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Cowboys analytics roundup: Dallas is riding high after big win over Falcons

The real Dallas Cowboys did, in fact, stand up.

Atlanta Falcons v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

After the Cowboys looked like a shell of themselves against the Broncos, they went back to looking like a dominant Super Bowl contender against the Falcons, winning 43-3. If you’ll remember, Dallas didn’t lose much ground last week in many of the analytics categories we track, and likewise they didn’t make any significant jumps this week. Instead, the numbers held fairly steady and considering the Cowboys were already grading out as one of the best teams in the NFL, that’s a good thing.

A couple of important notes for this week’s roundup: with every NFL team now having played at least half of their games this year, we’re swapping out the DAVE metric (which balances preseason expectations with actual DVOA results) with weighted DVOA. Weighted DVOA essentially just gives more importance to the more recent games, reflecting a better picture of how a team is currently playing. With schedule adjustments for DVOA now at 90% and every team playing well into the season now, we’ll get more insight from weighted DVOA than DAVE at this point.

Additionally, with the Cowboys having such a quick turnaround after the Chiefs game due to their Thanksgiving game, there won’t be an analytics roundup before the Thursday night matchup against the Raiders. With that out of the way, let’s see how the Cowboys stack up against the rest of the league.

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 14.6% 4th 3rd 12.6% 3rd
Defense -13.7% 4th 7th -14.8% 2nd
Special Teams -0.8% 22nd 23rd -0.6% 22nd
Overall 27.5% 3rd 5th 26.8% 3rd

Going by total DVOA, the Cowboys jumped up two spots to place third in overall team efficiency. This is a combination of their blowout win over the Falcons pairing with the Cardinals and Rams both getting blown out by bad teams. This matches their weighted DVOA rank as well, but what’s most fascinating is that Dallas ranks fourth in defensive efficiency and second in weighted defensive DVOA.

That means that the Cowboys defense has been playing better than anyone not named the Buffalo Bills recently, which checks out. They played a great game against the Vikings and then held the Falcons to just three points, with the Broncos game sandwiched in between. The EPA/based team tiers paint a similar picture:

NFL Team Tiers, Weeks 1-10 courtesy of rbsdm.com

According to this metric, the Cowboys are the fourth-best team in the NFL, ever so slightly behind the Buccaneers. Offensively, Dallas ranks sixth in offensive EPA/play while they’re fourth in defensive EPA/play. Who would have guessed that the defense would be grading higher than the offense through 10 weeks at the start of the season? Likely nobody, but here we are.

Offense

Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Offensive DVOA 14.6% 4th
Pass DVOA 42.3% 2nd
Run DVOA -10.3% 17th

What’s interesting here is that the Cowboys saw an increase in their actual DVOA grade but dropped from third to fourth in the rankings. Part of that is because the 49ers saw such a big jump after their incredibly efficient performance against a highly-graded Rams defense. A look at the weighted DVOA shows Dallas as the third best offense in recent weeks.

What’s perhaps most confounding is the Cowboys’ steadily declining run DVOA numbers. When Dallas came out of the bye week, they had one of the most efficient rushing attacks and both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard ranked in the top five among running backs in Next Gen Stats’ rushing efficiency metric. Three weeks later, Pollard has fallen to sixth and Elliott to eighth. Those are still good numbers, but the decline is happening; what’s worse is that Pollard had the fifth-worst rushing efficiency grade this past week.

Dak Prescott’s Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
QBR 58.7 9th
EPA 44.9 14th
CPOE 5.3 3rd
DVOA 33.5% 1st
DYAR 909 2nd

The good news is that an inefficient rushing attack means very little when your quarterback is dealing, and Dak Prescott was DEALING on Sunday. He wasted no time getting back into his routine against the Falcons’ shoddy defense. After dropping six spots in the CPOE (completion percentage over expectation) rankings, he shot back up to third in the NFL with a great showing against Atlanta.

After getting back on track, Prescott now ranks in the top ten in all of these categories except for EPA. As has been noted, the cumulative nature of this metric is dinging Prescott for missing the Vikings game. If we look at a quarterback’s EPA per play, Prescott ranks seventh in the NFL in that category, a closer match to his QBR ranking.

Cowboys Offensive Line Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Adjusted Line Yards 5.06 2nd
RB Yards 4.82 3rd
Adjusted Sack Rate 4.2% 3rd
Pass Block Win Rate 55% 22nd
Run Block Win Rate 73% 5th

For the first time all year, the Cowboys have been dethroned from the top spot in adjusted line yards, a measure of run blocking efficiency. Between that and their fifth-ranked run block win rate, this is still an elite run blocking group, which adds to the confusion on their inefficient ground game. Two players of note: Zack Martin is fourth in run block win rate among guards, while Tyler Biadasz is all the way up to third among all centers.

The pass protection has rebounded as well. Terence Steele, in his first game of the year at left tackle, was awful against a rookie edge rusher last week but played much better against the Falcons. It wasn’t perfect, but Steele wasn’t getting beat nearly as often as he was a week ago. For the second week in a row, and the sixth time in his last seven games, Biadasz didn’t allow a single pressure. He was the only Cowboy to do so against Atlanta, as the second-year center has been making strides in pass protection since his rough start to the season.

Defense

Cowboys Defensive Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Defensive DVOA -13.7% 4th
Pass Defense DVOA -14.4% 3rd
Run Defense DVOA -12.6% 18th
Pass Rush Win Rate 44% 12th
Run Stop Win Rate 32% 9th

Well this defense is pretty darn good, huh? After a two week drought, the Dallas defense got back into the takeaway party, with their top three corners each recording an interception. Micah Parsons nearly created a fourth with his thunderous strip sack near the end of the first half, although the Cowboys special teams unit got a takeaway a few plays later.

What was most encouraging was the team’s vastly improved run defense from last week. Atlanta had to abandon the run early, but Cordarrelle Patterson never got close to gashing the defense the way Javonte Williams did. The exciting part is that Osa Odighizuwa now ranks tenth among all interior linemen in run stop win rate, while Tarell Basham is seventh among edge players in the same metric. Just wait until they get DeMarcus Lawrence back.

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 58 31 53.4% 53.6 9.8 237 251
Anthony Brown 65 36 55.4% 73.0 12.3 331 196
Jourdan Lewis 44 30 68.2% 8.8 8.8 194 158
Jayron Kearse 31 21 67.7% 104.6 6.0 98 85
Damontae Kazee 13 8 61.5% 110.6 16.7 108 47
Malik Hooker 10 6 60.0% 114.2 10.1 24 30
Donovan Wilson 5 2 40.0% 56.2 8.0 16 9
Keanu Neal 14 14 100.0% 106.5 5.6 78 56
Leighton Vander Esch 19 16 84.2% 101.3 1.6 25 133
Micah Parsons 27 19 70.4% 84.6 3.1 43 112

That was easily the most complete game we’ve seen from this entire Cowboys secondary all season long, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they never top it again. All three of the Cowboys’ top cornerbacks got a pick, and Jourdan Lewis in particular had a heck of a game. That’s encouraging for Dallas, as Lewis has been the lowest-performing corner most of the year, although his best games have come in the last three weeks.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Cowboys have four really good safeties, which feels like justice for having wandered in the desert at that position for what feels like 40 years. Donovan Wilson’s return has opened up so many things for Quinn, and the trio of Damontae Kazee, Malik Hooker, and Jayron Kearse have continued to play at a very steady level. Combine that with two corners allowing a sub-60% completion rate and it’s no surprise to see Dallas third in pass defense DVOA.