Advanced Stats Notebook: Texans At Cowboys

With dueling surprise records of 3-1, Houston and Dallas face off in the battle for the Governor's Cup. CowboysHQ goes inside the numbers to see which team holds the true advantage.

Raise your hand if you said, prior to the season, that the first place (3-1) Dallas Cowboys would be facing the first-place (3-1) Houston Texans.

In the words of someone, somewhere's grandmomma... You's a lie.

In last week's notebook, we saw that the Saints offense was supposed to have a bigger advantage over the Cowboys' O, than the Dallas D did on New Orleans'. As was said to end the column, that's why they play the game.

We all know the infamous take originally attributed to Henry Du Pré Labouchère, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." In sports, though, statistics are how we measure performance beyond just the wins and losses. In football, where sample sizes are so small, and the mean so cluttered, it behooves us to try to analyze things that have a higher correlation to winning than previous wins.

Fortunately, over the past several years, many statisticians a million times smarter than the author of this piece have spent countless hours devising formulas that they use to judge the quality of teams beyond the normal statistical measures. These advanced metrics allow us a glimpse into which teams are winning based on quality play, which ones are winning because of inept opponents and which ones have a horseshoe crammed up their chimneys.

So, let’s take a look at some of the statistical explanations for what kinds of team the 2014 Dallas Cowboys and 2014 Houston Texans have proven to be, and what might transpire on Sunday.

Standard Statistics

Dallas Cowboys


Off Yds / G Off. Pts / G Def Yds / Gm Def Pts / Gm
Total 383.8 28.8 379.8 21.5
Rank 8th 4th 24th 10th

 

Houston Texans


Off Yds / G Off. Pts / G Def Yds / Gm Def Pts / Gm
Total 340.0 21.8 367.8 16.8
Rank 22nd 22nd 21st 6th

 

Differential Rankings

We all know that it is a passing league, while running the football undoubtedly has an effect on the passing game, and more importantly how the opposition defends it. In the end, though, passing success is what leads to team success.

There are generally two stats that are easily calculated that seem to have a high correlation to predicting future success; Passer Rating differential and Adjusted Net Yards Per Passing Attempt differential. Both are calculated by simply finding the difference between what your offense achieves in each category and taking away what your defense gives up. Teams with the larger differentials are more likely to have future success (read: wins) than those teams with smaller, or negative differentials.

As my good friend One.Cool.Customer over at Blogging The Boys can attest to right here, these stats have shown to be the most closely correlated stat to winning and losing outside of scoring differential. (I think we all know why that one ranks so highly.)

Here’s his take, but I implore you to follow the link and read the entire article. It’s from 2012 but should still rings very true today:

The graph illustrates a fairly simple truth: the higher your passer rating differential, the higher the number of wins a team had last year. Conversely, the teams with the lowest number of wins had some of the worst passer rating differentials (PRD).

In statistics this relationship between wins and PRD is called a correlation. The strength of the correlation is measured by the "correlation coefficient". The correlation coefficient measures the relationship between two variables. This coefficient is often referred to as "r²" and is expressed as a number between 1 and -1. The closer the r² number is to 1 or -1, the stronger the relationship between the two variables. The closer it is to zero, the weaker the relationship.

R² between PRD and wins in 2011 was 0.80, an astonishingly high correlation. It is almost as good as scoring differential (0.85) at predicting the W/L record of an NFL team.

Rk TmGOff Passer RatingDef Passer RatingDifferential
1Cincinnati Bengals3100.956.944
2Green Bay Packers4109.178.930.2
3Indianapolis Colts410784.522.5
4Denver Broncos3108.586.721.8
5New York Giants493.673.420.2
6San Diego Chargers4114.596.118.4
7Detroit Lions491.577.414.1
8San Francisco 49ers491.277.713.5
9Seattle Seahawks3109.596.513
10Carolina Panthers4103.794.69.1
11New England Patriots483.175.18
12Arizona Cardinals393.187.65.5
13Cleveland Browns396.591.15.4
14Atlanta Falcons498.493.35.1
15Dallas Cowboys498.794.24.5
16Chicago Bears494.990.64.3
17Pittsburgh Steelers4100.497.13.3
18Houston Texans486.683.53.1
19Baltimore Ravens493.593.40.1
 Avg Team 90900
20Miami Dolphins481.285.2-4
21Kansas City Chiefs494.298.7-4.5
22New Orleans Saints499.5105.7-6.2
23Buffalo Bills479.786.8-7.1
24Philadelphia Eagles481.793.6-11.9
25Washington Redskins490.3104.8-14.5
26Minnesota Vikings476.992.7-15.8
27St. Louis Rams387.6105.1-17.5
28Tennessee Titans467.387.8-20.5
29New York Jets474.5104.1-29.6
30Oakland Raiders472.9103.8-30.9
31Jacksonville Jaguars481.5115-33.5
32Tampa Bay Buccaneers475118.4-43.4

