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Cowboys analytics roundup: Dallas continues to rise as other teams fall around them

The analytics say that the Cowboys’ three-game win streak is quite good.

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

After three straight weeks in which the Cowboys ended the day with a win while fueling discussion over whether ugly wins should really be celebrated, the NFL served up a stark reminder of how hard wins are to come by. The Buccaneers got shut out by the Saints, the Cardinals got blown out by the Lions, and the Packers were one two-point conversion away from losing to the Tyler Huntley-led Ravens.

The craziness of Sunday’s slate of games catapulted the Cowboys into the second seed in the NFC, just behind Green Bay, with three games remaining on the year. It also served as evidence of just how even things are throughout the league, making it less surprising to see Dallas continue to rise up to the top in quite a few analytical rankings.

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 key thing here is that the Cowboys are now second in total DVOA in the NFL, behind just the Buccaneers. And they are once again the only team to rank in the top ten in DVOA on offense, defense, and special teams. All three phases saw a boost in efficiency from this week, too.

For those curious about the Packers - who need to lose at least one of their remaining three games for Dallas to have a shot at the top seed - they rank tenth in overall DVOA. That all comes from their second-ranked offense, as they’re 22nd in defensive DVOA and dead last in special teams DVOA. Two of their three remaining opponents, Cleveland and Minnesota, aren’t too far behind in total DVOA, ranking 15th and 13th respectively.

NFL team tiers, Weeks 1-14 courtesy of rbsdm.com

The EPA-based team tiers aren’t as high on the Cowboys, but do still show them being among the league’s best. Dallas now leads the league in defensive EPA per play while the offense is getting closer and closer to the league average line. Still, they’re one of the NFL’s top seven teams by EPA and one of the NFC’s top five.

Offense

Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

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

The box score may not have reflected it, but the Cowboys got back into their rhythm from earlier in the year on Sunday. That was reflected in an uptick in DVOA grade this week, even if they remained at eight in the rankings. The run game, in particular, saw a statistically significant jump in efficiency with Connor Williams back in the lineup.

Perhaps the most telling split for Dallas has been their offensive performances between home and away games. The Cowboys rank in the top five in offensive efficiency at home this year, with the Broncos game being the only such game in which the offense failed to score at least 30 points. After seeing a modest increase in DVOA this past week, we could be nearing a big boom as they return to Dallas.

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

It was a good week for Dak Prescott regardless of what you might have heard. He finished sixth among all quarterbacks in both QBR and EPA this week, a significant step up from recent performances. Of course, it’s just one game so it won’t affect his season-long rankings too much, as you can see.

It should be noted that Prescott’s performance Sunday saw the quarterback go against his usual tendencies. He was bottom five in both intended air yards and throws into tight windows while being among the bottom ten in air yards to the sticks. None of those are normal for him, and reflect a shift in his approach to the conservative, deep coverages Dak has been seeing lately. It clearly worked.

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

It was a very good day for the Connor Williams apologists. The run game was noticeably better and Prescott even had more time to throw than he has in recent weeks. Plus, we came oh-so-close to a touchdown reception for Fullback Connor McGovern™. Maybe next week.

In an interesting move, the Cowboys rotated between Ty Nsehke and Terence Steele at left tackle. Neither one stood out in a major way, so it’ll be interesting to monitor that spot if Tyron Smith continues to be held out of games.

Defense

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

Here’s another number: zero. That represents the amount of time the Dallas defense has spent playing from behind during their three-game win streak. Coincidentally, the Cowboys’ last three opponents have all failed to top 25 designed run plays in their games.

That helps when your run defense ranks middle of the pack the way Dallas’ unit does, and it embodies Mike McCarthy’s desire to play complementary football. They know their secondary is playing lights out right now, so getting an early lead forces teams to go away from attacking the defense’s weakness (the run) and try to throw their way out of the hole. And when you’ve got the pass rushers and ball-hawks that Dallas does, that leads to an avalanche of defensive splash plays.

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

Speaking of the secondary, they’re great. Dallas ranks first in pass defense DVOA and first in defensive EPA per dropback. Literally no one would have believed you if you had said this would happen eight months ago, but here we are. There’s so many players who deserve credit here, but let’s focus on the cornerbacks.

Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown are both playing at very high levels right now. No player in the NFL has been targeted more than Brown, while Diggs has been targeted the sixth-most times of any defender. The fact that both corners are allowing completions on less than 55% of those targets is ridiculous.

Jourdan Lewis deserves some credit too. He’s been playing the best football of his career - though it’d be easy to argue that has more to do with opportunity than skill - and has been an integral part of this pass defense from the slot. Opposing quarterbacks don’t want to target Diggs and Brown, but Dan Quinn has done a good job of using Lewis and his deep rotation of safeties to crowd the middle and force quarterbacks to test the two outside guys in man coverage. If Lewis didn’t do his job so well, Diggs and Brown wouldn’t be seeing so many targets. This elite pass defense truly is the result of everyone doing their part.