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2023 Cowboys analytics roundup: Cowboys in great position heading into Week 18

The Cowboys appear to be in proper form as the playoffs approach.

Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The Cowboys had the perfect close to the 2023 calendar year, setting them up for a perfect close to the 2023 regular season. They pulled off a perfect season at home with a win over the Lions that featured a controversial call going in their favor (for a change, as some fans might characterize it) after finally inducting Jimmy Johnson into the Ring of Honor.

Then, the Eagles lost to the Cardinals, moving the Cowboys into first place in the NFC East and setting up a win-and-you’re-in scenario for the division title and second seed this week against the Washington Commanders. That’s a lot of good juju, but do the numbers reflect it? Let’s break it down.

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 7.1% 10th 9th 9.5% 8th
Defense -7.5% 5th 6th -4.9% 9th
Special Teams 2.4% 8th 6th 3.1% 7th
Overall 17.0% 6th 6th 17.5% 5th

The Cowboys’ thrilling win didn’t do much to influence their total DVOA standings. In fact, their grade dropped one percentage point while Dallas stayed put in sixth place. For context, the Lions were seventh in total team DVOA a week ago and remain in that spot now.

As has been the case for several weeks now, the Cowboys have the second-highest team DVOA grade in the NFC, only behind the 49ers. Assuming they deliver on being 13-point road favorites this week, Dallas will earn the second seed in the NFC, lining up with their DVOA standings.

2023 NFL Team Tiers, Weeks 1-17, courtesy of rbsdm.com

The EPA-based team tiers mostly line up with the DVOA grades, though the Cowboys are all the way up to third here. Still, they’re only slightly ahead of the Bills and Dolphins, ironic considering they just lost to both teams. Unsurprisingly, both the 49ers and Ravens are way out in front here, and both teams appropriately locked up their conference’s top seeds this past weekend.

Offense

Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Offensive DVOA 71.0% 10th
Pass DVOA 23.0% 11th
Run DVOA -5.3% 15th
EPA/Play 0.108 2nd
EPA/Dropback 0.210 2nd
EPA/Rush -0.067 11th

There wasn’t much movement one way or the other on offense this week. The Cowboys saw a slight decline in their DVOA grades, though nothing significant, because the Lions’ inconsistent defense had one of their better showings in this game.

Much of that was due to the Lions dialing up significantly more blitzes than normal, throwing off the timing of this passing game while their reliable run defense held their own. Still, Dallas performed well on offense aside from three or four negative plays, which is why they remain in second place in EPA/play, where there are no adjustments for quality of opponent.

Dak Prescott’s Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
QBR 70.5 2nd
EPA/play 0.227 2nd
CPOE 3.0 10th
DVOA 15.9% 7th
DYAR 1079 5th

Dak Prescott had a great performance in this one, especially considering the abnormally high pressure rate he was facing against Detroit. There was, of course, the signature play where he avoided a safety and launched a 92-yard touchdown to CeeDee Lamb, but that wasn’t all.

Prescott was frequently forced to throw with anticipation, and he had a handful of throws that were just on the money. His +4.5 completion percentage over expectation (CPOE) went above his season average, a good indicator of just how dialed in Prescott was.

Cowboys Offensive Line Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Pressure Rate 16.4% 6th
Adjusted Sack Rate 7.2% 18th
Blown Block Rate 2.44% 12th
Pass Block Win Rate 58% 18th
Run Block Win Rate 72% 6th
Adjusted Line Yards 4.17 15th

The Cowboys had another inconsistent night in pass protection, which might explain why they just added former Cowboy La’el Collins to their practice squad on Tuesday. Tyron Smith returned after missing last week’s game, but he tied with Terence Steele for the most pressures allowed at three apiece.

Tyler Smith got injured in the second half and missed the rest of the game with what turned out to be a fully torn plantar fascia. T.J. Bass took his place and performed admirably, giving up zero pressures. However, after this unit made notable improvements in the run game lately, they struggled against a very good Lions run defense.

Defense

Cowboys Defensive Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Defensive DVOA -7.5% 5th
Pass Defense DVOA -2.1% 6th
Run Defense DVOA -14.0% 9th
Pass Rush Win Rate 60% 1st
Run Stop Win Rate 29% 27th
EPA/Play -0.075 4th
EPA/Dropback Allowed -0.051 6th
EPA/Rush Allowed -0.110 11th

In a bit of a surprise, and a welcome one at that, the Dallas defensive line held their own and then some against this elite Lions offensive line. Micah Parsons and a gaggle of pass rushers were frequently getting in the face of Jared Goff, though Detroit still managed to pull off some explosive plays. Yet Goff threw two interceptions, which played a pivotal role in the team’s ability to win such a close game.

The most encouraging part is the way Dallas bottled up the running game, on which the Lions pride themselves. Detroit averaged just 4.0 yards per carry and 2.35 yards after contact per attempt, while they’re averaging 4.8 and 2.91 on the season, respectively. That’s about as good a performance against this offense as you could hope for.

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 87 47 54.0% 83.1 11.0 436 195
DaRon Bland 86 46 53.5% 52.1 12.5 438 234
Jourdan Lewis 67 46 68.7% 105.6 7.5 284 241
Jayron Kearse 39 32 82.1% 101.9 7.3 220 130
Malik Hooker 10 8 80.0% 118.8 9.8 76 84
Donovan Wilson 24 19 79.2% 108.7 5.4 70 112
Juanyeh Thomas 13 7 53.8% 90.9 3.9 5 52
Leighton Vander Esch 7 5 71.4% 87.2 0.4 -1 44
Markquese Bell 45 32 71.1% 89.4 2.6 41 262
Damone Clark 28 23 82.1% 103.0 1.7 19 145

Two players deserve special praise after this past week: Jourdan Lewis and Donovan Wilson, Lewis has been gradually working back from a serious injury that nearly ended his career, and his play hasn’t always been good this year. But he’s played well each of the last two weeks, and he was all over the place against Detroit.

Wilson was also working his way back from an injury that caused him to miss the start of the season. Like Lewis, Wilson has gradually been rounding back into form, recently reestablishing himself as an imposing force as a tackler. But against Detroit, he showed off his ball skills on a diving interception in the fourth quarter. Getting these two going again is huge for a secondary that hasn’t played their best in December.

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