What a difference a week makes. Dallas' dominance over the Saints on Sunday night pushed them up from 22nd to 15th in the league, and brought them over the average team. Good signs, as they are slightly ahead of the Texans in passer rating differential.

Adjusted Net Yards Per Pass Attempt, or ANY/A, comes in third when it comes to correlating to victory with an R2 coefficient of 0.62. What exactly is ANY/A?

ANY/A: Adjusted net passing yards per attempt = (Passing Yards + (Passing TDs)*20 - (INTs thrown)*45 - Sack Yards) / (Passing Attempts + Sacks)

It’s basically a formula that takes into account sacks and interceptions in qualifying how efficient a team is in the passing game. Here’s how the team’s square up in this metric.

Rk TmGANY/A ForANY/A AllowedDifferential
1Cincinnati Bengals39.13.35.8
2San Diego Chargers48.96.32.6
3Denver Broncos385.82.2
4Green Bay Packers47.65.42.2
5Detroit Lions46.751.7
6Arizona Cardinals37.35.91.4
7Indianapolis Colts47.96.61.3
8Seattle Seahawks37.56.31.2
9Carolina Panthers47.56.31.2
10Houston Texans46.65.51.1
11New England Patriots45.34.31
12San Francisco 49ers45.95.10.8
13Cleveland Browns37.56.90.6
14New York Giants46.15.70.4
15Pittsburgh Steelers47.270.2
 Avg Team 6.46.40
16Buffalo Bills45.55.6-0.1
17Miami Dolphins45.15.3-0.2
18Dallas Cowboys46.66.9-0.3
19Atlanta Falcons47.68-0.4
20Chicago Bears466.4-0.4
21Philadelphia Eagles46.26.8-0.6
22Kansas City Chiefs45.96.6-0.7
23Baltimore Ravens477.7-0.7
24Washington Redskins46.67.4-0.8
25Minnesota Vikings45.66.4-0.8
26New Orleans Saints47.18.3-1.2
27Tennessee Titans44.65.9-1.3
28New York Jets44.96.8-1.9
29St. Louis Rams35.97.9-2
30Oakland Raiders44.37.2-2.9
31Jacksonville Jaguars44.68.3-3.7
32Tampa Bay Buccaneers44.68.5-3.9

Last week, the ANY/A Differential was the lone category of hope for the Cowboys to overtake the Saints, as the two teams had idential -0.7 differentials. This week, Dallas is behind Houston, but with a caveat. Houston faced a quarterback that played so badly, he has been benched for Kyle Orton. That dropped their ANY/A Allowed from 6.6 to 5.5; a significant fall. For comparison, Romo posted his best game since last year against Denver, and Dallas' ANY/A for only moved up 0.2. Houston's offensive ANY/A also fell a great deal, leaving Houston ranked 10th to Dallas 18th. The Texans have the advantage here, but with caveat.

Week 4 DVOA Ratings

DVOA (or VOA at this juncture of the season) is a metric that measures success on each play as compared to league average based on "a number of variables including down, distance, location on field, current score gap, quarter, and opponent quality." Due to it being so early in the season, FO can't truly define opponent quality, so for now they are excluding that from their calculations.

