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Cowboys analytics roundup: Dallas finds itself in rare company

Few teams have the advanced stats of the Dallas Cowboys right now.

Dallas Cowboys v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

If there was any meaningful conclusion to be drawn out of Monday Night Football’s truly ugly clash between the Bills and Patriots, it’s that this season has been truly strange and utterly devoid of any single dominant team. The Patriots were once 2-4 and now they’re the top seed in the AFC, while Buffalo was once 4-1 and is now sitting in the seventh seed.

That’s just one example, but the reality is no team has really looked like a Super Bowl contender for an extended period of time this year. That might explain why the Cowboys rank near the top in most analytical categories despite not playing their best football in the month of November. And yet, Dallas has remained this high all year, even as others have fluctuated. Considering that the Cowboys’ roadblocks to a Super Bowl are only this year’s equally inconsistent teams, it bodes well for them that they stack up well against them.

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

In terms of overall team efficiency, Dallas ranks fourth in the NFL. They’re one spot ahead of the Cardinals, who currently own the NFL’s best record and will travel to Dallas in Week 17. The Cowboys are also the only team in the NFL that currently ranks in the top ten in efficiency on offense, defense, and special teams. Efficient play in all three phases of the game would be huge during a playoff run.

NFL team tiers, Weeks 1-13 courtesy of rbsdm.com

The Cowboys don’t rank as highly in the EPA-based team tiers, although they’re still the sixth-best team according to this. Dallas is currently 11th on offensive EPA per play and fifth in defensive EPA per play. It should be noted that this chart doesn’t take into account special teams performance and also does not adjust for opponent the way DVOA does. Regardless, it paints a picture that DVOA supports, which is that the Cowboys are one of the league’s top teams right now.

Offense

Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

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

This is the part that has everyone worried, as the Cowboys offense has been inconsistent and, at times, downright bad over the last few weeks. That’s reflected in their weighted DVOA rank of 11th, compared to their seventh overall rank. Of course, this is a reflection of the standards that have been set by Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott more than anything. Ranking 11th in weighted offensive DVOA is still pretty darn good, and is only considered a disappointment because we know how much better this group can be.

It’s important to remember that Dallas was playing without its top two receivers and left tackle for two of the four games they’ve struggled in recently. They were much better against Atlanta with those three guys playing, and while it didn’t quite seem like it, Dallas also improved in efficiency after their Saints performance. Even the run game jumped from 20th in run DVOA to 12th. By no means does that suggest the Cowboys’ run game is fixed, but it is improvement.

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

The discrepancy here between Dak Prescott’s various efficiency stats is truly mystifying. Both DVOA and DYAR - which measures value per play and overall value, respectively - peg Prescott as one of the very best in the NFL, and his high completion percentage over expectation (CPOE) suggests that Prescott is one of the most accurate passers this year.

Yet, Prescott’s rankings in both QBR and EPA are pedestrian, sitting in the middle of the pack. He’s even behind the likes of Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett, and Taylor Heinicke. It might be homerism to say that can’t be right, but it’s even more curious when you consider the other metrics listed. It’s fitting, though, because Prescott’s season has been filled with plenty of moments that were jaw-dropping even if his play hasn’t been as consistent as usual for him. Taken together as a collective, this set of data probably offers a reliable take on how he’s played on the year.

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

A lot has been said about the Cowboys’ sudden inability to run the ball, and it seems as if the coaching staff believes the fault for this lies with the offensive line, given the fluctuation at both the right tackle and left guard spots. Maybe they’re seeing something different, but the analytics suggest the offensive line has been good. They’re third in adjusted line yards and sixth in run block win rate, with both Tyler Biadasz and Tyron Smith ranking in the top ten at their respective positions in run block win rate.

In terms of pass protection, it’s more or less been the same story. Dallas continues to post a really poor pass block win rate but makes up for it with a really strong adjusted sack rate. In other words, they’re not holding up great in pass protection but aren’t letting it turn into sacks. Both Biadasz and Zack Martin refused to allow a single pressure this week, as well, while Connor McGovern continues to struggle since taking over for Connor Williams.

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

Playing against an injured Taysom Hill sure helps, but the Cowboys defense has been playing elite football for quite some time now, especially against the pass. They’ve struggled to generate a pass rush outside of Micah Parsons for a few weeks now, but still rank fourth in both pass defense DVOA and EPA allowed per dropback.

Dallas got DeMarcus Lawrence back for the New Orleans game and he didn’t appear to miss a beat. This week, they’re expecting both Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore back as well, which should help jump start the pass rush just in time to face a Washington offensive line that’s fourth in pass block win rate.

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

That the Cowboys have lacked a real, consistent pass rush and still performed well in pass defense says a lot about this secondary. Let’s highlight two good things and two bad things.

First, the two good things are Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown. For whatever reason, opposing quarterbacks keep targeting these two significantly more often than anyone else on this team, but it’s not working. Both are allowing a sub-58% completion rate; Diggs’ 56.4 passer rating allowed is incredible, while Brown’s 79.1 is nothing to sneeze at either.

Time for two bad things. Jourdan Lewis has had plenty of good moments, but he’s allowing the highest completion rate of any defensive back; only Malik Hooker is allowing a higher passer rating, although Hooker’s mere 15 targets compared to Lewis’ 55 tells a story. Secondly, Leighton Vander Esch continues to be a liability. His average depth of target (ADOT) of 1.3 yards is easily the lowest on the team, but Vander Esch is allowing an extraordinary 213 yards after the catch. If Parsons starts to play more off-ball linebacker with these edge rushers returning, it’s likely an attempt to limit Vander Esch’s exposure in pass coverage. That would be for the best.