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Five stats that tell the story of the Cowboys heartbreaking loss to the Packers

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You have to relive the misery to figure out what went wrong.

Green Bay Packers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Well, that was frustrating. The Dallas Cowboys did enough good things to win their third game of the year but added enough bad things to instead lose their third game. There were more than 120 plays in the game and yet I think two plays played outsized roles in the end result. One is obvious, the other not as much. We’ll start with the not-so-obvious play.

1:13 remaining for Aaron Rodgers

Following a Green Bay touchdown off a tipped Dak Prescott interception, Dallas faced a 28-24 deficit. The Cowboys took over on their own 21 with exactly 9:56 remaining. The ideal outcome would be for Dak Prescott to lead the team on a long, time-consuming touchdown drive that would use up as much of those nine minutes and 56 seconds as possible. A touchdown would give the team a 31-28 lead but we all know that leaving Aaron Rodgers even 30 seconds could prove deadly. Asking an offense to go on a 10-minute touchdown drive is a tall order.

And yet the Cowboys offense responded with their best drive of the season. They ran the ball effectively, handing it to Ezekiel Elliott seven times, including a clutch 4th-and-1 conversion. Elliott’s final run went for eight yards and set the team up for a 2nd-and-2 from the Packers 11 on the first play following the 2-minute warning.

Dallas was in ideal position to execute their plan to perfection. The next play would not occur until 1:24 remained. Dallas could run the ball as many as three more times, force the Packers to use their lone remaining timeout, and use up most of the time on the clock. If a running play reached the end zone, so be it. But under no circumstances should any play result in a stopped clock unless there was less than 25 seconds remaining.

Thus Jason Garrett’s decision to throw a second down pass into the end zone is indefensible. There is much to lose by putting the ball up in that situation:

  • The ball could have been intercepted, effectively ending the game.
  • An incomplete pass stops the clock. This insures that even if Dallas scores a touchdown later, the Packers will enjoy 35 additional seconds.
  • A sack could have occurred, moving the Cowboys back. Also, holding penalties are much more likely for offensive linemen on pass plays.

The decision to throw a pass in that situation cost the Dallas Cowboys the game; there’s no way around it. Jason Garrett failed his team by grossly misjudging the game situation.

Throwing the ball when you’ve been running effectively and facing a 2nd-and-short situation is simply dumb. Garrett can say whatever he wants but it will always be the wrong decision.

This is especially appalling when you realize Garrett made the exact same mistake in last year’s playoff loss. Garrett has proven a strong leader, is organized and has established a culture of accountability in the lockerroom. But late-game management issues have plagued his entire head coaching career and they bit the Cowboys yet again.

I’m sure some will say Linehan possibly called the play. That’s not an excuse. Garrett is the head coach and the responsibility lies with him. He should have made it clear to Linehan that under no circumstances could a pass play be called; Prescott shouldn’t even have the option to audible out of a run.

Turnovers

The Dallas defense failed to record a turnover for the third consecutive game. The Dallas offense turned the ball over only once but that play resulted in a Packers touchdown. That came on a play when Terrance Williams dropped a pass that hit him in the hands (the third dropped pass by Cowboys’ receivers). Dallas should win a game when the Cowboys:

  • Run more plays
  • Gain more yards
  • Hold the ball longer
  • Convert more third downs with a higher conversion rate
  • Convert all four red zone opportunities into touchdowns
  • Sack Aaron Rodgers four times for 39 yards

Green Bay was behind and chasing the game throughout the contest until Williams’ gaffe handed them six points. The Cowboys were suddenly in the position to chase the game and while they managed to go ahead, it wasn’t enough to secure victory.

The Cowboys defense has caused only three turnovers on the season and are on pace to generate 10 for the season. Remember, the 2015 version of the Cowboys tied an NFL record for a 16-game season by generating only 11 turnovers. The players are largely different from then but the results remain the same.

2nd half points scored

Dallas again came out gangbusters on offense, scoring touchdowns on each of their first three drives. After, however, they managed only 10 points on six drives. The Packers, meanwhile scored 22 points over the same period. At one point the Packers outscored Dallas 19-0.

If this all sounds familiar it’s because almost the same thing happened last week against Los Angeles:

  • Outscored 22 - 6 in the second half
  • Surrendered 19 straight points after going up 24 - 13
  • Scored only six points on the team’s final six drives after scoring 24 points on the team’s first four drives

The combination of the Dallas offense sputtering in the second half with a defense that looks as vulnerable as the 2013 team is killing the Cowboys right now. All of this happening at home simply makes the situation worse. Until Dallas can become more consistent on both sides of the ball this team will continue to struggle.

Dak Prescott QBR rating

Prescott had his best game of the 2017 season and perhaps his best game as a pro. Gone was the hesitant, uncertain quarterback we’ve seen too often this season and in his place was the confident, poised leader we saw last season. Prescott was efficient and effective in virtually every manner:

  • Threw three first half touchdowns and added a fourth score with his legs
  • Converted all four red zone opportunities into touchdowns
  • Used his strength and mobility to elude pass rushers and make big plays on the run

QBR accounts for game situation and a quarterback’s plays (or lack thereof) with his legs. Prescott was outstanding in both those categories. While his passer rating of 105 was good, that number doesn’t capture Prescott’s overall contribution to the game.

The only blemish was his one interception, which hit Williams in the hands and Williams simply has to catch. Amazingly, this wasn’t Prescott’s highest QBR score. He earned a 98 score against Chicago last year and his Thanksgiving Day performance against Washington earned a 97 QBR score.

I’ve seen some suggest Dak should have gone down on the half-yard line to keep the ball and run the clock out on the drive mentioned above. You simply can’t purposely not score a touchdown when you’re down four points with barely a minute remaining.

Cowboys record in 1-score games

Both of the Cowboys’ losses the last two weeks came in one-score games. These are particularly frustrating losses because one play here or there would have been the difference between a win and a loss. Last season Dallas compiled a 7-3 record in one-score games. The advanced analytic guys will tell you that NFL teams, regardless of overall record, win about 50% of one-score games. Long-term records support this, showing that over enough games all teams win about as many one-score games as they lose.

However, in any one season, teams can defy the odds and compile a positive record (like last year’s Cowboys). Let’s hope the Cowboys aren’t going to suffer this season for last season’s good fortunes in such games.