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Breaking down the important stats from the Cowboys’ victory over Chiefs

Total yards, rushing yards, WB efficiency, turnovers, sacks - Dallas wins every major statistical matchup.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Some fun facts emerging from the Cowboys’ convincing 28 - 17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs:

  • Dallas is now 5-1 in games with more than a seven-point score differential. This is arguably the most persuasive indicator the Cowboys are a quality NFL team.
  • Dallas has out-gained opponents by an average of 76 yards in the team’s last five games (406 to 330). On the season Dallas has out-gained opponents by nearly 50 yards per game (371 to 325)
  • After starting the season with a -3 turnover ratio (4 to 7) Dallas owns a +3 ratio (11 to 8), recording seven in the last three games while turning the ball over only once.
  • Dallas owns a 27-to-10 sack advantage on the season. Only once (Los Angeles) has an opponent recorded more sacks than the Cowboys.
  • Dallas has outrushed opponents seven times in eight games, owning a 47-yard advantage per game (148 to 101)
  • Finally, after surrendering an average of 27 points per game over the first five weeks the Dallas defense has allowed only 16 per game since the return of Sean Lee

When you’re winning big, consistently out-gaining and out-rushing opponents and consistently generating more sacks and turnovers you have a very good recipe for success. In short, three games after many fans wrote off the team’s 2017 season Dallas is shaping into form as a legitimate post-season threat.

Let’s look at the stats from Sunday’s contest against the Chiefs.

Fairly ho-hum numbers at this point. Both team’s averaged about the same yards per play but Dallas ran 10 more plays, which provided the difference in total yards gained. Dallas has run an average of eight more plays per game over the last four contests after averaging five fewer plays per game over the team’s first four games.

Unexpectedly, both offenses struggled through most of the first half. Dallas did manage a 7-play, 61-yard touchdown to score the game’s first points. But that drive came in the midst of fives drives that ended with four punts and the lone touchdown.

After, however, the Dallas offense flexed its muscles reeling off three consecutive 75+ yard drives. Back-to-back 12- and 13-play touchdown drives turned a three-point deficit into an 11-point advantage and effectively won the game. Even the team’s final drive, ending in a punt, was effective as it consumed three minutes and 16 seconds, giving Kansas City less than two minutes to overcome an 11-point deficit.

The potent Kansas City offense, meanwhile, struggled throughout most of the game. Seven of the team’s drives ended in punts, a turnover or the clock running out. They did manage two touchdowns and a field goal in one four-drive span. But one of the touchdowns came on a fluky play that I would argue was the single worst defensive play in Dallas Cowboys’ history. I still don’t understand how that happened. I do give the team props for getting back up and playing well afterwards. Overall a very good defensive performance limiting the Chiefs to 10 “legitimate” points and 17 points overall.

Dallas continues to generate more turnovers and sacks each game. While the defense gets a lot of deserved credit for getting after opposing quarterbacks the Dallas passing offense has quietly become one of the league’s best at pass protection. Prescott has been sacked only 10 times on the season. Likewise, the Dallas offense has returned to being stingy with the ball, turning it over only once during the team’s three-game winning streak.

Sunday the defense recorded only one turnover and two sacks but the pass rush harassed Alex Smith throughout the game and helped limit the dynamic Chiefs’ attack to 323 yards and 17 points.

Last week the Cowboys’ red zone offense stumbled a bit, settling for field goals three times in five chances. Sunday Dallas returned to being the best red zone offense in the NFL, scoring touchdowns on all four opportunities. That makes 20 touchdowns on the team’s last 25 attempts. The Cowboys’ lone red zone turnover came on the last-minute, desperation, pick-six interception against the Broncos. Otherwise they’ve been virtually unstoppable.

The key number for the red zone defense is Dallas limited Kansas City to only two red zone chances. Forcing a field goal on one was a difference-maker as the Chiefs faced a two-score deficit (11 points) rather than a one-score deficit (seven points) throughout much of the game.