COWBOYSOffense DVOADefense DVOAST DVOATotal DVOA
Value 12.1% 8.30% 3.30% 7.10%
Team Rank 10 22 8 12
TEXANSOffense DVOADefense DVOAST DVOATotal DVOA
Value -11.10% -6.50% -2.70% -7.20%
Team Rank 25 12 2324

Week 5 is the first week that Football Outsiders starts incorporating strength of opponent, and provides a true DVOA. Dallas' total, based on the strong performance last week has jumped from -2.1% after Week 3 to +7.1%. It's basically saying that if a team that played exactly at the league average was put in the exact situations Dallas has for four weeks, Dallas would have performed at a better clip, by 7.1% more production. That value ranks them 13th out of 32 NFL teams.

The interesting thing here is that despite the similar records, FO clearly thinks that Dallas is the superior team. By this metric, losing this upcoming contest would be a betrayal of performance difference.

For a more detailed look into Football Outsiders thoughts on the Cowboys, check out this piece from my stats sensei, O.C.C. over on BTB on how they've evaluated the 2014 Cowboys at the quarter pole.

Team EPA Per Game, Defense By Offense

Expected Points Added (EPA)

The value of a football play has traditionally been measured in yards gained. Unfortunately, yards is a flawed measure because not all yards are equal. For example, a 4-yard gain on 3rd down and 3 is much more valuable than a 4-yard gain on 3rd and 8. Any measure of success must consider the down and distance situation.

Suppose the offense has a 1st and 10 at midfield. This situation is worth +2.0 EP. A 5-yard gain would set up a 2nd and 5 from the 45, which corresponds to a +2.1 EP. Therefore, that 5-yard gain in that particular situation represents a +0.1 gain in EP. This gain is called Expected Points Added (EPA). Likewise, a 5-yard loss on 1st down at midfield would create a 2nd and 15 from the offense’s own 45. That situation is worth +1.2 EP, representing a net difference of -0.8 EPA.

Basically what your looking at in the above interactive chart is that teams with Good Offenses and Good Defenses exist in the upper right quadrant. The further to the right, the better your offense, and the further “north” the better your defense.

One can clearly see how much better the Saints have performed on offense than the rest of the league and specifically Dallas. They are also hideously low on the defensive scale. Hover over each team in the interactive table above from AdvancedFootballAnalytics.com. For more information on this metric and it’s friend, Win Probability Added (WPA), I strongly recommend heading over to their website and checking out the glossary.

EPA Breakdowns

Success Rate simply determines the percentage of plays that lead to a positive EPA. In other words, the Cowboys “averageness” isn’t a result of being average play by play, it’s that they make crushing mistakes, also known as turnovers.

COWBOYSOffense EPASuccess RateRun EPAPass EPA
Value 38.1 51.1% 4.8 33.3
Team Rank 5th 4th 10th 10th
TEXANSOffense EPASuccess RateRun EPAPass EPA
Value -3.0 42.3% -15.7 12.7
Team Rank 26th 25th 30th 21st

What you are seeing here is how well each team is doing on a play by play basis by increasing their chances to score. One thing that jumps out immediately is that despite having the leagues leading rusher, and by a large margin, Dallas is in the middle of the pack of Run EPA. The explanation is simple. Standard yardage stats don’t take into account DeMarco Murray’s fumbling habits, but Run EPA clearly does. That’s how detrimental turning the ball over can be, especially when one is returned for a touchdown like it was against San Francisco.

Dallas made a huge jump based on their performance; up from 16th to 5th in Offensive EPA. The lack of a Murray fumble mitigating his huge ypc average allowed the team's Run EPA to move up significantly, from -3.2 to +4.8. That's +8.0 on the game!

A highly efficient day for Romo skyrocketed their Pass EPA.

By comparison, the Texans are clearly a struggling offense when it comes to incremental improvement. If Dallas can avoid giving up the big play, bend but don't break should be enough to keep this team under wraps.

COWBOYSDefense EPASuccess RateRun EPAPass EPA
Value 21.7 48.3 4.1 17.6
Team Rank 23rd 31st 23rd 14th
TEXANSDefense EPASuccess RateRun EPAPass EPA
Value -5.5 50.8% 14.7 -20.1
Team Rank 5th 27th 31st 2nd

Dallas' numbers dropped, but they were facing a team that was by far the best across the board in the Saints. The work done by Brees and company down 28 points changed these numbers, but this is one metric without game situation context.

