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Cowboys analytics roundup: Where Dallas stands going into their bye week

Things are looking very good in Dallas right now.

NFL: OCT 17 Cowboys at Patriots Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a thrilling overtime win on the road against the Patriots, the Cowboys enter their bye week at 5-1 and haven’t lost a game since their season-opener against the reigning Super Bowl champions, who are also 5-1 right now. With six games in the books, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what each team is and is not, and so far the picture of this Cowboys team is a very good one.

Their performance at New England, one that involved two offensive turnovers, a missed field goal, and way too many penalties, has dropped Dallas a few spots in team rankings. However, they’re still one of the best teams in the NFL, as shown by their DVOA rankings. Of note: schedule adjustments for DVOA calculation are currently at 60% strength.

Cowboys Efficiency at a Glance

 DVOA DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Previous Week Weighted DVOA Weighted DVOA Rank
 DVOA DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Previous Week Weighted DVOA Weighted DVOA Rank
Offense 10.0% 7th 8th 5.6% 12th
Defense -9.7% 4th 4th -10.9% 4th
Special Teams 1.9% 10th 21st 2.6% 7th
Overall 21.7% 5th 4th 19.1% 4th

There was little to no movement for the offense, which is both unsurprising and encouraging. It’s unsurprising because this unit is just playing at such a high level, but also encouraging because their first four red zone trips yielded 10 points and two turnovers. The fact that the offense didn’t drop in DVOA after that is a testament to how good they are.

Both the defense and the special teams regressed a bit, although that was expected. Dallas got gashed in a few ways Sunday, and the miss from Greg Zuerlein paired with a penalty on the opening kickoff were big negatives. Still, when compared to their DAVE ranking - which is currently a mix of 55% preseason expectations and 45% actual results - the Cowboys are ahead of schedule in all three phases.

This chart was generated before the Bills lost to the Titans on Monday Night Football, so their EPA/play numbers may look slightly different. But for the purposes of evaluating the Cowboys, this is still helpful. Only four other teams have a better overall EPA/play ranking than Dallas, and they’re playing well above the league average on both offense and defense.

Defense

Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Offensive DVOA 10.0% 7th
Pass DVOA 31.8% 7th
Run DVOA -9.3% 20th

Prior to the start of the season, the only real concern about this Cowboys offense was how Dak Prescott would be able to perform after suffering such a terrible injury last year. Well, the answer has been astoundingly well, and so it’s no surprise to see Dallas boasting one of the best offenses in the league.

One thing that does raise an eyebrow is the Cowboys’ rushing DVOA, which took a significant hit after the Patriots game. Prior to Sunday’s matchup, Dallas had a 9.3% run DVOA, good for third in the NFL. Now, they’re in the negative and dropped to 11th overall.

Sunday was definitely the toughest time this team has had running the ball this year (unless you count the opener where they didn’t even try to run), but they still finished with 122 total rushing yards and both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard averaged 4.1 yards per carry. It’s hardly a cause for concern, though, because this offense will be great so long as its quarterback is great. And, well, speaking of the quarterback:

Dak Prescott’s Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
QBR 50.6 17th
EPA 49.9 14th
CPOE 3.6 5th
DVOA 22.3% 4th
DYAR 898 3rd

Is there any quarterback playing at a higher level than Prescott right now? You could make an argument for Kyler Murray, and maybe for guys like Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford. But you’d be hard pressed to find a quarterback who has played like one of the best at a consistent rate this season.

The data backs that up. While Prescott’s QBR figure continues to be negatively impacted by turnovers - in this case, an interception and a fumble at the goal line - the other metrics are singing his name. Only Murray has a higher completion percentage over expectation (CPOE); only Stafford has a higher value per play (DVOA); and only Brady has a higher overall value (DYAR). It’s no surprise that Prescott is now tied with Murray for best MVP odds this year.

