exception is the Patriots game; setting that aside, let's look at the last meaningful opposing drives (not counting kneeldowns and the like) in these winnable games:
Falcons: 11-62 (TD)
Saints: 2-80 (TD)
Giants: 3-7 (punt, fumbled by Cole Beasley)
Seahawks: 17-79 (FG)
Eagles: 9-80 (TD)
Four times, with the game on the line, the defense simply could not make a play, despite the fact that they often had plenty of opportunities to do so, with opposing drives of 11, 17 and 9 plays.
1774: The yards given up by the Dallas defense after halftime, including the two overtimes, which is 62.4% of their yearly total. If we look at the yards given up in drives started in each quarter, we discover the following symmetry:
First Quarter: 18-469 (26..0 yards per drive)
Second Quarter: 25-600 (24.0)
Third Quarter: 18-828 (46.0)
Fourth Quarter: 25-786 (31.4)
Overtime: 2-160 (80.0)
In the first quarters of both halves, the Cowboys have defended 18 possessions; in the final quarters of halves, they have defended 25. But look how much more yardage they have given up in the same number of drives, with the biggest disparity between the first and third quarters. In short, they are giving up approximately two-thirds of their total yards in the second half. Not good.
0: The number of plays Cowboys have run in their two overtime losses in 2015. Against both New Orleans and Philadelphia, the other team won the toss, elected to receive, and promptly drove 80 yards for the winning score, never giving the Cowboys offense a chance to eke out an improbable victory. And, to finish off the "defense-is-wearing-down-late-in-games" meme, Dallas' defenders have now surrendered game-losing TD passes of 80 and 41 yards in overtime this season.
10: The number of Cowboys first downs that came on third down. During the game, I tweeted that, while the Cowboys were certainly moving the ball, it wasn't coming as easily for them as it was for the Eagles. What I meant by this was that they were too often getting themselves into third downs, where they had to convert to sustain drives. Here are the downs where each team engineered their conversions:
Both teams had 25 first downs on the evening. Seventeen of the Eagles' 25 came on first or second down, which means that they did a good job of avoiding pressurized third downs where a conversion is a must (this is a good thing; the Iggles were a woeful 3-13 on third downs). The Cowboys, on the other hand, were much better on third down, converting 8-16, which is a nice, 2014-esque figure. However, because they were less explosive on first and second downs (the dark underbelly of the "manageable third downs" offensive philosophy), they were forced to convert third downs more often that were the Eagles.
8: Cowboys losses in a row in games that Romo didn't start. In addition to the six games this season, they lost to Arizona last year after Romo fractured several vertebra, and fell in the final game of the 2013 season. Weirdly, the last Romo-less victory came in 2010's season-ender with Stephen McGee, of all people, as the QB of record for a 14-13 win over the Eagles during which he looked lost and threw for a paltry 127 yards on 11-27 passing. Yuck.
-8: the Cowboys 2015 turnover differential, which places them 30th in the league. They are dead last in the NFL with four takeaways and have given it away twelve times, which places them at 17th overall. The story is oft told, and becoming tired, but the 2014 team was second in the league in takeaways and tied for ninth in the NFL with a +6.
31: Football Outsiders' rank for the Eagles offensive line, through week eight, ahead of only San Francisco. This came the week after they faced off against the 32th-ranked O-line, according to Pro Football Focus, and two weeks after they played FO's 18th-ranked unit. But what these three games have most in common is that neither of these second- or third-tier offensive lines fielded its starting left tackle. In three consecutive weeks, therefore, the Cowboys caught a huge break,in that their best defensive lineman, Greg Hardy, would be lined up against a backup left tackle.
That would not only benefit Hardy, the thinking went, but the rest of the defensive line, who were likely receive one-on-one opportunities all game because the other team was going to have to focus on - and probably double - Hardy in order to run their offense. In those three games, the Cowboys have registered exactly three sacks, with two of them by Hardy. When we look at the defense's second-half failings, we see little to no pass rush during those long drives by the guys in the other jerseys.
After an offseason in which priority one was to upgrade the defensive line, and specifically the pass rush, and a training camp in which we convinced ourselves (of this I am one of the guiltiest of culprits) that the Cowboys has rebuilt the defensive line much like they had the O-line, we must now face the sad, bald fact that the 2015 D-line might be worse than the 2014 iteration - that Henry Melton, Anthony Spencer and George Selvie (as well as the '14 version of Jeremy Mincey) provided more pressure than the team's shiny new acquisitions.
.200: the Cowboys winning percentage at home, after amassing a 1-4 record in their five games thus far. Although Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels continue to praise Jerry Jones's stadium - and it is, on many levels, spectacular - the Deathstar continues to offer no homefield advantage whatsoever. From 2009, when they moved into the Jones Pleasuredome, through the 2014 season, the Cowboys have a 28-20 road record, which is very comparable to the road mark for the league's best team, the Patriots, who haven't won fewer than ten games in that span. The difference between the two teams' records lies at home, where New England was 44-4 from 2009-14 while Dallas stumbled to a 26-24 mark.
Certainly the Pats' stellar home record is due in part to their ability to, erm, alter the environment for opposing teams. But part of the disparity between two clubs who, judging by their road records, should be comparable at home, has to be attributed to the simple fact that the Cowboys play in an amusement park, a site designed for entertaining opposing fans rather than to make life miserable for opposing teams. When a 12-4 division winner has to go 8-0 on the road to achieve that status (when the Pats have three times been 8-0 at home), we know something is rotten in Arlington.
171: number of days until the draft. And that's where we should be giving focus. To support this claim, allow me to borrow a nifty chart from the fine fold at fivethirtyeight:
As you can see, the Cowboys have plummeted from a 63% chance to make the playoffs to, well, no chance at all. Last week, their percentage chance to make the playoffs with a 2-5 record - 3% - was slim to say the least. But no NFL team has ever made the tournament with a 2-6 mark. There's a reason for this: 2-6 teams are really bad; as hard as it is to win in this league, its just as difficult to lose six games in a row. We need to stop the talk of the NFC East's lack of quality; the Cowboys have shown nothing that suggests that they are playing well enough to win games when Number Nine returns.