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Cowboys analytics roundup: How much did the Broncos loss hurt?

How much damage can one really bad Cowboys game do?

Denver Broncos v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The Cowboys’ winning streak had to come to an end sooner or later, but few thought it would come crashing down the way it did against the Broncos. While the loss at home was just about as ugly as it gets, this team has been pretty brilliant on the whole this year.

So how have the analytics shifted around the Cowboys following the loss? With eight games in the books, we have a pretty good idea of what this team is, confounding loss on Sunday notwithstanding. As such, Dallas’ DAVE metric is currently a mix of 45% preseason expectations and 55% actual results. Schedule adjustments for DVOA are also at 90% 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 13.4% 6th 9th 11.3% 7th
Defense -15.2% 2nd 1st -19.1% 1st
Special Teams 2.2% 6th 5th 4.4% 5th
Overall 30.9% 1st 1st 34.8% 1st

The encouraging news here is that the Cowboys haven’t seen too much movement here, which reflects just how much of a statistical outlier their last game was. Despite not scoring until garbage time, the offense remains the third most efficient unit in the NFL. The defense is still in the top ten. And special teams moved up one spot.

It’s worth noting that special teams got dinged for a missed field goal and an offsides call on a punt last week, which hurt an otherwise rising unit. This week, they had a great opening kick return from Tony Pollard that was effectively canceled out by the whole muffed punt block deal. Add to that a complete lack of kicking attempts from Greg Zuerlein, and there was little opportunity to raise their efficiency grade this week.

NFL Team Tiers, Weeks 1-9 courtesy of

Just like last week, the Cowboys rank fifth in the NFL in total EPA/play, matching their overall team DVOA. Their offense is tied with the Chiefs for fourth-best in offensive EPA/play, while the defense slipped to sixth in defensive EPA/play after a dreadful performance against a middle-of-the-pack Broncos offense. Still, ranking sixth in the NFL by EPA/play and seventh in defensive DVOA is lightyears ahead of what anyone expected.


Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Offensive DVOA 13.4% 6th
Pass DVOA 31.7% 6th
Run DVOA -4.0% 13th

Did the Broncos just figure out how to stop the Kellen Moore offense? The answer is only “yes” if the blueprint for doing so is hoping for Dak Prescott and virtually every other player to simply forget how to play football.

Prescott had a horrible game (more on that in a bit), Terence Steele struggled mightily at left tackle, Amari Cooper and Tony Pollard forgot how to catch wide open passes, and so many more things went wrong. The Cowboys still rank third in offensive DVOA, though, a testament to how good they are and have been all year.

Dak Prescott’s Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
QBR 54.9 9th
EPA 85.8 7th
CPOE 2.2 T-5th
DVOA 21.2% 3rd
DYAR 1379 3rd

I’ve been vocal about Prescott’s MVP case all year, but he delivered a total stinker against Denver. One struggles to think of a worse singular performance in his entire career. In fact, Prescott’s 24.1 QBR Sunday was his worst single-game QBR since the shutout loss to the Colts in 2018, and it surely would have been much lower had he not thrown two meaningless touchdowns at the end.

Prescott hit on less than half of his passes, which toppled him from the league lead in completion percentage over expectation (CPOE) all the way down to sixth. That’s a huge drop to make in one week. His poor performance has also tanked his QBR and EPA standings, although Football Outsiders’ DVOA and DYAR remained steady. That tracks with the team’s total DVOA trends, as Prescott is still an extremely valuable quarterback despite this one terrible game.

Cowboys Offensive Line Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Adjusted Line Yards 4.80 2nd
RB Yards 4.68 5th
Adjusted Sack Rate 5.6% 9th
Pass Block Win Rate 58% 23rd
Run Block Win Rate 73% 6th

So, Steele isn’t nearly as good at left tackle as he is at right tackle. That should lend some credence to those of us who were insisting that it isn’t easy to just switch spots on the offensive line. It should also give pause to those who think La’el Collins would be any better at left tackle. The simplest solution is to get Tyron Smith back ASAP.

Pass protection has been a consistent issue for Dallas all year, as evidenced by their consistently low pass block win rate. But Moore and Prescott have done a good job of working around it all year, reflected by the adjusted sack rate. However, on a day when Moore made a few questionable calls and Prescott played so poorly, things fell apart quickly.

Steele was the biggest problem, as rookie edge rusher Jonathon Cooper abused him all game. Steele surrendered a whopping eight pressures in the game, three more than Smith has given up all year. But it wasn’t all Steele, as both Collins and Zack Martin gave up some pressures too.

Connor Williams and Tyler Biadasz, in what’s probably a surprise to most, gave up zero pressures in the game. Dallas will need to be better than that going forward, and the sooner Smith gets back the better.


Cowboys Defensive Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Defensive DVOA -15.2% 2nd
Pass Defense DVOA -20.5% 2nd
Run Defense DVOA -7.1% 16th
Pass Rush Win Rate 42% 12th
Run Stop Win Rate 31% 14th

Aside from Micah Parsons, the Dallas defense played really poorly Sunday. They had some nice moments here and there, but overall it was bad. How bad was it? Well, for starters, Teddy Bridgewater attempted 28 passes and not one of them was thrown into a tight window. That’s only happened once all year, and it came against the dismal Houston Texans defense.

The run defense also cratered, as rookie running back Javonte Williams posted the 11th-highest rushing efficiency grade this week. For context, Williams is 32nd in that same metric on the whole season. In short, he had a career day against this unit.

And like the offense, the defense isn’t greatly effected by this in their efficiency metrics. They’re still posting above average numbers in pass rush and run stop win rates and are top ten in total defensive efficiency and pass defense efficiency. It really seems to be that Sunday’s performance was just a case of all-around sloppiness, which can be more easily corrected than a fundamental flaw in scheme or technique.

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 103 54 52.4% 55.8 10.4 496 411
Anthony Brown 122 65 53.3% 78.4 12.2 518 318
Jourdan Lewis 76 52 68.4% 93.4 8.5 381 305
Kelvin Joseph 17 8 47.1% 82.7 6.8 14 75
Jayron Kearse 65 40 61.5% 77.5 6.8 179 237
Damontae Kazee 25 13 52.0% 85.8 14.2 135 70
Malik Hooker 28 16 57.1% 80.8 9.6 59 90
Donovan Wilson 14 6 42.9% 57.1 8.1 39 26
Keanu Neal 38 30 78.9% 97.1 3.8 109 169
Leighton Vander Esch 38 27 71.1% 87.9 1.8 37 226
Micah Parsons 36 22 61.1% 71.5 3.1 37 123

This was easily the worst game the Dallas secondary has played all year. Ditto for Trevon Diggs individually. His 81 yards allowed - 64 of which came before the catch - were easily the highest of the day. Jourdan Lewis also got abused, allowing completions on all four of his targets.

The only players who could be said to have played well in coverage this week were the linebackers: Micah Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch, and Keanu Neal. All three of them came away with a passer rating allowed under 80.0. Both Vander Esch and Neal registered negative air yards in the game and had the two lowest yards after catch totals allowed.

Parsons played well too, but he also deserves praise for his pass coverage on the whole. Not counting Donovan Wilson, who just saw his first targets of the season this week, Parsons’ 87.8 passer rating allowed is the third-highest figure on the team. That’s also the 11th-highest figure in the NFL among linebackers with 25 or more targets this year. Parsons’s rapid growth in this area has made him all the more valuable, considering coverage was his biggest weakness coming out of Penn State.

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