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Cowboys analytics roundup: Where does Dallas stand after two games?

The data is surprisingly positive for the Cowboys defense.

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

[Ed. Note]: A previous version of this story was published where the tables displayed incorrectly and altered some of the data. Those formatting issues have been fixed and the tables should display properly. [End Note]


With their win on Sunday, the Cowboys pulled into a tie for the second-best record in the entire NFL. Yes, they’re only 1-1, but that doesn’t make it any less correct of a statement.

Of course, with just two games being played so far, any sort of data that’s pulled out of these teams is not as reliable as it will be later on in the year. The nice thing about more advanced metrics is that they’re slightly more reliable, and tracking how a team’s various analytical rankings change throughout the course of the year can be eye-opening.

Without further ado, let’s see where Dallas stacks up after their 1-1 start to the season. And by request from last week’s analytics roundup, there are pretty graphics this time around.

Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

 DVOA DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Previous Week DAVE Rank
 DVOA DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Previous Week DAVE Rank
Offense 24.4% 7th 8th 7th
Defense 10.5% 22nd 22nd 22nd
Special Teams -5.5% 28th 32nd 23rd
Overall 8.4% 14th 23rd 12th

Here, you can see the broad strokes of how the Cowboys stack up against the rest of the NFL through these first two weeks. It’s nothing too surprising: the Cowboys have a really good offense, not-so-great defense, and below-average special teams, although it’s worth pointing that after a horrid performance in Week 1 Dallas’ special teams were 32nd in the NFL. In other words, they’ll need a few more good games to climb those rankings, because right now that Week 1 grade is dragging them down.

The important part to keep an eye on for now is DAVE, which is a combination of Football Outsiders’ preseason forecast and actual DVOA metrics thus far. Basically it’s an attempt to balance a statistically unreliable sample size with expectations, and right now the DAVE metric is made up of 85% preseason expectations and 15% actual DVOA recorded.

Looking at the Cowboys’ DAVE ranking and comparing it to their current DVOA rankings reveal that both the offense and defense are right about where Football Outsiders projected them to be before the season. Special teams is well below those expectations, but again, last week’s DVOA grade is likely going to be a statistical outlier.

Another good look at the Cowboys’ analytical standing as a whole is their team tier placement, as compiled by Ben Baldwin below. In this graphic, which Baldwin releases each week, he compares offensive EPA/play with defensive EPA/play to get an idea of which teams are most efficient in both areas. As you can see, Dallas has the ninth best offense by this metric and their defense is sitting right on the average line, which is a positive sign after facing off against the likes of Tom Brady and Justin Herbert.

Offense

Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

Offense DVOA 24.4%
Offense DVOA 24.4%
DVOA Rank 7th
Pass DVOA 35.8%
Pass DVOA Rank 14th
Run DVOA 12.7%
Run DVOA Rank 3rd

The expectation before the season was that the Cowboys would field a very good offense with Dak Prescott returning to the team. They started off hot against the Buccaneers, and while they only scored 20 points against the Chargers, it was largely due to a more run-heavy, slower approach. That’s reflected by the DVOA numbers, as Dallas is the seventh most efficient offense and has a top three rushing offense right now.

Once again, the thing to watch is DAVE, and with their DVOA rank matching their DAVE rank, it tells us that this offense is performing about as well as Football Outsiders projected. What’s perhaps more surprising is how they’ve done it. They torched a Buccaneers defense that was fifth in DVOA last year with 58 passes, and then against the Chargers’ light boxes on Sunday they ran the ball more than they passed it. The Cowboys offense has played in two dramatically different ways in these two games, and they’ve been equally efficient in both. That could be the difference maker in the long run.

Of course, the other difference maker for this offense is Dak Prescott. Here are his numbers through two games.

Dak Prescott’s Efficiency

QBR 61.7
QBR 61.7
QBR Rank 13th
EPA 14.5
EPA Rank 6th
CPOE 8.5
CPOE Rank 4th
DVOA 13.1%
DVOA Rank 14th
DYAR 157
DYAR Rank 10th

As far as his rankings go for these metrics, Prescott did drop a little bit. Part of that was because of the Cowboys’ game plan against the Chargers; since Prescott threw less passes, he had less opportunities to produce positive plays, so his interception to Asante Samuel Jr., for example, carries more weight than it would have if Prescott were once again airing it out 50+ times.

Still, these are very good numbers for Prescott. Coming in fourth among quarterbacks in completion percentage over expectation (CPOE) is big, because that metric more than any other accounts for an offense’s game plan. Prescott threw a ton of passes all over the field against Tampa Bay and completed a lot of them. Against the Chargers, he was mostly going after shorter throws with Los Angeles keeping their safeties deep, and he still hit on a very high rate. This reflects what many of us already know, which is that Prescott can make you hurt no matter what playing in Kellen Moore’s offense.