On the flip side, Houston has a very strong defensive effort, but have played some of the league's worst offenses. Only the Giants are still playing the QB they started the season with. Regardless, their pass defense is top notch, while the run defense is missing in action. Cue DeMarco Murray.

Summary

Dallas appears to be in the superior position heading into this battle for the Governor's Cup. Victory would appear to hinge on two things, avoiding giving up the big play, and avoiding J.J. Watt. The last one needed no metric whatsoever.


CowboysHQ Top Stories

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Rk TmGOff Passer RatingDef Passer RatingDifferential
1Cincinnati Bengals3100.956.944
2Green Bay Packers4109.178.930.2
3Indianapolis Colts410784.522.5
4Denver Broncos3108.586.721.8
5New York Giants493.673.420.2
6San Diego Chargers4114.596.118.4
7Detroit Lions491.577.414.1
8San Francisco 49ers491.277.713.5
9Seattle Seahawks3109.596.513
10Carolina Panthers4103.794.69.1
11New England Patriots483.175.18
12Arizona Cardinals393.187.65.5
13Cleveland Browns396.591.15.4
14Atlanta Falcons498.493.35.1
15Dallas Cowboys498.794.24.5
16Chicago Bears494.990.64.3
17Pittsburgh Steelers4100.497.13.3
18Houston Texans486.683.53.1
19Baltimore Ravens493.593.40.1
 Avg Team 90900
20Miami Dolphins481.285.2-4
21Kansas City Chiefs494.298.7-4.5
22New Orleans Saints499.5105.7-6.2
23Buffalo Bills479.786.8-7.1
24Philadelphia Eagles481.793.6-11.9
25Washington Redskins490.3104.8-14.5
26Minnesota Vikings476.992.7-15.8
27St. Louis Rams387.6105.1-17.5
28Tennessee Titans467.387.8-20.5
29New York Jets474.5104.1-29.6
30Oakland Raiders472.9103.8-30.9
31Jacksonville Jaguars481.5115-33.5
32Tampa Bay Buccaneers475118.4-43.4
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What a difference a week makes. Dallas' dominance over the Saints on Sunday night pushed them up from 22nd to 15th in the league, and brought them over the average team. Good signs, as they are slightly ahead of the Texans in passer rating differential.

Adjusted Net Yards Per Pass Attempt, or ANY/A, comes in third when it comes to correlating to victory with an R2 coefficient of 0.62. What exactly is ANY/A?

\r\nANY/A: Adjusted net passing yards per attempt = (Passing Yards + (Passing TDs)*20 - (INTs thrown)*45 - Sack Yards) / (Passing Attempts + Sacks)

\r\nIt’s basically a formula that takes into account sacks and interceptions in qualifying how efficient a team is in the passing game. Here’s how the team’s square up in this metric.

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\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n \r\n
Rk TmGANY/A ForANY/A AllowedDifferential
1Cincinnati Bengals39.13.35.8
2San Diego Chargers48.96.32.6
3Denver Broncos385.82.2
4Green Bay Packers47.65.42.2
5Detroit Lions46.751.7
6Arizona Cardinals37.35.91.4
7Indianapolis Colts47.96.61.3
8Seattle Seahawks37.56.31.2
9Carolina Panthers47.56.31.2
10Houston Texans46.65.51.1
11New England Patriots45.34.31
12San Francisco 49ers45.95.10.8
13Cleveland Browns37.56.90.6
14New York Giants46.15.70.4
15Pittsburgh Steelers47.270.2
 Avg Team 6.46.40
16Buffalo Bills45.55.6-0.1
17Miami Dolphins45.15.3-0.2
18Dallas Cowboys46.66.9-0.3
19Atlanta Falcons47.68-0.4
20Chicago Bears466.4-0.4
21Philadelphia Eagles46.26.8-0.6
22Kansas City Chiefs45.96.6-0.7
23Baltimore Ravens477.7-0.7
24Washington Redskins46.67.4-0.8
25Minnesota Vikings45.66.4-0.8
26New Orleans Saints47.18.3-1.2
27Tennessee Titans44.65.9-1.3
28New York Jets44.96.8-1.9
29St. Louis Rams35.97.9-2
30Oakland Raiders44.37.2-2.9
31Jacksonville Jaguars44.68.3-3.7
32Tampa Bay Buccaneers44.68.5-3.9
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Last week, the ANY/A Differential was the lone category of hope for the Cowboys to overtake the Saints, as the two teams had idential -0.7 differentials. This week, Dallas is behind Houston, but with a caveat. Houston faced a quarterback that played so badly, he has been benched for Kyle Orton. That dropped their ANY/A Allowed from 6.6 to 5.5; a significant fall. For comparison, Romo posted his best game since last year against Denver, and Dallas' ANY/A for only moved up 0.2. Houston's offensive ANY/A also fell a great deal, leaving Houston ranked 10th to Dallas 18th. The Texans have the advantage here, but with caveat.

