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2023 Cowboys analytics roundup: Cardinals loss stings, but it’s not the end of the world

Sunday was ugly, but the Cowboys remain one of the best in the NFL.

Dallas Cowboys v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Cowboys lost their first game of the season in embarrassing fashion, losing to the winless Cardinals in a game they were favored by 12.5 points. Dak Prescott threw his first interception, the red zone offense struggled for a second straight week, and the defense gave up 28 points to an offense led by Josh Dobbs. All the seeds were planted for us all to collectively lose our minds after this one game.

That said, it is just one game, and that’s when it’s helpful to look at the emotionless numbers of advanced analytics. The Cowboys lost a game they should’ve won, yes, but they weren’t alone. Five other 2-0 teams received their first loss this week, and there were a handful of upsets throughout the week. Bad games happen, as frustrating as it may be to admit. So let’s take a look at the analytics and see how much the Cowboys have fallen.

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 2.7% 15th 19th 8.4% 6th
Defense -24.8% 3rd 1st -8.6% 4th
Special Teams 1.0% 16th 11th 0.4 14th
Overall 28.5% 7th 1st 17.3% 4th

Dropping from first to seventh in total team DVOA is a big move, but it’s not catastrophic. The Cowboys actually moved up in offensive DVOA but dropped two spots in their defensive ranking. Considering that a big part of their top-rated DVOA grade had been comprised of the dominant defensive performance, that makes sense.

Let’s focus in on the Cowboys’ DAVE ranking, which is a combination of the team’s actual DVOA grades and their DVOA-based preseason expectations. In looking at these, we can see that the defense and special teams are right in line with the preseason expectations, while the offense is lagging behind. The Cowboys are fourth in DAVE right now, which would suggest they’ll get better in actual DVOA as the year progresses.

2023 NFL Team Tiers, Weeks 1-3, courtesy of

The EPA-based team tiers are a little more kind to the Cowboys. They’ve fallen from what was a very lofty throne but remain the fourth-best team in the NFL by total expected points added. Based on this, the Cowboys are about on the same level as the Chiefs and the second-best team in the NFC behind only the 49ers. That’s not bad at all.


Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Offensive DVOA 2.7% 19th
Pass DVOA 21.0% 12th
Run DVOA -4.1% 12th
EPA/Play 0.090 7th
EPA/Dropback 0.182 6th
EPA/Rush -0.019 8th

As has been said many times already, the Cowboys played with three backups along the offensive line this past week. That clearly affected their offensive gameplan and the way Mike McCarthy called the plays, but it didn’t appear to actually impact their efficiency. The Cowboys actually moved up in offensive DVOA, and their run game was significantly more efficient than they were a week ago.

There are some obvious issues with the offense’s ability to score touchdowns, as they have one of the worst red zone offenses in the league through three weeks. But it is a bit comical that they played with such a handicap on offense and still improved their efficiency. Between their DVOA and EPA rankings, the Cowboys have a borderline top 10 offense. If they can start scoring touchdowns instead of field goals, they should have no problem jumping feet first into the upper echelon.

Dak Prescott’s Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
QBR 65.2 9th
EPA/play 0.210 6th
CPOE 0.7 19th
DVOA 14.6% 9th
DYAR 180 10th

Well, it happened: Dak Prescott threw his first interception of the year, and it came in a crucial moment. As bad as the decision to throw into triple coverage was, what’s more alarming is the series of events that led to it: five straight run plays that ate up the clock before asking Prescott to throw a touchdown on a gotta-have-it third and goal. Those high-leverage third-down situations are what led to many of his interceptions a year ago, so it’s concerning to see the same trend pop up this year under a new play-caller.

That said, it’s just one play and one interception. The Cowboys’ win probability was sitting at 12% before the pick and it dropped to less than 1% afterwards. The interception obviously didn’t help, but it’s far from accurate to say that Prescott cost the Cowboys the game with that play. While he does drop a bit in the various efficiency ratings, Prescott still remains one of the better quarterbacks in the league three weeks in.

Cowboys Offensive Line Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Pressure Rate 12.8% 4th
Adjusted Sack Rate 3.0% 4th
Blown Block Rate 2.30% 3rd
Pass Block Win Rate 51% 21st
Run Block Win Rate 74% 4th
Adjusted Line Yards 4.55 7th

All things considered, it was a good week for the offensive line. Brock Hoffman came away with zero pressures allowed in his first career start; Chuma Edoga and rookie T.J. Bass both gave up three pressures, but just one combined hit on the quarterback. Prescott took two sacks on the day, but both were on him, as they came on plays where he held the ball far too long. That’s now three straight games without the offensive line giving up a sack, a big achievement considering they haven’t been fully healthy for any of those games.

It bears reminding that the team’s pass block win rate is negatively affected by Prescott’s quick trigger, as this stat only counts plays where the ball is held for at least 2.5 seconds. Since Prescott is averaging exactly 2.5 seconds per throw, that means a lot of the Cowboys’ more successful dropbacks aren’t getting counted here. In other words, the offensive line is offering good pass protection within the scheme but they aren’t holding up too well on longer-developing plays.


Cowboys Defensive Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Defensive DVOA -24.8% 3rd
Pass Defense DVOA -39.7% 3rd
Run Defense DVOA -2.4% 20th
Pass Rush Win Rate 61% 2nd
Run Stop Win Rate 32% 10th
EPA/Play -0.203 3rd
EPA/Dropback Allowed -0.269 3rd
EPA/Rush Allowed -0.081 17th

No surprise here, as the Dallas defense took several steps back in efficiency after a pretty terrible showing against the Cardinals. They were leading the pack in both DVOA and EPA by a wide margin, so they only drop to third in both categories. The numbers still reflect a very good defense, because they really are that good, but a performance like the one on Sunday is wildly inefficient.

The run defense saw the biggest drop-off. A week ago they ranked first in both run defense DVOA and EPA allowed per carry, and now they’re ranked 20th and 17th, respectively. That’s going to happen when you get abused on the ground the way the Cardinals did against Dallas.

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 17 9 52.9% 101.8 11.8 101 67
DaRon Bland 10 6 60.0% 30.0 6.1 20 22
Jourdan Lewis 5 2 40.0% 47.9 7.4 2 3
Malik Hooker 2 2 100.0% 79.2 16.0 32 45
Jayron Kearse 7 6 85.7% 64.0 4.4 29 33
Donovan Wilson 2 2 100.0% 79.2 -3.0 -6 3
Leighton Vander Esch 3 2 66.7% 72.9 -1.3 3 14
Markquese Bell 6 6 100.0% 99.3 2.8 17 30
Damone Clark 6 5 83.3% 79.9 -0.7 -3 22
Juanyeh Thomas 2 1 50.0% 56.3 0.0 -5 10

The Cowboys’ first game without Trevon Diggs didn’t go so well. Dobbs completed nearly 81% of his passes and had little trouble attacking this secondary. DaRon Bland was targeted early on, and he gave up completions on both of his targets. Stephon Gilmore was the only defender to break up a pass, but he also gave up a touchdown.

It was a very bad day for the safeties, in particular. Jayron Kearse allowed completions on all four of his targets; Donovan Wilson, in his season debut, gave up completions on both of his targets; and Malik Hooker blew a coverage assignment that allowed a massive 69-yard completion late in the game. The Cowboys have the talent to succeed without Diggs, but this was not a good first start in proving that. Just like the run defense, Dan Quinn will need to come up with some answers going forward.

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