The Cowboys lost Sunday against a team that had been struggling until facing Dallas. Let’s dive into the numbers.
Three - boneheaded plays that doomed the Cowboys
Dallas played a sloppy, undisciplined game. There were more dumb mistakes than could be counted but three stood out as pivotal, game-changing plays.
The first came when Ezekiel Elliott simply lost track of the boundary and stepped out of bounds right before catching a would-be game-tying, 31-yard, second-quarter touchdown. It’s hard to understand how such a thing can happen. Elliott wasn’t covered or pressured in any way and turned what should have been an easy score into a penalty and loss of down. Elliott’s dumb play gave away four points.
Here's the 32-yard touchdown pass that was called back. This was an excellent drive from Dak Prescott. This seemed to completely change this team's mindset going forward. pic.twitter.com/lszUUpIhpf— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 24, 2018
Second came Kavon Frazier outsmarting himself into allowing the Seahawks an easy, 52-yard touchdown. Frazier tried to disguise his deep coverage responsibility by moving close to the line of scrimmage but then found himself woefully out of position when the Seahawks ran an outside go route. Cornerback Chidobie Awuzie expected help from his safety who was nowhere to be found, allowing Tyler Lockett to race unguarded for the touchdown. Frazier’s dumb play gave away seven points.
Russell Wilson steps up in the pocket on 3rd & 9 & fires an absolute laser down the sidelines to #Seahawks wide receiver #TylerLockett for another #SeattleSeahawks TOUCHDOWN! #12s! #GoHawks #RussellWilson #WeRepSeattle! Kicker #Janikowski adds 3pt FG! #Seattle up 17-3 @ #HalfTime pic.twitter.com/j1p10wtJjN— Ash Vanderbilt (@AshVanderbilt) September 23, 2018
Not to be outdone, less than two minutes later Randy Gregory got into the act. After the Cowboys got a third down stop near midfield with only seconds remaining in the first half, Gregory stupidly shoved a Seahawk in the face right in front of a referee, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. Instead of (maybe) attempting a 62-yard field goal, the Seahawks booted a relatively easy 47-yard kick. Gregory’s dumb play gave away three points.
That’s fourteen points simply given away by dumb mental errors. There’s no way you’ll win in the NFL playing this way.
Negative three - turnover ratio
Dallas committed three turnovers and recorded zero for a minus-three turnover ratio. NFL teams who commit three or more turnovers and record zero are 11-268 since 2010. That’s a 3.9% win percentage. The Cowboys seemed intent in displaying numerous ways in how to lose games Sunday.
Eleven - Number of turnovers the Cowboys defense is on pace to record in 2018
The 2015 Dallas Cowboys set a franchise record by recording only eleven turnovers. The 2018 squad seems to be on the same path. Despite having the most talented front seven the team has seen in years, the current squad simply isn’t taking the ball away from opponents. After recording only one turnover per game against Carolina and the Giants, the Dallas defense was shut out in the turnover department against Seattle. The team is now on pace to match the 2015 squad in turnover ineptitude. Yet again, you can’t win in the NFL if you can’t force turnovers.
23 - Net first half passing yards for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense
I wasn’t sure I could believe this number when I read it. It seems impossible in the modern NFL for a team to record only 23 net passing yards in an entire half of football. The Chiefs seem to average that many yards every time they drop back to pass. But it’s true. Prescott went 6-for-13 for only 40 yards but was also sacked for 17 yards in losses. That’s a net of 23 yards on fifteen drop-backs for those keeping score. Again, you can’t win in the NFL when you’re averaging only 1.5 yards per pass play.
23% - Cowboys’ third down conversion rate
Dallas converted only three of thirteen third down attempts for a 23% conversion rate. This follows games where they recorded rates of 18% (2-of-11) and 30% (3-of-10). The team has converted only eight third downs the entire season and is on pace to convert only 42 third downs for the season. The team’s 23.5% conversion rate ranks last in the NFL. Not to beat a dead horse, but you can’t win in the NFL converting less than one-of-four third down attempts.
Thirteen - points scored
The Dallas offense put up only thirteen points Sunday. This gives them 41 on the season, or two less than the New Orleans Saints scored in one game Sunday. This is nothing new. The Cowboys offense, which averaged nearly 30 points per game during the first half of last season has averaged fifteen points since. Six times in the last eleven games the team has failed to score fourteen points. Again, you can’t win in the NFL scoring only thirteen points per game.
54.5 - Dak Prescott’s passer rating
Many have bemoaned Prescott’s lack of volume numbers, complaining about his low yardage numbers. But NFL team’s can win with low volume numbers from their quarterback if he’s efficient. Prescott was not efficient Sunday. He averaged only 4.94 yards per attempt. His adjusted net yards per attempt (which factors in sacks, interceptions and touchdowns) was only 2.9. Add it up and he had another terrible game with a 54 passer rating.
Such performances have become the norm for Prescott, who has seen his passer rating steadily decline since an outstanding start to his career. The following shows a rolling eight-game average for passer rating and points scored since 2016, when Prescott became the starting Cowboys’ quarterback:
15 - times Prescott was sacked or hit by Seattle defenders
The Dallas offensive line, where first-round draft picks and big-time, long-term contracts are common, can’t protect the team’s quarterback. After surrendering six sacks in the team’s opener Prescott was sacked five times by the Seahawks. He was also hit ten times. This means Prescott was hit or sacked on nearly 40% of his drop-backs.
Again, this is nothing new. Prescott’s sack numbers have increased as his performance has declined. The following is an eight-game rolling average:
Prescott hasn’t been very good, but he’s not getting any help from his offensive line. The OL is supposedly the strength and identity of this team and it’s simply not very good right now. Tyron Smith was soundly beaten for two sacks Sunday and has had two extremely bad games in 2018. He’s nowhere near the best tackle in the league as he was for many years.
Zack Martin was also cleanly beaten Sunday, a sight we’ve almost never seen. La’el Collins continues to look like a guard playing out of position. Each of those players are signed to big-money, long-term contracts. When your supposedly best players aren’t playing very well you’re unlikely to win.
Two - sacks of Russell Wilson by the Dallas defense
On the flip side, the sack feast Cowboys’ fans hoped for and expected Sunday never materialized. The Dallas defense came in with nine sacks on the season and faced a Seahawks front that had given up twelve in two games. Randy Gregory was cleared to play and was expected to team with Demarcus Lawrence to overwhelm the over-matched Seahawks.
Instead, the Seahawks out-muscled, outplayed and physically dominated the Cowboys’ defensive line. Wilson was really only sacked once (the second coming when Jaylon Smith forced Wilson to run out of bounds). In addition, the Seahawks anemic running game piled up 113 yards.
The Dallas defensive front seven had been the best thing about this year’s team until Sunday when it looked a lot like the mediocre, underwhelming unit we’ve watched for the last decade.
Zero - number of sacks, tackles, fumbles forced, fumbles recovered, tackles for loss and passes defensed by Randy Gregory
I don’t mean to pick on Gregory. He’s just one player on a unit that posted a lot of zeroes on the stat sheet. But Gregory has been so hyped since being drafted in 2015 and him finally getting on the field had many expecting big things.
But he flashed nothing Sunday, despite going against a sub-par Seattle left tackle. The only time Gregory was mentioned the entire game was for his foolish penalty at the end of the first half. Despite all of Gregory’s physical gifts he’s never really produced on an NFL stage.
At this point he’s more like a unicorn than a productive NFL player: more myth than reality.