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Week 4 DVOA Ratings

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\r\nDVOA (or VOA at this juncture of the season) is a metric that measures success on each play as compared to league average based on \"a number of variables including down, distance, location on field, current score gap, quarter, and opponent quality.\" Due to it being so early in the season, FO can't truly define opponent quality, so for now they are excluding that from their calculations.

\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
COWBOYSOffense DVOADefense DVOAST DVOATotal DVOA
Value12.1%8.30%3.30%7.10%
Team Rank1022812
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TEXANSOffense DVOADefense DVOAST DVOATotal DVOA
Value-11.10%-6.50%-2.70%-7.20%
Team Rank25122324
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Week 5 is the first week that Football Outsiders starts incorporating strength of opponent, and provides a true DVOA. Dallas' total, based on the strong performance last week has jumped from -2.1% after Week 3 to +7.1%. It's basically saying that if a team that played exactly at the league average was put in the exact situations Dallas has for four weeks, Dallas would have performed at a better clip, by 7.1% more production. That value ranks them 13th out of 32 NFL teams.

\r\nThe interesting thing here is that despite the similar records, FO clearly thinks that Dallas is the superior team. By this metric, losing this upcoming contest would be a betrayal of performance difference.

\r\n\r\n

For a more detailed look into Football Outsiders thoughts on the Cowboys, check out this piece from my stats sensei, O.C.C. over on BTB on how they've evaluated the 2014 Cowboys at the quarter pole.

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Team EPA Per Game, Defense By Offense

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Learn About Tableau
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Expected Points Added (EPA)

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The value of a football play has traditionally been measured in yards gained. Unfortunately, yards is a flawed measure because not all yards are equal. For example, a 4-yard gain on 3rd down and 3 is much more valuable than a 4-yard gain on 3rd and 8. Any measure of success must consider the down and distance situation.

\r\nSuppose the offense has a 1st and 10 at midfield. This situation is worth +2.0 EP. A 5-yard gain would set up a 2nd and 5 from the 45, which corresponds to a +2.1 EP. Therefore, that 5-yard gain in that particular situation represents a +0.1 gain in EP. This gain is called Expected Points Added (EPA). Likewise, a 5-yard loss on 1st down at midfield would create a 2nd and 15 from the offense’s own 45. That situation is worth +1.2 EP, representing a net difference of -0.8 EPA.

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Basically what your looking at in the above interactive chart is that teams with Good Offenses and Good Defenses exist in the upper right quadrant. The further to the right, the better your offense, and the further “north” the better your defense.

One can clearly see how much better the Saints have performed on offense than the rest of the league and specifically Dallas. They are also hideously low on the defensive scale. Hover over each team in the interactive table above from AdvancedFootballAnalytics.com. For more information on this metric and it’s friend, Win Probability Added (WPA), I strongly recommend heading over to their website and checking out the glossary.

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EPA Breakdowns

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Success Rate simply determines the percentage of plays that lead to a positive EPA. In other words, the Cowboys “averageness” isn’t a result of being average play by play, it’s that they make crushing mistakes, also known as turnovers.

