Internally Yours: Anatomy Of A Cowboys Win

How exactly does a Dallas Cowboys team led by Jason Garrett pull off what they did on Sunday afternoon? Here's how.

TeamQ1Q2Q3Q4FINAL
Dallas Cowboys (5-1)71031030
Seattle Seahawks (3-2)10010323

The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Seattle Seahawks in their home stadium, 30-23, to improve to 5-1 on the season. Simmer in it.

Prior to the game’s beginning, the general sentiment was that Dallas was playing with house money. Already a shocking 4-1 on the young season; most fans and media had already circled this matchup as a sure-fire loss once the schedule was announced. Even with the quick start, no one beats the World Champion Seahawks on their home turf. Certainly not a team like the Dallas Cowboys.

If they were able to pull off a win, Dallas would be announcing their arrival in the Ring of Championship Contenders. A close loss would still validate Dallas' quick start to the year as a team on the come. Any other result, save for a massive blowout, would probably be met with a lot of “well, what did you expect?” responses.

In previous seasons, there would be much concern after a start like today’s game. Dallas found themselves down 10 early, after a brutal hit by LB Bobby Wagner left Romo down on the turf after his third down pass fell incomplete. On the ensuing punt, the Seahawks Doug Baldwin flew in untouched off the left side, blocked the kick and Seattle returned it for the game’s first touchdown.

What did these Dallas Cowboys do? The 2014 Dallas Cowboys? Calmly marched down the field and closed the gap, then continued to take the fight to the Seahawks and overmatched them on both sides of the ball for the remainder of the first half.. When the whistle blew, Dallas had a 17-10 halftime lead, complete with a fight as the Seahawks attempted to win their manhood back in ways outside the scope of the game.

After halftime though, Dallas quickly surrendered another 10 points off of their miscues. A muffed punt and a failed snap put Dallas in the hole once again. Once again, the intestinal fortitude of these Dallas Cowboys showed through, and the team calmly and methodically tied the game on a long Dan “Split’Em” Bailey field goal, then salted it away. For the second consecutive week, Dallas won a game they would likely have lost in previous seasons. Here’s a look at the major takeaways from the winning performance.

CategoryCowboysSeahawks
First Downs239
3rd Down Efficiency10-17-59%5-13-38%
Net Yards401206
Passing Yards239126
Rushing Yards16280
Time Of Possession33:3922:21
Red Zone Efficiency3-4-75%1-3-33%

The Cowboys once again dominated their third down opportunities; a theme that CowboysHQ has implored must continue since the season opener in order for the club to have any success. Dallas was 10 for 17 on the game for 59%, and they continue to be the best in the league for the season at 56.25%.

Once again though, it was the way that Dallas converted their third downs that was the most impressive aspect. These weren’t a series of third and one halfback dives behind a dominant offensive line. Here’s a look at the 10 conversions on the game.

QuarterTimeYds To GoPlay Result
1st9:2210 from own 20Romo to Cole Beasley. Pass was 5 yards, Beasley evaded defender to get 11 yards
1st5:553 from own 27Romo swing pass to Lance Dunbar who scoots to left sideline for gain of 6
1st2:38goal from SEA 2Romo out of shotgun finds Escobar clean along back of end zone
2nd13:014 from own 24Romo's pass to Randle is only for 2 yards, but defensive holding gives automatic 1st down
2nd11:145 from own 34Shotgun 11 personnel Bryant runs a dig from the slot against zone coverage and catches a quick 13 yard strike
2nd2:138 from own 22Cowboys send 4 receivers out to clear out the underneath, dump it off to Dunbar who turns on the jets for a gain of 21 yards
2nd1:1814 from own 39Under pressure, Romo steps up and dumps it off to Dunbar, ho races to left sideline and gets the first after a big block from Witten to get him past the marker
2nd0:24goal from SEA 3Shotgun again, Romo has approximately six weeks of a clean pocket, and finds Jason Witten inside the goal line for the touchdown
4th6:555 from own 25Pistol, Romo takes three step drop, sets and fires a bullet to Bryant's back shoulder. Dez elevates over Richard Sherman who is clueless pass has arrived
4th4:5520 from own 31Shotgun, Romodini appears and escapes pressure with patented spin move. He launches a pass that appears to be between two targets, when Terrance Williams extends (no body catch) to haul in the pass and taps both feet just inside of the chalk for the huge conversion of 23 yards

Dallas converted 8 third down attempts in the first half, a staggering number. After being shut down in the third quarter, Dallas was able to hit on two key ones, on the game-winning drive; the conversion to Bryant followed by the “Terrance Toe Taps” play that adds another notch on the Romo highlight bedpost. Dallas converted 5 of 5 third downs on games’ two most important offensive drives; the end of the first half and the game-winning drive in the fourth. Their gains on the five plays? 21 yards, 18 yards, 3 yards (touchdown), 16 yards, 23 yards. Clutch in every sense of the word.