Cowboys Offensive Line Efficiency

Adjusted Line Yards 4.94
Adjusted Line Yards 4.94
Adjusted Line Yards Rank 4th
RB Yards 5.28
RB Yards Rank 3rd
Adjusted Sack Rate 3.9%
Adjusted Sack Rate Rank 5th
Pass Block Win Rate 38%
Pass Block Win Rate Rank 32nd
Run Block Win Rate 75%
Run Block Win Rate Rank 5th

After backup Connor McGovern filled in very nicely for Zack Martin last week, they got their All Pro guard back. Yet, La’el Collins was out, meaning Terence Steele had to square off against Joey Bosa. The Cowboys definitely schemed around Bosa and gave Steele some help, mostly with tight ends and Ezekiel Elliott, but either way Bosa finished the game with zero pressures.

That doesn’t mean it was a banner day for the offensive line, at least in pas protection. Prescott was under duress more often than in Week 1, and at times it became a problem for the offense. Still, it was a bit surprising to see Dallas finish dead last in pass rush win rate, although their fifth-best adjusted sack rate tells us that the Cowboys are giving up pressure but it’s not translating into sacks. That likely isn’t sustainable, so the Cowboys will need to beef up their pass protection going forward.

The run blocking, however, is pretty much elite across the board. Fourth in adjusted line yards and fifth in run block win rate is pretty darn good. What’s better is that Connor Williams currently ranks sixth in run block win rate among guards, while Tyler Biadasz ranks eighth in run block win rate among centers. Between those two and the dominant Martin, the Cowboys have a pretty great run blocking trio up the middle.

Defense

Cowboys Defensive Efficiency

Defense DVOA 24.4%
Defense DVOA 24.4%
DVOA Rank 7th
Pass Defense DVOA 35.8%
Pass Defense DVOA Rank 14th
Run Defense DVOA 12.7%
Run Defense DVOA Rank 3rd
Pass Rush Win Rate 48%
Pass Rush Win Rate Rank 14th
Run Stop Win Rate 36%
Run Stop Win Rate Rank 3rd

These numbers aren’t as fun as the offensive metrics, but there are some positives to pull out. As mentioned earlier, Dallas is sitting right at the average line in terms of defensive EPA/play, and while 22nd in defense DVOA isn’t great the Cowboys are right about where Football Outsiders projected them to be.

What’s most notable is their run defense metrics: third in run defense DVOA and third in run stop win rate. After getting routinely gashed on the ground last year, this is a sight for sore eyes. Even more impressive is that both of these numbers increased in a week they didn’t have DeMarcus Lawrence, who has been a top ten run stopper in these metrics for the last few years.

Then there’s the pass rush, which is only about middle of the pack. However, Micah Parsons currently ranks third among all edge rushers in pass rush win rate, just behind Joey Bosa and ahead of Myles Garrett. Parsons isn’t alone, though, as Dorance Armstrong comes in at tenth among edge rushers in pass rush win rate. And with Randy Gregory returning this week, Dallas might be about to get things going there.

But about that secondary:

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 12 6 50.00% 35.8 8.8 62 29
Anthony Brown 14 10 71.40% 130.4 13.5 113 38
Jourdan Lewis 12 7 58.30% 66.7 11.0 32 34
Jayron Kearse 8 7 87.50% 95.8 3.8 18 38
Damontae Kazee 5 3 60.00% 63.3 16.6 59 2
Malik Hooker 2 2 100.00% 95.8 1.0 2 12
Jaylon Smith 9 8 88.90% 124.5 1.9 6 39
Keanu Neal 6 6 100.00% 118.1 8.3 50 24
Leighton Vander Esch 3 3 100.00% 105.6 3.7 11 17
Micah Parsons 7 5 71.40% 94.3 6.0 19 36

Anthony Brown really sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s seen the most targets through two games, and hasn’t done well against those targets. He’s been burned in coverage and been unable to make the tackle after the catch, allowing 38 yards after the catch. Trevon Diggs’ numbers, on the other hand, look real good. Diggs has looked every bit the part through these first two games, and Jourdan Lewis hasn’t been a slouch either playing in the slot.

What stands out most is how much of a liability these linebackers seem to be in coverage. They’re not forcing incompletions at all, and quarterbacks are registering extremely high passer ratings when targeting these four. These numbers generally skew higher against linebackers, but this is still something to watch as the season progresses.