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Cowboys @ Redskins: The Day After, By The Numbers

A long, albeit not particularly loving, look at the Cowboys tedious and, perhaps in the long run, unfortunate win over the Redskins on Monday Night Football. By the numbers, of course.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

7.7: Cassell's average yards per attempt, which is his third-highest this season (against the Giants and Eagles, he enjoyed higher yards per attempt figures). In terms of his average yards per completion, this was Cassell's best game of the year; by gaining 222 yards on 16 completions, Cassell averaged 13.8 yards per completion. So, while he looked rusty and unaware for much of the game, Cassell managed to throw the ball deep more effectively and consistently than he had at any point thus far in 2015.

On Monday night, the big passing play returned to the Cowboys offensive plan. Indeed, 105 of Cassell's 222 passing yards came on three big plays: completions of 38 and 25 to Terrance Williams and the big 42-yarder to Dez Bryant on the left sideline. In a sense, these big passes (and the two big runs by Lucky Whitehead; more on those below) gave the Cowboys' offense a big-play-or-nothing quality. The two short drives at the end notwithstanding, the Cowboys mounted three scoring drives on the night, all of which resulted in field goals. Each of the three had one big play that accounted for the bulk of the yardage. Check it:

FG Drive #1 (60 yards): Williams, 38-yard pass
FG Drive #2 (64 yards): Williams, 25-yard pass
FG Drive #3 (65 yards): Whitehead, 22-yard run; Bryant, 42-yard pass

For a team unable to sustain offense, these big plays are critical. By eking these out periodically, the Cowboys remained in the game until its wild conclusion.

-21.4: The Cowboys' negative Passer Rating Differential (PRD) for the game, the third game in a row in which the Cowboys' QB has suffered from a deficit in comparison to his rival signal caller. As I noted several times earlier in the season, the reason that O.C.C. can claim PRD is the "Robitussin of stats" is that it strongly correlates to wins. Running the average differential after each game through our regression formula (PRD*0.16+8), we can see that the Cowboys' expected win total has taken a nosedive since late September. Here's the latest:

Game Cowboys PR Opponent PR PRD Expected Wins
NY Giants I
103.3 70.7 32.6 13.2
Philadelphia 106 65.6 40.4 13.8
Atlanta 87.8 109.1 -21.3 10.8
New Orleans 105.6 119.4 -13.8 9.5
New England 66.9
NY Giants II
76.7 -14.4
Seattle 61.6
-19.6 6.7
Philadelphia II
Tampa Bay
Washington I
-21.4 6.7

As this chart makes clear, the Cowboys, after a stellar opening in which Tony Romo (and, in relief, Brandon Weeden) outplayed the competition mightily, the Cowboys fell to the 6-7 win range and have floundered about in that area for about two months.

Seems about right.

-2: The Cowboys negative turnover differential in the game.That marks the eighth time this season the Cowboys have been on the ugly side of the turnover ledger, and the fifth instance in which the differential has been -2 or worse. As Bob Sturm has pointed out on several occasions, the defense set a franchise record when they registered their seventh game this year without a turnover. The Cowboys are now -14 in TO differential on the season, and have been -9 since the bye week and -7 in the last three games. No matter how you look at it, this situation isn't pretty.

1: the number of Cowboys possessions in the second quarter. With 15 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the Redskins took possession, engineering a 6-play drive that took 3:28 off the clock. They punted to the Cowboys, who embarked upon a 10-play field goal march taking 5:16. Washington regained possession with 6:31 on the clock and ate up all of that time on their own field goal march, a 14-play, 58-yard affair.

Think about that for a second: the Redskins averaged 4.1 yards per play on the march and converted third downs of 11, 6, and 17 yards. Ultimately, the drive ended because they failed to convert a fourth long third down situation, gaining only nine yards on a third-and-thirteen. On the eleven plays other than the three third down conversions, Washington gained a total of five yards (for a paltry .45 yards per play). In other words, the drive featured an unusually high level of both offensive and defensive futility.

As such, I would like to nominate that first-half-ending field goal march as the "drive of the game," as it embodies what this game (and, in many respects, this division) is all about.

5: consecutive Redskins drives to start the game that resulted in a punt. It may be hard to recall at this juncture, but that was not the Cowboys best defensive effort to start a game this season. Back in week two, the Eagles' first seven drives ended in punts (the sixth of which was blocked and returned for a touchdown). Nonetheless, Dallas' defense was very strong on Monday, yielding only a singe yard on the Redskins' first fifteen plays and a total of 37 yards on their first 21 plays (1.76 yards per play? Very nice!), which covers the five possessions in question.

But then, the next four Washington drives ended in field goal attempts. So, much like we saw against Philadelphia and Seattle and countless other teams earlier in the year, a defensive unit that was stalwart early on appeared to get worn down, largely because the offense did little to nothing to help them out. The Redskins gained more yards on three of the next four drives than they had collected in all five of their initial possessions.

2.8: the Redskins yards per carry on the night, after gaining 73 yards on 26 carries. While this looks good when glancing at the box score, this is exactly what the Cowboys averaged when we remove Lucky Whitehead's two runs on jet sweeps, which netted a healthy 35 yards. Those yards aside, Dallas ran 22 times for 62 yards. The takeaway here, for me is that good teams can run the ball, and neither of these teams could run the ball. Ergo...