Romo continues his torrid start to the 2014 season with another game filled with high passer ratings and jaw-dropping escape acts.

Tony Romo continues to be as impressive as ever. The win was the 26th game-winning drive for Romo, the most in the league since 2006 and a franchise record he continues to extend. He also holds the club mark for fourth quarter comebacks, with that number now reaching 22. For only the third time in his career, Romo has gone five consecutive games with a Passer Rating over 90, finishing this game at 110.2. It would have been over 100, but he fell just shy in the overtime win over Houston (98.0) last week. Regardless, the Cowboys have continued their upward trend in the two advanced metrics that are most highly correlated with being a winning team. The passer rating differential between Romo and Wilson was a mind-numbing 62.6.

For the season, Dallas now has a differential of +16.8; which based on last season’s regression formula, is the mark of a team that should get to 11 wins (Hat Tip to stat guru O.C.C. of Blogging The Boys). That number, however, is steadily rising. It was only at 8 wins just two weeks ago when the differential was only +3.5.

The other major stat correlating strongly with winning is ANY/A; or Adjusted Net Yards Passing per Attempt. It includes touchdowns, interceptions and sacks into the standard yards per attempt formula. Dallas now sits with a +1.09 differential here, which will rank them in the league’s Top 10 teams.

ReceivingTARRECYDSAVGLGTD
Murray66315.2140
Bryant1046315.8230
Dunbar444812210
Williams227035470
Witten522412211
Beasley211111110
Escobar212221
Clutts111110
Total322125011.9472

The Cowboys finally started using their secondary options on offense. If this is going to be the case moving forward, Dallas will finally be able to be spoken of in the same breath as other elite offenses around the league, like New Orleans, Green Bay and Denver.

The second and third-string running backs for the Cowboys totaled just under 100 yards, 96 to be exact thanks to Dunbar’s one carry for -4 yards. They averaged 9.6 yards per touch. When your offense boasts the league’s leading rusher, who is also a major receiving threat out of the backfield (Murray led all Cowboys in catches with six), takes him out of the game and replaces him with 9.6 yards a touch?? That’s what championship offenses are made of.

In addition, Dallas’ two scores from the game came from their tight ends. Jason Witten, who hauled in his 900th career catch when he scored the touchdown that put Dallas up by 7 before the half, followed up the score of Gavin Escobar in the first quarter. Escobar, Beasley, Harris and Dunbar are having their roles in the passing game defined clearly, with Randle showing no pace is lost in the running game. That makes Dallas a legit 8-9 deep at the skill positions, behind an offensive line that is mauling people and giving Romo enough time to do the Schmoney dance in the pocket.

For all the fun and smiles that Cowboys fans are enjoying, the team did fortunately avoid disaster on two separate occasions. Down 10-0, the Cowboys had drove the length of the field to get inside the 10, when Romo first tried to involve Gavin Escobar in the game. A back shoulder fade to the front left pylon was off target; either Escobar drove too deep or Romo threw to the wrong spot. Regardless, Dallas was very fortunate that Byron Maxwell didn’t intercept the pass and race 100 yards in the opposite direction.

The second stint of luck came in the second quarter, on the drive where Dallas tied the score at 10. Dallas was once again inside the green zone (opponent’s 40) when DeMarco Murray took the handoff to the right side. Murray had fumbled four times in the first five weeks of the season, by allowing the ball to be knocked loose upon contact. This time, there was no contact. Mirroring what Seahawks QB Russell Wilson did earlier, Murray simply coughed the ball up, untouched. Fortunately again, the ball flew out of bounds instead of into the arms of a defender.

Murray’s fumbling problems have been the lone culprit in keeping Dallas from boasting the league’s most efficient offense, and with the way Randle showed out in the game; any more could lead to the benching (albeit a short time) of the league’s leading rusher.

Although, looking at the Murray Record Watch, that might be pretty foolish. The Cowboys franchise have dealt with an elite back that had serious fumbling problems. Tony Dorsett had four different seasons with at least 9 fumbles, and never recorded a single year with less than 5. He worked out ok.

