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Cowboys analytics roundup: Dallas is on the rise after Eagles blowout

Unsurprisingly, the Cowboys are looking good after their big win.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

After two encouraging performances on the road led to the Cowboys starting out 1-1, their controlled demolition of the Eagles has the hype machine going at an all time high. Dallas has certainly looked good so far, but it’s important to keep in mind that three games is three games. Any conclusions drawn about any team from just three games are likely not very meaningful.

That goes for analytics as well, because the smaller sample size makes various metrics less reliable. For example, DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) doesn’t begin taking quality of opponents into account until after Week 4. There is still some value to be gleaned from DVOA, especially when comparing to the rest of the league, but these metrics will mean much more as the season goes on. Still, it’s worth examining where the Cowboys stand on a weekly basis.

Cowboys Efficiency at a Glance

 DVOA DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Previous Week DAVE Rank
 DVOA DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Previous Week DAVE Rank
Offense 23.1% 6th 7th 7th
Defense -0.5% 15th 22nd 18th
Special Teams -2.0% 23rd 28th 18th
Overall 21.6% 9th 14th 10th

There’s not really anything too surprising here. The Cowboys are coming off a blowout win in which their defense played very well, so a big statistical jump is expected. Once the adjustments for quality of opponent kick in, don’t be surprised if these metrics drop a bit, considering the Eagles’ track record.

Of course, with that lack of adjustment at this point, it’s again important to consider the DAVE ranking. DAVE is essentially a combination of preseason expectations and actual DVOA so far, in an effort to adjust for things that can’t actually be adjusted for just yet. As of right now, DAVE is made up of 78% preseason forecast and 22% actual performance.

To that end, it’s encouraging to see Dallas outperforming their DAVE ranks on offense, defense, and in overall DVOA. Special teams efficiency is still lagging, but a lot of that is due to the very poor performance in Week 1; it’ll likely balance out as more games are played, and the rapid rise in the rankings the last two weeks is reflective of how the Cowboys special teams have been playing better since the season opener.

A look at the NFL team tiers, which looks at offensive and defense EPA per play, reveals another promising data point for Cowboys fans. By this measure, Dallas has the sixth best team in the NFL. Their offense has been playing at a high level, but the defensive jump is promising as well. After last week’s game, they were right on the average line in defensive EPA per play, but now are well above average and actually eighth in this metric. Takeaways (which are generally random and not reliable in the long run) have been a big part of that, but it’s still a positive sign for a defense dealing with so many missing players.

Offense

Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

Offense DVOA 23.1%
Offense DVOA 23.1%
DVOA Rank 6th
Pass DVOA 39.3%
Pass DVOA Rank 8th
Run DVOA 8.7%
Run DVOA Rank 3rd

Spoiler alert: the Cowboys offense is very, very good. They’re top ten in both running and passing, and the overall offense is just outside of the top five. They’ve demonstrated an ability to beat defenses by throwing on nearly every play or by taking a more run-heavy approach. This offense is truly multiple, and that’s huge. Only five other teams rank in the top ten in both pass DVOA and run DVOA. This offense is going to take whatever the defense gives them, because they’re great at doing anything.

Surprisingly, Dak Prescott’s numbers took a hit this week:

Dak Prescott’s Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
QBR 56.6 13th
EPA 29.0 11th
CPOE 6.9 3rd
DVOA 26.8% 3rd
DYAR 466 4th

This is where it’s important to remember that we’re dealing with very small sample sizes here. And while Prescott played well enough for a blowout win on Monday, he had a few bad plays that were extremely bad. The strip-sack recovered for a defensive touchdown is about as big of a negative play a quarterback can have, statistically speaking. Prescott also took four sacks, and the turnover on downs that was a result of terrible officiating represents another big negative.

In the end, Prescott finished with a bad QBR and EPA score, so bad that it’s dragging down his year. But those anomalous plays will balance out as more games are played. We can see that Dak still ranks very highly in completion percentage over expectation (CPOE), individual DVOA (which measures a quarterback’s value per play), and DYAR (which measures a quarterback’s total value).

