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Cowboys vs Giants: Viewing the Cowboys domination in charts

Looking at all the ways the Cowboys dominated the Giants.

New York Giants vs Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys kicked off their 2017 campaign with a complete and thorough whipping of their division rival, the New York Giants. The 19 - 3 final score well documents what happened Sunday night. The Cowboys defense completely shut down the Giants offense and the Dallas offense controlled the ball, avoided mistakes and scored just enough to insure a comfortable final margin.

Five charts that tell the story

First, Dallas achieved the primary goal of any and all NFL games; score more points:

This was largely the result of simply holding the ball more than the opponent as the Cowboys’ ran 18 more plays than the Giants.

This final number doesn’t tell the entire story, however. During the first half, when the Cowboys ran out to a commanding 13 - 0 lead, Dallas ran more than twice as many plays as the Giants:

If it seemed like the Cowboys’ had the ball for every play of the first half it’s because they practically did. The Giants ran a total of 20 plays in the first half (including four punts) as the Cowboys’ took 46 of 66 total snaps (70%) in the half. The Cowboys’ inability to score touchdowns was frustrating but even when they didn’t score, they consistently won the field position battle by simply moving the ball.

This, combined with excellent positional punting by Chris Jones consistently put the Giants’ offense in poor field position:

Five times the Giants took over inside their 11-yard line, and another time they started at their own 14. New York’s best starting position the entire game was their own 25-yard line, which was five yards less than the Cowboy’s average starting position. The Cowboys started inside their own 20 only once and twice took over near midfield (each resulting in a field goal). Further, the Cowboys were denied another short field when the referees blew a first half fumble recovery by Sean Lee. In short, Dallas controlled the ball and dominated field position despite not putting up video game scoring totals.

It is well-documented that winning the passer rating battle correlates strongly with winning games. Despite Dak Prescott not looking nearly as sharp as he had in preseason (missing, by my count, a half dozen open receivers) the Cowboys’ still easily won the passer rating battle. The Dallas defense deserves much of the credit as they gave up almost no big passing plays and forced Eli Manning to get rid of the ball and go to his outlet receivers. Dak deserves credit for playing his game, avoiding mistakes and making enough plays to keep the Giants forever playing uphill.

Three well-documented facts from 2016 were:

  1. Dallas had the #1 rush defense in the league
  2. New York had an anemic rushing attack
  3. Dallas had the #2 rushing offense in the league

These 2016 results carried over into 2017 as Dallas kept handing the ball off while the New York proved wholly ineffective. The end result was a nearly 100-yard disparity in rushing yards on the night.

Drive charts

The following charts well-illustrate the Cowboys’ dominance.

Chart notes:

  • The bottom of each bar shows the starting point of each drive
  • The top of each bar shows the ending point
  • A drive that went backwards is highlighted in a different color (the first Giants drive in this case)
  • Small bars indicate the high and low-point of each drive (the Cowboys’ 3rd drive, for instance, reached the Giants’ 20 but ended at the Giants’ 34)

Several things jump out at me:

  • All of the Cowboys’ drives went at least 26 yards and the team averaged 41 yards per drive; the ability to move the ball (even when not scoring) allowed Dallas to dominate field position.
  • The Giants, by contrast, had four drives that went 10 yards or fewer and they averaged only 26 yards per drive.
  • Eight of nine Cowboys’ drives penetrated Giants’ territory.
  • By contrast, only three Giants’ drives reached Cowboys’ territory and two of those came in the final minutes.
  • The Dallas defense had an almost perfect first half as none of the Giants’ drives gained any real traction.

Red zone results

Note: red zone rate is the number of points scored divided by total possible points. For example, with 3 red zone possessions the Cowboys had an opportunity to score 21 points (3 * 7). The team’s 62% rate = 13 (points scored) divided by 21 (possible points).

The only thing that really prevented this game from being a blowout was a couple missed calls by the refs and the Cowboys’ inability to convert red zone opportunities more efficiently. Twice in the first half they settled for field goals after entering the red zone. The 62% final rate is acceptable and nothing to complain about. But one of those red zone field goals came after a 1st-and-goal from the Giants’ 3-yard line. I was particularly confused why a team with Ezekiel Elliott running behind the league’s best offensive line would choose to pass three straight times from the 3-yard line; that makes no sense to me.