\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
COWBOYSOffense EPASuccess RateRun EPAPass EPA
Value38.151.1%4.833.3
Team Rank5th4th10th10th
\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
TEXANSOffense EPASuccess RateRun EPAPass EPA
Value-3.042.3%-15.712.7
Team Rank26th25th30th21st
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What you are seeing here is how well each team is doing on a play by play basis by increasing their chances to score. One thing that jumps out immediately is that despite having the leagues leading rusher, and by a large margin, Dallas is in the middle of the pack of Run EPA. The explanation is simple. Standard yardage stats don’t take into account DeMarco Murray’s fumbling habits, but Run EPA clearly does. That’s how detrimental turning the ball over can be, especially when one is returned for a touchdown like it was against San Francisco.

Dallas made a huge jump based on their performance; up from 16th to 5th in Offensive EPA. The lack of a Murray fumble mitigating his huge ypc average allowed the team's Run EPA to move up significantly, from -3.2 to +4.8. That's +8.0 on the game!

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A highly efficient day for Romo skyrocketed their Pass EPA.

By comparison, the Texans are clearly a struggling offense when it comes to incremental improvement. If Dallas can avoid giving up the big play, bend but don't break should be enough to keep this team under wraps.

\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
COWBOYSDefense EPASuccess RateRun EPAPass EPA
Value21.748.34.117.6
Team Rank23rd31st23rd14th
\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
TEXANSDefense EPASuccess RateRun EPAPass EPA
Value-5.550.8%14.7-20.1
Team Rank5th27th31st2nd
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Dallas' numbers dropped, but they were facing a team that was by far the best across the board in the Saints. The work done by Brees and company down 28 points changed these numbers, but this is one metric without game situation context.

On the flip side, Houston has a very strong defensive effort, but have played some of the league's worst offenses. Only the Giants are still playing the QB they started the season with. Regardless, their pass defense is top notch, while the run defense is missing in action. Cue DeMarco Murray.

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Summary

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Dallas appears to be in the superior position heading into this battle for the Governor's Cup. Victory would appear to hinge on two things, avoiding giving up the big play, and avoiding J.J. Watt. The last one needed no metric whatsoever.

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Raise your hand if you said, prior to the season, that the first place (3-1) Dallas Cowboys would be facing the first-place (3-1) Houston Texans.

In the words of someone, somewhere's grandmomma... You's a lie.

In last week's notebook, we saw that the Saints offense was supposed to have a bigger advantage over the Cowboys' O, than the Dallas D did on New Orleans'. As was said to end the column, that's why they play the game.

We all know the infamous take originally attributed to Henry Du Pré Labouchère, \"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.\" In sports, though, statistics are how we measure performance beyond just the wins and losses. In football, where sample sizes are so small, and the mean so cluttered, it behooves us to try to analyze things that have a higher correlation to winning than previous wins.

Fortunately, over the past several years, many statisticians a million times smarter than the author of this piece have spent countless hours devising formulas that they use to judge the quality of teams beyond the normal statistical measures. These advanced metrics allow us a glimpse into which teams are winning based on quality play, which ones are winning because of inept opponents and which ones have a horseshoe crammed up their chimneys.

So, let’s take a look at some of the statistical explanations for what kinds of team the 2014 Dallas Cowboys and 2014 Houston Texans have proven to be, and what might transpire on Sunday.

 

 

We all know that it is a passing league, while running the football undoubtedly has an effect on the passing game, and more importantly how the opposition defends it. In the end, though, passing success is what leads to team success.

There are generally two stats that are easily calculated that seem to have a high correlation to predicting future success; Passer Rating differential and Adjusted Net Yards Per Passing Attempt differential. Both are calculated by simply finding the difference between what your offense achieves in each category and taking away what your defense gives up. Teams with the larger differentials are more likely to have future success (read: wins) than those teams with smaller, or negative differentials.

As my good friend One.Cool.Customer over at Blogging The Boys can attest to right here, these stats have shown to be the most closely correlated stat to winning and losing outside of scoring differential. (I think we all know why that one ranks so highly.)

Here’s his take, but I implore you to follow the link and read the entire article. It’s from 2012 but should still rings very true today:

What a difference a week makes. Dallas' dominance over the Saints on Sunday night pushed them up from 22nd to 15th in the league, and brought them over the average team. Good signs, as they are slightly ahead of the Texans in passer rating differential.

