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Rams edge Cowboys: Five stats that tell the story

Breaking down the Cowboys disappointing loss into five basic stats.

Los Angeles Rams v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

We’re now four games into the NFL season and we can affirmatively state the 2017 Dallas Cowboys are not the same team we saw in 2016. Following a disappointing 35-30 home loss to the youthful Los Angeles Rams the team sits at 2-2. While the record is not as good as hoped at this point, the most disconcerting development is the team’s lack of an identity. Let’s look at five statistics that reveal how the Rams defeated the Cowboys.

Average starting position

Los Angeles enjoyed a +12 yard advantage in average field position. The Rams had 11 drives so a +12 advantage on each drive equals a cumulative +132 yard advantage across the entire game. This came primarily from starting three times inside the Cowboys 35-yard line. The cause and result of each of those advantageous field positions:

That’s 13 points from short fields. The Rams needed to travel only 31 yards to score those 13 points. The Cowboys, by contrast, never started a drive beyond their own 25-yard line. The Cowboys won this hidden position war last week against the Cardinals (when Dallas’ average starting position was the 32 and the Cardinals’ was the 22) but the Rams used it to great advantage Sunday.

Sacks plus turnovers

Six days after gathering six sacks against Arizona the Dallas defense got to the opposing quarterback only once. Further, outside of the one sack (and forced fumble) by Demarcus Lawrence the Cowboys rarely pressured or hit Rams’ quarterback Jared Goff. Frequently, Goff was able to stand in the pocket waiting for receivers to get open.

Making matters worse the Dallas defense also failed to pick up a single turnover for the second consecutive week. The inability to generate any turnovers contributed to the offense facing 75-yard fields (or more) every possession. The team now has one turnover in the last three games and is on pace to pick up 12 on the season. Since the start of the 2015 season Dallas has forced 36 turnovers in 36 regular season games. By comparison, the 2014 squad forced 31 turnovers in a single 16-game season.

Rushing yards allowed

The Cowboys were repeatedly gashed by Todd Gurley to the tune of 121 yards on 23 carries. The absence of All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee was evident throughout the game as Gurley often reached the second level and required safeties and cornerbacks to bring him down. Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson and Justin Durant all had bad games, failing to get off blocks or taking bad angles on seemingly every run play. The Rams augmented Gurley with sweeps to speedster Tavon Auston who contributed 48 yards on six carries. The Cowboys seemed unprepared for these plays despite every pre-game breakdown talking about such plays being a staple of the Rams’ offense.

This is the second time in three weeks the defense has surrender 165+ rushing yards. The 2016 team never surrendered more than 114 yards on the ground.

Los Angeles Rams scoring drives

Nine Rams drives ended with points on the board. That’s a remarkable number and represents 81% of the team’s 11 drives. Their two other drives ended in punts, one of which Ryan Switzer fumbled allowing the Rams to score a touchdown five plays later.

Some of this was due to the three short fields mentioned above, which effectively gave the Rams easy points. But the Rams had six additional drives of 50+ yards, which will usually net a team at least a field goal. Los Angeles had five drives of 8+ plays, including drives of 11 and 12 plays. The Dallas defense did well in the red zone (only one touchdown surrendered in four chances) but just gave up too many plays throughout the day.

Cowboys’ points per drive

The Dallas offense enjoyed its most sustained success of the season throughout the first half, scoring 24 points on four drives. The long, time-consuming drives represented the first time in 2017 the team resembled an elite unit that used the rushing game to pummel opponents, score points and allow Dallas to play from ahead.

The Dallas offense suffered its most disheartening failure of the season throughout the second half, scoring only six points on six drives. The team’s first four drives of the second half netted only 42 yards on 16 plays. They did manage an impressive five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that kept the game close but otherwise were completely dominated in the second half.

Every year in the NFL is different and what happened last year is meaningless to the current year. But the identity of the 2016 Dallas Cowboys was a rugged, ground-based rushing attack combined with solid run defense. Neither of those elements have been consistent thus far. At this point I’m not sure what to expect of this team. Both the offense and defense have had extreme Jekyl-and-Hyde performances from game-to-game and within individual games. It’s a surprising development four games into the season.

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