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2023 Cowboys analytics roundup: Dallas defense suddenly looks suspect

How are you feeling about the Dallas Cowboys defense right now?

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Cowboys won one of the more thrilling games of the week with their Thursday night shootout against the Seahawks. The irony is that Seattle entered the game with a winning record but, after losing the game, fell to 6-6. Therefore, it’s still technically accurate to say the Cowboys don’t have a win over a team with a winning record.

So what? Win-loss records can be extremely misleading (*cough* Eagles *cough*) and rarely reflect actual team strength. That’s where advanced metrics, like DVOA, can really come in handy. And while these analytics don’t necessarily predict future results, they’re generally more reliable indicators of future success than a team’s record. So let’s dive in.

Cowboys Efficiency at a Glance

DVOA DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Previous Rank Weighted DVOA Weighted DVOA Rank
DVOA DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Previous Rank Weighted DVOA Weighted DVOA Rank
Offense 11.1% 8th 10th 14.9% 7th
Defense -7.9% 7th 3rd -6.3% 7th
Special Teams 1.8% 9th 9th 2.1% 7th
Overall 20.7% 5th 4th 23.4% 4th

The Cowboys saw an increase in their DVOA grades for both offense and defense this week, but they dropped a spot in total team DVOA. That should offer an idea of how bad the defense performed this week against a very unimpressive Seahawks offense.

Despite the drop, the Cowboys are still the fifth most efficient team in the NFL right now. They’re also still just one of two teams, alongside the Chiefs, in the top 10 in offensive, defensive, and special teams DVOA. The Cowboys are flying high in all three phases of the game.

2023 NFL Team Tiers, Weeks 1-13, courtesy of

As has been the case, the Cowboys remain the second best team in the EPA-based team tiers. They didn’t drop as much on defense this week, since EPA doesn’t factor in quality of opponent. The Cowboys still trail the 49ers, who dominated the Eagles on Sunday.

However, two upcoming opponents are beginning to sneak up on the Cowboys in this chart: the Bills and Dolphins. And then there’s the Eagles, who keep inching further towards that bottom right quadrant. Perhaps the Cowboys can shove them down a bit more this week.


Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Offensive DVOA 11.1% 8th
Pass DVOA 30.5% 6th
Run DVOA -7.3% 19th
EPA/Play 0.134 3rd
EPA/Dropback 0.243 2nd
EPA/Rush -0.046 9th

The Cowboys offense stole the show on Thursday night, mostly because their defense refused to put on any show at all. They scored on all but two of their drives, with one of those being a couple of kneel-downs at the end of the game. This wasn’t their first time dropping a 40 burger this year, but it was the first time they needed to in order to win, and the offense came through. For another idea of just how good this offense has been this season, check this out:

In looking at the offenses with the highest series conversion rates through the first 13 weeks since 1999, the Cowboys are in 20th place. Furthermore, this makes Dak Prescott one of just four quarterbacks to appear at least twice on this list, with the other three being Tom Brady, Petyton Manning, and Patrick Mahomes. Speaking of Prescott...

Dak Prescott’s Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
QBR 75.4 2nd
EPA/play 0.266 2nd
CPOE 5.1 6th
DVOA 24.4% 6th
DYAR 1043 6th

Prescott was dealing on Thursday, and it seems the rest of the world has taken note: he’s now in either first or second in MVP odds for most sports books. Prescott threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns, with a multitude of highlight plays, as he dragged the Cowboys to the win.

Prescott has also made it three straight games without a turnover worthy play, recording eight big time throws over that same span. For the season, he leads the league in big time throw rate and also has the lowest turnover worthy play rate. He also leads the league in touchdown passes and is top five in both completion rate and passing yards despite having the second-most dropped passes on the year.

Cowboys Offensive Line Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Pressure Rate 15.8% 4th
Adjusted Sack Rate 6.8% 13th
Blown Block Rate 2.36% 6th
Pass Block Win Rate 56% 18th
Run Block Win Rate 72% 7th
Adjusted Line Yards 4.27 13th

The Cowboys took a step back this week in pass protection, though much of that has to do with two pressures and a sack allowed by Tony Pollard. As far as the actual offensive linemen, the trio of Tyler Biadasz, Terence Steele, and Tyler Smith combined for 10 of the 15 pressures in this game.

Smith’s inclusion here raises some eyebrows, as it was only his third game this season allowing multiple pressures. Steele has been uneven in pass protection, and that continued in this one; Prescott saved him from a sack due to sheer strength. Now, Steele will face an Eagles pass rush that put up 12 pressures and four sacks against him a few weeks ago. He’ll need to be better for the Cowboys to win.


Cowboys Defensive Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Defensive DVOA -7.9% 7th
Pass Defense DVOA -2.6% 7th
Run Defense DVOA -15.3% 9th
Pass Rush Win Rate 61% 1st
Run Stop Win Rate 30% 22nd
EPA/Play -0.105 3rd
EPA/Dropback Allowed -0.088 5th
EPA/Rush Allowed -0.135 9th

The Dallas defense had a truly miserable performance on Thursday night. How bad was it? They dropped four spots in defensive DVOA, a sizable movement for just one game. To put in that context, only one other defense dropped more spots this week.

This game also represented the Cowboys’ second worst single-game defensive DVOA grade of the season. Their worst grade came in Week 3 against the Cardinals with a whopping 53.9% grade. This game also marked just the third time this year the defense posted a positive DVOA grade (remember, negative is good for defenses), and the first time the Cowboys won such a game. That’s another testament to how good this offense has been lately, but hopefully Dan Quinn’s unit gets back in rhythm.

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 60 30 50.0% 80.8 11.0 262 152
DaRon Bland 70 38 54.3% 52.4 11.4 328 182
Jourdan Lewis 48 34 70.8% 116.3 7.6 225 171
Jayron Kearse 26 22 84.6% 89.3 8.1 168 73
Malik Hooker 9 7 77.8% 118.8 11.1 78 76
Donovan Wilson 16 12 75.0% 131.8 5.3 30 76
Juanyeh Thomas 11 7 63.6% 107.0 3.5 5 52
Leighton Vander Esch 7 5 71.4% 87.2 0.4 -1 44
Markquese Bell 34 25 73.5% 90.0 1.0 3 214
Damone Clark 24 20 83.3% 88.7 0.4 -11 138

It’s time to talk about DaRon Bland, because he’s become a problem as of late. In these last two games he’s been targeted 23 times and surrendered 16 completions for 279 yards. That accounts for nearly 55% of his total yardage on the year in just two games. Bland has also logged an interception in both games, returning one for a record-breaking touchdown, but it’s getting harder to overlook what’s happening on the plays where he doesn’t make the interception.

If that sounds familiar to the criticisms that faced Trevon Diggs back in 2021, that’s because it’s basically the same argument. However, much of the argument against Diggs was an overreaction to a handful of games: in 2021, Diggs only had two games with 10+ targets and never allowed eight completions. So far this year, Bland has three games with 10+ targets and two games with eight completions allowed. The hope is Bland gets back to his usual style of play after the extra rest this week.

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