Now, about those four sacks...

Cowboys Offensive Line Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Adjusted Line Yards 5.47 1st
RB Yards 5.59 1st
Adjusted Sack Rate 5.7% 13th
Pass Block Win Rate 48% 29th
Run Block Win Rate 74% 3rd

The Cowboys have yet to play a game with all five of their regular starters this year, and won’t have an opportunity to do so for at least three more weeks. But Connor McGovern and Terence Steele have both performed well in reserve roles thus far, especially in run blocking. To that end, the Cowboys are one of the very best run blocking units in the NFL right now, making things easy for Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.

Pass protection is another story. Their adjusted sack rate is below average and they have the third-lowest pass block win rate. With the Carolina Panthers next on the schedule, they’ll be seeing a fierce front seven that ranks sixth in run stop win rate and is tied for first in pass rush win rate. They also lead the league in both pressures and sacks, so the Cowboys will need better pass protection results in order to stand a chance Sunday.

As far as individual linemen go, Zack Martin is currently third among guards in pass block win rate. Connor Williams, who struggled with three holding penalties on Monday, is tenth among guards in run block win rate. And Tyler Biadasz, who has struggled the most in pass protection, continues to show his value in the run game, where he ranks eighth among centers in run block win rate.

Defense

Cowboys Defensive Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Defensive DVOA -10.3% 6th
Pass Defense DVOA -4.4% 7th
Run Defense DVOA -24.2% 8th
Pass Rush Win Rate 42% 17th
Run Stop Win Rate 31% 15th

Ready the alarms because I’m about to say it: the Cowboys defense is good. Or, at least, good enough. They got just enough stops to give the offense a fighting chance against Tom Brady, limited Justin Herbert to 17 points, and more or less demolished Jalen Hurts. Takeaways have been the key for them, and while it’s not likely to continue at this frequency all year, it’s certainly helped so far.

The most promising development here, by far, is the Cowboys’ improvement in run defense. They were notoriously terrible there last season, and while they’ve really only been tested on the ground by the Chargers, Dallas hasn’t given other teams any reason to try and test them yet.

The pass rush is still a work in progress, largely due to the absences of DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, and Bradlee Anae. Osa Odighizuwa is showing a lot of growth in that respect, and Micah Parsons is eighth among all edge defenders in pass rush win rate, so odds are good that this pass rush will get things going in the coming weeks.

That would definitely be a boon to this 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 26 12 46.2% 28.4 9.3 81 90
Anthony Brown 37 25 67.6% 92.4 11.5 202 140
Jourdan Lewis 22 15 68.2% 107.2 8.9 73 122
Jayron Kearse 18 12 66.7% 113.9 6.3 42 41
Damontae Kazee 7 3 42.9% 87.8 24.1 73 11
Malik Hooker 7 5 71.4% 121.4 6.9 4 30
Keanu Neal 6 6 100.0% 118.1 8.3 50 24
Leighton Vander Esch 12 11 91.7% 108.3 2.3 30 90
Micah Parsons 12 9 75.0% 99.7 4.6 27 74

Here are the positives right now for the Dallas secondary. Trevon Diggs has played like a shutdown cornerback through three games, and at this rate the most likely way that his interception totals will decline is from teams simply refusing to throw his way. The three safeties have also been playing well, although coverage stats for safeties are generally a bit wonky.

The negatives are about what you’d expect. Anthony Brown picked off Hurts, but had an otherwise poor performance again. Jourdan Lewis is playing okay, but not great: he’s allowing the least yards after catch of these Dallas corners, but the 97.4 passer rating when targeted isn’t good. The linebackers are still a problem in coverage, especially Jaylon Smith. In fact, Smith is allowing a negative amount of air yards but 66 yards after the catch with a team-high 133.3 passer rating. He’s also the fifth-most targeted defender so far, so it’s not simply a sample size problem. So far, Smith and Brown have been liabilities in coverage, but the rest of the defense has been at least solid in coverage.