Adjusted Net Yards Per Pass Attempt, or ANY/A, comes in third when it comes to correlating to victory with an R2 coefficient of 0.62. What exactly is ANY/A?

It’s basically a formula that takes into account sacks and interceptions in qualifying how efficient a team is in the passing game. Here’s how the team’s square up in this metric.

Last week, the ANY/A Differential was the lone category of hope for the Cowboys to overtake the Saints, as the two teams had idential -0.7 differentials. This week, Dallas is behind Houston, but with a caveat. Houston faced a quarterback that played so badly, he has been benched for Kyle Orton. That dropped their ANY/A Allowed from 6.6 to 5.5; a significant fall. For comparison, Romo posted his best game since last year against Denver, and Dallas' ANY/A for only moved up 0.2. Houston's offensive ANY/A also fell a great deal, leaving Houston ranked 10th to Dallas 18th. The Texans have the advantage here, but with caveat.

DVOA (or VOA at this juncture of the season) is a metric that measures success on each play as compared to league average based on \"a number of variables including down, distance, location on field, current score gap, quarter, and opponent quality.\" Due to it being so early in the season, FO can't truly define opponent quality, so for now they are excluding that from their calculations.

Week 5 is the first week that Football Outsiders starts incorporating strength of opponent, and provides a true DVOA. Dallas' total, based on the strong performance last week has jumped from -2.1% after Week 3 to +7.1%. It's basically saying that if a team that played exactly at the league average was put in the exact situations Dallas has for four weeks, Dallas would have performed at a better clip, by 7.1% more production. That value ranks them 13th out of 32 NFL teams.

The interesting thing here is that despite the similar records, FO clearly thinks that Dallas is the superior team. By this metric, losing this upcoming contest would be a betrayal of performance difference.

For a more detailed look into Football Outsiders thoughts on the Cowboys, check out this piece from my stats sensei, O.C.C. over on BTB on how they've evaluated the 2014 Cowboys at the quarter pole.

Expected Points Added (EPA)

Basically what your looking at in the above interactive chart is that teams with Good Offenses and Good Defenses exist in the upper right quadrant. The further to the right, the better your offense, and the further “north” the better your defense.

One can clearly see how much better the Saints have performed on offense than the rest of the league and specifically Dallas. They are also hideously low on the defensive scale. Hover over each team in the interactive table above from AdvancedFootballAnalytics.com. For more information on this metric and it’s friend, Win Probability Added (WPA), I strongly recommend heading over to their website and checking out the glossary.

Success Rate simply determines the percentage of plays that lead to a positive EPA. In other words, the Cowboys “averageness” isn’t a result of being average play by play, it’s that they make crushing mistakes, also known as turnovers.

What you are seeing here is how well each team is doing on a play by play basis by increasing their chances to score. One thing that jumps out immediately is that despite having the leagues leading rusher, and by a large margin, Dallas is in the middle of the pack of Run EPA. The explanation is simple. Standard yardage stats don’t take into account DeMarco Murray’s fumbling habits, but Run EPA clearly does. That’s how detrimental turning the ball over can be, especially when one is returned for a touchdown like it was against San Francisco.

Dallas made a huge jump based on their performance; up from 16th to 5th in Offensive EPA. The lack of a Murray fumble mitigating his huge ypc average allowed the team's Run EPA to move up significantly, from -3.2 to +4.8. That's +8.0 on the game!

A highly efficient day for Romo skyrocketed their Pass EPA.

By comparison, the Texans are clearly a struggling offense when it comes to incremental improvement. If Dallas can avoid giving up the big play, bend but don't break should be enough to keep this team under wraps.

Dallas' numbers dropped, but they were facing a team that was by far the best across the board in the Saints. The work done by Brees and company down 28 points changed these numbers, but this is one metric without game situation context.

On the flip side, Houston has a very strong defensive effort, but have played some of the league's worst offenses. Only the Giants are still playing the QB they started the season with. Regardless, their pass defense is top notch, while the run defense is missing in action. Cue DeMarco Murray.

Dallas appears to be in the superior position heading into this battle for the Governor's Cup. Victory would appear to hinge on two things, avoiding giving up the big play, and avoiding J.J. Watt. The last one needed no metric whatsoever.

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