Cowboys Offensive Line Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Adjusted Line Yards 4.92 2nd
RB Yards 4.72 4th
Adjusted Sack Rate 4.9% 6th
Pass Block Win Rate 54% 25th
Run Block Win Rate 73% 5th

Despite their apparently inefficient rushing performance in Gillette Stadium this past weekend, the Cowboys still boast the best run-blocking unit in the NFL. However, pass protection continues to be a potential weak spot. The discrepancy between their very poor pass block win rate and their very good adjusted sack rate suggests, among other things, that Prescott and Kellen Moore are doing a good job of scheming around any issues. It will also be interesting to see if these numbers change with La’el Collins returning.

One player who deserves some singling out is center Tyler Biadasz. He’s become a common punching bag, but the second-year pro (who still has yet to play a full season’s worth of games at center) has been making improvements week by week. After surrendering 11 pressures in the Cowboys’ first three games this year, Biadasz hasn’t allowed a single pressure the last three games. He also went without a noticeably bad snap against New England following issues the two games prior.

Defense

Cowboys Defensive Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Defensive DVOA -9.7% 4th
Pass Defense DVOA -9.9% 4th
Run Defense DVOA -9.5% 18th
Pass Rush Win Rate 42% 17th
Run Stop Win Rate 32% 9th

There’s a case to be made that this was the Cowboys’ worst defensive performance of the year, which is a good argument to have. But in many ways, this unit came back to earth a bit after several fairly dominant games in a row. For the first time all year, Dallas allowed opposing running backs to hit 100 rushing yards in a game. Not only did they hit that mark, but the Patriots’ duo of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson tallied 124 rushing yards.

As a result, the Cowboys dropped in run defense DVOA and run stop win rate. Perhaps most concerning was how many of the Patriots’ big runs happened: a lot of wham and trap plays that took advantage of the defensive line’s upfield penetration style of play. That became an often-exploited weakness for Rod Marinelli’s defenses towards the end, so Dan Quinn will need to be proactive in making sure New England didn’t just create a blueprint to beating this defense.

Overall, though, this defense is still playing at a higher rate than most NFL teams. Takeaways, which continued against New England with two, were again a big part of that. But the Cowboys’ pass coverage continues to be a strong point for this unit.

Cowboys Pass Coverage

 Targets Completions Completion Rate Passer Rating Allowed ADOT When Targeted Air Yards Allowed Yards After Catch
 Targets Completions Completion Rate Passer Rating Allowed ADOT When Targeted Air Yards Allowed Yards After Catch
Trevon Diggs 72 41 56.9% 54.5 9.2 304 305
Anthony Brown 75 44 58.7% 78.1 12.4 376 252
Jourdan Lewis 52 38 73.1% 108.7 9.4 294 237
Jayron Kearse 47 30 63.8% 87.7 5.2 114 192
Damontae Kazee 14 8 57.1% 105.7 16.3 108 47
Malik Hooker 15 8 53.3% 110.0 9.2 40 46
Donovan Wilson 6 2 33.3% 47.2 9.3 16 9
Keanu Neal 25 21 84.0% 94.7 3.3 64 104
Leighton Vander Esch 25 19 76.0% 97.1 1.5 20 170
Micah Parsons 27 19 70.4% 84.6 3.1 43 112

Trevon Diggs continues to be utterly ridiculous, and yes, that 75-yard touchdown bomb to Kendrick Bourne was more on Damontae Kazee than Diggs. But aside from the pick machine, Anthony Brown has quietly been playing some great football as of late. His 60% completion rate allowed and 85.3 passer rating when targeted are very solid numbers that only look bad when compared to the Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner playing opposite him.

Jourdan Lewis, on the other hand, has been experiencing a downward trend in performance. Perhaps by coincidence, Lewis has also seen a decline in snaps the last two weeks as Quinn has shifted towards more big nickel looks (three safeties) to incorporate his suddenly deep safety room. That hasn’t stopped offenses from throwing Lewis’ way when he is on the field, so it will be interesting to see how his usage changes going forward.