The rushing numbers are really starting to favor the Cowboys in a big way. The Chiefs prevented Dallas from piling up huge numbers Sunday but the Dallas rushing attack was still effective. Elliott had 97 tough yards (boy does he run hard) and Prescott chipped in with 27 yards, two first downs and a touchdown on three attempts. Dallas is averaging more than 169 yards rushing per game since the week two debacle at Denver.

The Dallas rushing defense has experienced a dramatic improvement since the return of Sean Lee. Sunday Lee was credited with 12 tackles including two for loss. He led a stout rushing defense that limited the league’s leading rusher to only 37 yards on 9 attempts. The Cowboys need a high quality rushing defense to help protect a vulnerable secondary. When they get it the defense rises from mediocre to a top-12 type unit.

Dallas averages +70-yard rushing advantage over the team’s last six games; that’s a solid recipe for success.

An average Dak Prescott game in 2017 is 21 completions on 33 attempts for 230 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0.5 interceptions. In other words, Dak had a quintessential 2017 Prescott game. The Cowboys’ quarterback is a terrific complement to the team’s ground-based attack: he doesn’t turn the ball over or take sacks, he takes easy plays when they’re available, adds big downfield passes with back-breaking scrambles and makes 2-3 rushing plays. Prescott did all those things Sunday en route to victory.

The Cowboys’ defense, meanwhile, managed to contain Alex Smith and the Chiefs’ passing attack. Tyreek Hill had only one catch outside of his fluky end-of-half touchdown catch. Travis Kelce did get his usual numbers and beat Byron Jones cleanly on several plays.

I’ll also note that Anthony Brown again got beaten badly on a first half play where Hill ran right by him for what should have been an easy touchdown. Smith, however, overthrew him because of Jaylon Smith’s pressure and the Cowboys dodged a bullet. If Smith connects there it’s a different game.

Probably the biggest improvement in the Dallas passing game has come from the linebacker corps. When Lee and Hitches were both out opponents targeted Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson and repeatedly beat them. Those plays have been contained since the return of Lee.

The advanced numbers show Prescott had a very good overall game. The 7.4 yards per attempt is a full yard over his year-to-date number and more like his 2016 performance. The two touchdowns and zero interceptions seem like ho-hum results for Dak at this point. The 107 passer rating number is his third best on the season (behind the Arizona and San Francisco games) and his 95.7 QBR is his second best (behind the Green Bay game).

A big difference in the two quarterback’s performance is Dak made plays with his legs while the mobile Smith was largely limited to plays with his arm. Prescott twice kept drives alive with designed runs then scrambled 10 yards for a key touchdown to give Dallas an 11-point lead late in the 2nd quarter.

Finally, I again want to point out what a weapon punter Chris Jones has become. Five times he punted Sunday and four times those punts pinned the Chiefs down inside their own 20-yard line. The Dallas punt coverage units, led by Kavon Frazier, have been very solid throughout the year and it was no different Sunday. The Chiefs at one point tried a trick play on a punt return with Hill pretending to catch the ball on one side of the field while De’Anthony Thomas actually fielded the ball on the opposite side. Frazier wasn’t fooled and nailed Thomas at the KC 13.

Seven times in eight games this season Dallas has enjoyed better starting field position than their opponents. On Sunday the Cowboys enjoyed a 4.6 yard advantage, which doesn’t sound like much. But Dallas ran nine drives which means they enjoyed a 41-yard advantage. That’s the same as adding 41 yards to the team’s total yardage and that’s a significant difference. Little things like good special teams pinning teams in opposing territory can be difference-makers in the NFL.

Overall the best performance of the season by this version of the Dallas Cowboys. They now face a struggling Falcons team in Atlanta (four losses in five games). A victory would set up a huge NFC East showdown against Philly that would feature two teams with a combined 15-4 record. A win in Atlanta is mandatory for that game to have real NFC East meaning.

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