Note: NFL.com is showing the Cowboys with 4 red zone opportunities but I only count three instances of Dallas reaching the Giants’ 20-yard line so I’m sticking with my number.

Wide receiver analysis

There was a point early in the game when I thought the Cowboys’ coaching staff had decided that every pass should go to Dez Bryant. He was targeted 6 times in the first quarter despite little success on those attempts. The final number of targets was much more balanced:

Amazingly, despite catching only 2 of the 9 balls thrown his way Bryant’s yards per attempt numbers were consistent or better than every receiver other than Terrance WIlliams.

Chart notes:

  • Targets include completions, incompletions and plays resulting in pass interference or defensive holding.
  • Yards per attempt and yards receiving include yards gained via penalty (after all, those yards count too).
  • Yards per attempt are charted on the horizontal axis
  • Completion percentage is charted on the vertical axis
  • Number of targets is illustrated by bubble size

We see that Williams was easily the team’s most effective receiver. He caught 6 of 8 balls thrown his way for 68 yards. This was an unexpected result after Williams had his foot stepped on early in the game and suffered what appeared to be a severe ankle sprain. He missed only once series, however, so the Cowboys dodged a bullet there.

Elliott caught every pass thrown his way including a 30-yard reception that helped ice the game and of course Witten captured the game’s lone touchdown.

The following shows that Bryant ended up with the second most yards receiving despite catching only two balls.

Chart notes:

  • Yards per attempt and yards receiving include yards gained via penalty (after all, those yards count too).
  • Yards per attempt are charted on the horizontal axis
  • Receiving yards is charted on the vertical axis
  • Number of targets is illustrated by bubble size

I’ll admit I was surprised at how little Beasley was targeted; with the well-known struggles of Bryant against the Giants’ coverage I thought Beasley would be utilized more aggressively. Regardless, the receiving crew made enough plays to keep the chains moving and put enought points on the board.

Splash plays

The Dallas defense limited the Giants to only 255 yards. In addition, the team generated 7 “splash” plays. For those not familiar, splash plays are big plays on defense such as sacks, fumbles and interceptions.

DeMarcus Lawrence, fully healthy and playing for a new contract, had an outstanding start to the season. He consistently beat his man and put constant pressure on Manning. He was rewarded with a sack and a half and a tackle for loss, giving him 3 splash plays on the night:

I’m giving Jaylon Smith credit for a fumble caused though I’m not sure if that was official or not; I feel the Cowboys got screwed on that play and should have been awarded the ball. Charles Tapper joined Lawrence with his first NFL sack and Stephen Paea got credit for a half sack. Of course Anthony Brown had the biggest defensive play of the game with a key interception.

All splash plays are not equal, however. I’ve developed the following “splash points” grid:

Based on the above, here’s the “splash points” from last night’s game:

Game summary

Finally, all the statistics from the game.

Summarizing, the Cowboys:

  • Scored more points
  • Ran more plays
  • Gained more yards
  • Gained more yards per play

Rushing numbers

Summarizing, the Cowboys:

  • Ran more running plays
  • Ran for more rushing yards
  • Ran for more yards per rush

Passing numbers:

While Manning completed more passes than Prescott, the Giants’ quarterback efficiency numbers were terrible. Summarizing:

  • Prescott threw for 1.5 more yards per attempt
  • Prescott had a 1-0 TD-to-INT ratio while Manning had a 0-1 TD-to-INT ratio
  • As noted above, Prescott won the key passer rating battle 90 to 79

However, Manning’s anemic QBR rating of 24 tells the true story in my opinion. The QBR statistic takes into account sacks, running yards, situational play, etc. The Cowboy’s defense simply dominated Manning and the Giants’ offense. After an offseason of change the Dallas defense, featuring new-comers like Jaylon Smith, Charles Tapper, Stephen Paea and Chidobie Awuzie smothered the Beckham-less New York offense. It was an impressive, very satisfying week one performance from the entire team.