DeMarco Murray Record Tracker

WEEKATTEMPTSYDSTDTARGETSRECEPTIONSYARDSTOTAL YARDS
12211814325143
2291671216173
32410014431131
4241492116155
53113608656192
62911516631146
TOTALS15978562521155940
16 GAME PROJECTION424.0 2,093.3 16.0 66.7 56.0 413.3 2,506.7
ALL-TIME MARKS416210528n/an/an/a2509

Glory.

On defense, all hail Emperor Rolando McClain. During the last two Cowboys Crunchtime podcasts, I’ve explored the concept that Dallas’ defensive attitude and confidence has a lot to do with a changing of the guard. Obviously McClain’s physical abilities are inspirational to his teammates; but by most accounts… the Cowboys defense is a bunch of meanies.

Led by McClain, this defense wants to take people’s heads off. Orlando Scandrick has always been a bulldog and the safety pair of Church and Wilcox lay the wood when given the opportunity. What is different, possibly, is that the lead dog of the defense is no longer Mr. Nice Guy DeMarcus Ware. This isn’t a slight on Ware or his surefire Hall of Fame credentials. However teams take on the personality of their leader, and Ware is by most every account a really, really nice guy. Maybe, possibly, without him out there, the dog that lies within a lot of these players has become the prevailing attitude in the locker room, and continuing out onto the field.

The Cowboys employed their dime formation on a handful of their defensive snaps. However, the look was often unique as Dallas chose to employ three safeties as opposed to four cornerbacks. Jeff Heath was brought into the game and was often used as a spy on slippery Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Wilson had abused the Washington defense last weekend to the tune of over 100 yards on the ground. He only amassed 12 against the new look Cowboys D. Heath doesn’t get all the credit here, as the spry Cowboys defensive line continued to attack in waves and was relentless at getting pressure on the the third-year star.

Defensive Snap Counts + PFF Grades

PlayerSnapsPercentagePFF Prelim Grade
Wilcox4694%+0.3
Scandrick49100%+1.2
Carr49100%+1.5
Durant49100%+3.1
McClain4388%+5.2
Mincey4286%+3.4
Church4184%+1.1
Crawford3776%-0.1
Moore3469%+0.2
Spencer2959%+1.2
Hayden2755%-1.6
Melton2449%+0.4
Selvie2245%+0.6
Wilber1327%+2.1
Heath1224%-0.3
McClain, T1020%-0.5
Edwards510%-0.4
Hitchens48%-0.1
Patmon36%+0.5

The Cowboys secondary aren’t world beaters; but they finally ran up against a pedestrian receiving corps and were able to eat well. Thanks to the amazing job the guys up front did in shutting down the vaunted Seahawks rushing attack, the defensive backs were allowed to do their jobs and played the best game of their young season. Dallas was able to get paws on 9 different passes, including McClain’s game-sealing interception.

Dallas has gotten their hands on 9 passes, three different times this season, against Tennessee, New Orleans and now Seattle. These three games are the team’s best overall defensive performances. Combined with the pressure and hits that Dallas is getting on opposing QBs (sacks still not easy to come by), Dallas has turned their defense around under Rod Marinelli. If there isn’t an Assistant Coach of the Year award, they need to create one in 2014.

T-minus Two Weeks.

And now, the cavalry starts to arrive. The Cowboys have three weeks of Anthony Spencer under the belt, and he played a good game, registering a hit, a hurry and a defensive stop in his 31 snaps. Henry Melton continues to work his way back into game form. In just 27 snaps, he registered a hit, three QB hurries and a pass defensed.

Bruce Carter is expected to return this weekend against the Giants and make the linebacker corps whole again (with apologies to Sean Lee). Rookie Demarcus Lawrence can practice now, and is scheduled to return Week 9 against the Cardinals. Somewhere in there, DT Amobi Okoye may be activated and after Week 10, Josh Brent is allowed to return to game action.

So now the Dallas Cowboys are a surprise 5-1, with eight to nine bonafide offensive weapons to play with, a mauling offensive line, a defense that is getting pressure and hands on passes and a slew of talent set to augment the overacheivers and a bad ass attitude to boot. With the next three games at home followed by a road trip where it will feel like a homegame against a struggling opponent, Dallas might be in a position to nullify any December issues before the calendar makes it to Thanksgiving. Who would’ve thunk it.








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