3: number of Cowboys defenders with ten or more tackles. As has been well documented, Sean Lee led the team with 13 stops, but he was closely followed by Barry Church, will 11, and Rolando McClain, who notched an even ten. A game after the Cowboys watched Panthers' linebackers Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Shaq Thompson flow to the ball on running plays, Lee, McClain and Church offered a strikingly similar set of three run-and-hit men. Again and again, replays from the end zone view showed all three men pursuing sideline-to-sideline and making sure tackles upon arrival.

.11: the cowboys success rate on third downs, after converting just one of nine (they converted two other third downs via penalty). Five of their eight failures came on Matt Cassell incompletes; one was a gain of fifteen on a dump-off to Robert Turbin on third-and-32; the other two? Both were failures in the short-yardage running game; in the second half, when they appeared to get their moribund offense back on track, the Cowboys twice failed to convert a third-and-one.

Last year, the Cowboys crowed that they had the ability to line up and run on teams even when they knew that Dallas was going to run. On both failed third-and-short situations last night, the Cowboys announced their intentions by aligned in heavy sets; on both, the Redskins got penetration and stuffed the run for a loss of one.

3: number of field goals missed by Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins in 2015. Coming into the game, Hopkins had missed only twice all season, both from more than 50 yards out. He was a perfect 4-4 from the all-important 40-49 yard range, and added two more during the game, to extend his perfect record to 6-6 (and from all distanced under 50 yards to a pristine 21-21). Then, in the fourth quarter, as the Redskins were seemingly lining up for what looked destined to become the kick that would win the game 12-9, he missed wide right. Middling teams need breaks to win games; Hopkins's miss was one such stroke of fortune.

.375: the success rate on passes to Jordan Reed, after he caught three balls on the evening, on eight targets. Reed is a vastly under-rated player, and arguably the Redskins' most dangerous offensive weapon. I'll need to look at the tape, so to speak, to determine who was covering him on each of his targets, but I have a pretty good idea that the Cowboys' resident "TE killer," Byron Jones, was a significant force behind Reed's sub-par night. While we're here, let's thank Mo Claiborne for returning to the lineup, which allowed Jones to focus his safety and nickle roles, where he has excelled for the better part of the season.

46: the distance of Lucky Whitehead's final kickoff return. Going into the game, Redskins kick returners Rashad Ross and Andre Roberts (both of who had returned kicks for TDs earlier in the season) looked to be potential difference-makers in a game wherein both teams looked to be closely-matched. And, after the Cowboys scored to take a 16-9 lead, that looked to be the case, as Ross returned the subsequent kickoff 41 yards to set the 'Skins up in fine position to tie the score - which they did, in rapid fashion.

But then came Whitehead, who showed impressive vision and burst, cutting through traffic to find a small opening and then shooting through before being tackled

54: The distance of Dan Bailey's game-winner. We have become accustomed to Bailey never missing, so we may be blind to the magnitude of last night's feat. The fine gents over at ESPN Stats and Info provide a bit more perspective:

Bailey did what he does -- kick field goals more accurately than anyone in the NFL. He’s the active leader at 90.8 percent.

This one was a little different though. The probability of success was high only because it’s Bailey. Entering Monday, there had been 46 regular-season and playoff field goal tries that met the following conditions: - 54 yards or longer - Score differential of three points or less (including ties) - 20 seconds or less remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime

Kickers were 16-of-46 (34.8 percent) on those kicks, including 2-of-9 dating to the start of last season.


What does it all mean? Here are two interpretations:

6.46: the Cowboys percentage chance to win the division, according to the folks over at Numberfire. Here are the relative percentage chances:

Projected Record: 5.39 - 10.61 (Change: 0.55 wins)
Division: 6.46% (Change: 3.5%)
Conference Championship: 0.06% (Change: 0.04%)
Super Bowl: 0% (Change: 0%)
Power Rankings: 25 (Last Week: 26)

6: The Cowboys draft position after winning to elevate their record to 4-8.

Here are the top ten after thirteen weeks:

1. Cleveland Browns: 2-10 (.531 strength of schedule)
2. Tennessee Titans: 3-9 (.495 SOS)
3. San Diego Chargers: 3-9 (.526 SOS)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: 4-8 (.484 SOS)
5. Baltimore Ravens: 4-8 (.505 SOS)
6. New Orleans Saints: 4-8 (.521 SOS)
7. San Francisco 49ers: 4-8 (.526 SOS)
8. Dallas Cowboys: 4-8 (.526 SOS)
9. Detroit Lions: 4-8 (.526 SOS)
10. St. Louis Rams: 4-8 (.526 SOS)

As you can see, the Cowboys are one of four teams with a 4-8 record and a .526 strength of schedule. Here's how the NFL Operations folks define tiebreakers in such instances:

If the teams have the same strength of schedule, their records against common opponents in their division or conference are applied, if applicable. If the divisional or conference tiebreakers are not applicable, ties will be broken by a coin flip.

The only opponent common to all four teams is Seattle. The 49ers are 0-2 against the Seahawks this season, so they get the 7th slot; the Rams are 1-0 (and can finish at 1-1 at worst), so they get the 10th slot.  Given this, the Cowboys and Lions, both of whom lost to Seattle, are currently tied for the 8th/ 9th slot, pending a coin flip.

Here are the players selected with the 8th and 9th picks in the last five drafts:

8th: Jake Locker, QB
9th: Tyron Smith, OT

8th: Ryan Tannehill, QB
9th: Luke Kuechly, MLB

8th: Tavon Austin, WR
9th: Dee Milliner, CB

8th: Justin Gilbert, CB
9th: Anthony Barr, OLB

8th: Vic Beasley, DE
9th: Erick Flowers, OT

There are some really good non-quarterbacks here...s

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