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2023 Cowboys analytics roundup: 49ers loss leads to a hard fall

For the Dallas Cowboys, a harsh reality is setting in after a bad loss to the 49ers.

Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Cowboys got blown out by the 49ers and the sky is falling. It’s hard to not overreact to this game, one that was billed as a measuring stick for the Cowboys. In times like these, it can be helpful to turn to the emotionless world of numbers to determine whether or not we’re just being dramatic. That’s where the analytics roundup comes in.

Some quick housekeeping before we dig in: this is the first week where strength of schedule adjustments have kicked in for all DVOA grades. With the season still being so early, these adjustments are not yet at full strength, but these grades do take into some account the quality of opponents faced. Now, without further ado, some analytics.

Cowboys Efficiency at a Glance

DVOA DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Previous Rank DAVE DAVE Rank
DVOA DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Previous Rank DAVE DAVE Rank
Offense -7.1% 19th 16th 4.0% 11th
Defense -13.3% 8th 1st -7.3% 5th
Special Teams 1.1% 15th 12th 0.5 13th
Overall 7.3% 12th 5th 11.8% 8th

The headline is that things are bad. The Cowboys were fifth in DVOA a week ago; now, they’re 12th. That is a massive drop in efficiency, and it happened across the board. Offense, defense, and special teams all dropped several spots in their efficiency rankings.

The offense is now teetering dangerously close to the bottom third of offenses in total efficiency, but it’s actually the defense that had the biggest decline in efficiency from this game. They dropped eight spots, and even that doesn’t underscore how big of a drop-off it was for them; they led the league by a very sizable margin a week ago, so dropping even one spot required an especially bad day. Dallas managed to drop a whole eight spots. Yikes.

2023 NFL Team Tiers, Weeks 1-5, courtesy of

The EPA-based team tiers are only a little nicer to the Cowboys. They’ve now dropped squarely into the fourth tier by these metrics, with a gaping chasm between them and the 49ers. That sounds about right. On a positive note, Dallas is still the second best team in the NFC, just slightly ahead of the Lions, Eagles, Seahawks, and Buccaneers.


Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Offensive DVOA -7.1% 19th
Pass DVOA 6.1% 19th
Run DVOA -13.4% 22nd
EPA/Play 0.013 11th
EPA/Dropback 0.073 11th
EPA/Rush -0.065 14th

It was a bad day for just about everyone on this team, but the offense was especially bad. Two yards on two drives and then a fumble on the third is just about the worst possible way to start the game out. Red zone issues aside, the offense had been doing well in most categories prior to this game, but this week was a massive step back.

The run game lags quite a ways behind the pass game in efficiency, both by DVOA and EPA/rush. Tony Pollard had a pretty poor game even without the fumble. Speaking of, that fumble was responsible for the single largest boost in win probability for the 49ers all game, increasing their odds of winning from 76% to 85%.

Dak Prescott’s Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
QBR 65.1 8th
EPA/play 0.095 11th
CPOE 2.6 12th
DVOA -0.2% 17th
DYAR 125 17th

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, everyone played poorly in this game, and Dak Prescott was certainly no exception. That said, it wasn’t as bad as the box score would indicate. Prescott recorded a -4 completion rate over expectation (CPOE) but his expected completion rate was still a dizzyingly low 62.4%, suggesting that even if he had played better he still wouldn’t have been able to do much against a stout 49ers defense.

Prescott threw three interceptions too, so naturally there is plenty of fodder on that topic. Kurt Warner had a good breakdown video on Tuesday, but there’s also the simple fact that each of those three interceptions were ultimately meaningless. Prescott’s first interception only increased the 49ers’ win probability from 96% to 98; the other two interceptions saw the 49ers with a win probability well over 99%. Prescott may not have played well, but the picks had virtually no real impact on the outcome of the game.

Cowboys Offensive Line Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Pressure Rate 14.0% 5th
Adjusted Sack Rate 6.5% 10th
Blown Block Rate 2.04% 7th
Pass Block Win Rate 50% 24th
Run Block Win Rate 72% 7th
Adjusted Line Yards 4.28 11th

The offensive line struggled against this 49ers pass rush. Terence Steele, in particular, gave up eight pressures to Nick Bosa and company; for context, the other four starters on the line surrendered seven pressures combined. Steele has always been a better run blocker than pass protector, but he hasn’t struggled like this in a game since his rookie year.

You’ll notice that the Cowboys’ run blocking grades didn’t take a sharp decline, only dropping a couple spots in both run block win rate and adjusted line yards. By no means were the Cowboys opening up huge holes in the run game on Sunday night, but they did enough. When comparing this with the Cowboys’ poor rushing efficiency numbers, it doesn’t look good for Pollard.


Cowboys Defensive Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Pressure Rate 14.0% 5th
Adjusted Sack Rate 6.5% 10th
Blown Block Rate 2.04% 7th
Pass Block Win Rate 50% 24th
Run Block Win Rate 72% 7th
Adjusted Line Yards 4.28 11th

This was stated earlier, but the defense was really, really bad against the 49ers. They surprisingly fared okay against the run, though giving up 4.1 yards a carry is still an issue. Where the Cowboys were really hurt was the passing game, which is concerning given how that was their strength coming into this one.

Brock Purdy was looking at a clean pocket nearly three fourths of the time, and he had a crazy high 77.8% completion rate on throws over 10 yards downfield. He entered this game with one of the highest rates of turnover worthy plays in the NFL, but he had zero in this game. Only four of his 25 attempts were thrown into tight windows, as the Cowboys secondary got abused in every which way.

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 8 2 25.0% 1.0 15.9 6 20
Stephon Gilmore 23 11 47.8% 88.0 11.5 124 70
DaRon Bland 19 10 52.6% 30.7 7.8 73 38
Jayron Kearse 16 13 81.3% 79.9 8.1 98 53
Jourdan Lewis 12 7 58.3% 116.7 8.5 56 54
Malik Hooker 6 5 83.3% 118.8 16.2 77 70
Donovan Wilson 6 6 100.0% 128.5 2.0 8 24
Leighton Vander Esch 7 5 71.4% 87.2 0.4 -1 44
Markquese Bell 8 7 87.5% 92.7 1.9 13 37
Damone Clark 10 8 80.0% 79.2 -0.1 -4 33
Juanyeh Thomas 3 1 33.3% 42.4 1.7 -5 10

It was an awful night for the secondary, who easily put up the worst performance of any position group in this game. Not everyone was bad, though: DaRon Bland and Juanyeh Thomas both forced an incompletion on their only targets of the game. Damone Clark only gave up one completion on two targets for a total of one yard gained.

By contrast, the Cowboys safety trio was eaten alive. Jayron Kearse, Donovan Wilson, and Malik Hooker saw a total of eight targets (over a third of Purdy’s passes) between them and not a single incompletion to go around. Kearse allowed a 110.4 passer rating when targeted; Wilson allowed a 145.8 mark; and Hooker gave up an astonishing 158.3, the most perfect passer rating possible. These three have often been viewed as a strength of the defense, but on Sunday night they were the biggest weakness by far.

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