Cowboys GameDay: Win And You're In

ARLINGTON - We break down virtually every imaginable angle to today's Colts at Cowboys game (really we do!) but let's understand the core: Win, and you're in.



The Big Lead

Given the way the Eagles have played lately, maybe the Dallas Cowboys shouldn't be too shocked at the Saturday gift handed them. With the Redskins beating sinking Philadelphia, the Cowboys can now clinch the NFC East and a playoff berth with a win today against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium.

You know, when you start 10-4, you always, over the course of 16-game NFL history, make the playoffs. So again, maybe we shouldn't be shocked at how this has unfolded for a Dallas team that to this point DESERVES to be in the playoffs. Heck, the Cowboys even have chances at homefield edge and a first-round bye in the playoffs should they win their final two games, today against Andrew Luck and on Dec. 28 at the wobbly Redskins.

Smile

Dallas Cowboys fans and haters alike know the track record here: three consecutive Week 17 win-and-you're-in defeats within the NFC East, in de facto Division Championship Games ... only this time it doesn't have to come down to Week 17. Dallas can get the job done today.

"Being 10-4 wasn't even one of our goals,'' Dallas' Orlando Scandrick tells CowboysHQ. "The playoffs are our first goal. We haven't even done that yet.''

Ah, but they can see that goal on the horizon. They can realize it this afternoon in the 3:30 start at AT&T Stadium, where the roof figures to be closed (not because of the weather but rather to keep the "wall-to-wall'' Cowboys fans noise inside) ... though they will have to overcome what's ailed them at home, where quality opponents and Tony Romo's health have contributed to a 3-4 record.

Texas schoolboy Luck is the NFL’s passing leader; look for Rod Marinelli to climb out of his comfort zone of using zone defenses here to instead through some man-to-man at the Colts, who may be without receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring).

Dallas has its own injury concerns with The Cowboys expect DeMarco Murray, the NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray planning to play with a broken hand. (He underwent surgery on Monday; we've been told since Tuesday morning that he's in, though we'll see what concessions might be made, if any, today.) Offensive lineman Doug Free is unlikely to go. Zack Martin (ankle) plans to play as the Cowboys have now developed a powerful running game to go with an long-standing Tony Romo-led aerial attack that was re-introduced in last week's critical win at Philly.

Joey Ickes: Scouting Indy's O

Week 16

Opponent: Indianapolis Colts
Head Coach: Chuck Pagano
Offensive Coordinator: Pep Hamilton
Quarterback: Andrew Luck
Primary Running Threats:


Primary Receiving Threats:

Break Down

When you talk about the Indianapolis Colts offense, the story begins and ends with the quarterback, Andrew Luck. The highly acclaimed young quarterback has achieved a remarkable level of success in the first three seasons of his NFL career, and his skillset has been the primary reason the Colts have become the NFLs most prolific passing offense in 2014 in terms of both yardage (310.9 yds/game) and touchdowns (38).

Attacking Cover-2 Looks

One side effect of an offense that is so prolific in the passing game, while being average at best in terms of running the ball, is seeing a lot of 2-deep safety coverages as defenses attempt to limit the downfield passing game and force the ball underneath.

On this particular play, the Colts are in a Bunch set to Luck’s right, with TE Coby Fleener as the point man with Hakeem Nicks to the outside, and Dwayne Allen inside. T.Y. Hilton is aligned as the “X” on the backside. The route concept to the front-side is the “Dagger” concept, featuring a Seam route by Fleener, and a Dig (In-cut at 12 yards) route by Nicks. This is a classic cover-two beater that teams use to open up space in the middle of the field. The Out route run by Allen, as well as the Fade (or Go) route run by Hilton are simply designed to clear out room for the concept over the middle.

As Luck reaches the top of his drop, you can see the route combination developing exactly as it is designed. The Texans’ are in a pure “Tampa-Two” coverage, with the safeties gaining width and depth in their deep-half-zones (red lines), and the Middle Linebacker turning to run with the immediate inside-vertical-threat from Fleener’s seam route (orange square). Nicks is coming out of his break, heading over the middle (yellow arrow), and a very clear throwing lane has developed for Luck (blue lines).

At the point of the catch by Nicks (orange square), it becomes easy to see how this combination has bested the coverage. Nicks is behind the underneath coverage players, and the near-side safety has widened past his land mark (top of the numbers) to account for the deep threat that Hilton presents. This gives Nicks a clear path to the endzone (blue lines).

Getting the Ball to the TE Down Field

This is another example of the Colts using a very basic route combination to attack the Texan’s defense down the field. The Colts are in 13 (1 RB, 3 TE, 1 WR) personnel, which is primarily a run-first grouping, but here the Colts are using the “Sail” combination, with play-action in the back field. The sail concept features a corner route by an inside receiver, and with a go route by the outside receiver. This combination is viewed primarily as a Cover-3 (3 deep 4 under) beater, but in this case, the Colts are attacking the Texans Cover-4 (4 deep, 3 under) coverage.

This combination works by clearing out the CB from his deep zone with the go route, to open up space for the inside receiver (in this case the TE).

Here we can see the corner increasing his depth as the WR runs up the numbers. Even this early in the play, you can see the open space to the outside that will be available once the CB clears out. The LB underneath is attempting to gain some depth, and limit those intermediate windows.

As Fleener breaks outside, Luck has already begun his throwing motion, as he was able to anticipate his TE coming open. He has an extremely large window to throw the ball into for the completion (blue square), and his margin for error is increased substantially when the LB reacts to the underneath route by the backside TE, and drives downhill. The result of the play, a 22-yard completion, pushes Indianapolis out of the shadow of their own end-zone and giving them much more room to operate.

Working The Ball Underneath

Here we see the Colts employing a staple of the Bill Walsh-style West Coast offense. The “HiLo Opposite” concept, features two crossing routes, a drag (shallow route run at about 3 yards), and a dig, giving the Quarterback two options for relatively easy throws over the middle, while creating significant conflicts inside for zone defenders.

Here we see the Texans’ Fire Zone (3 deep, 3 under) coverage developing as the Texans send 5 rushers, and the CBs both play with “zone technique” (butt to the sideline, staying on-top of the receiver), and the near-side LB gains depth in his drop.

As Allen runs the drag across the field, the Texans bust on the pass-off as one defender runs with the man on the dig route (red square). This leaves Allen wide open with lots of running room, and because the protection holds up, Luck has another easy throw as the Colts move the chains.

Conclusion

When you watch the Colts play, it’s easy to see just how dynamic their passing game can be. Even in a game where their most dynamic down-field weapon had limited production, they were still able to manufacture some explosive plays in the pass game, and give their QB a chance to succeed. Luck is a challenge for any defense, but with the volume of passes he throws, he does show a tendency to turn the ball over (14 INTs on a league-leading 578 attempts). Ballhawking is going to be big today.

Jordan Ross' Cowboys milestones

Tony Romo needs 189 passing yards to pass Troy Aikman for the most in franchise history and the 31st most in NFL history. Romo is tied with Peyton Manning (2013) and Steve Young (1993) for the NFL record of most games with a 135.0+ passer rating in a single season (5). Romo needs just one more such game to become the only QB to do so 6 times in a season.

Romo needs four touchdown passes to move ahead of George Blanda, Jim Kelly and Len Dawson for 22nd most in NFL history. Romo can extend his streak of consecutive games with 60+ completion percentage to 16. The longest streak of his career is 17. He can also set a new career high in games with a 60+ completion percentage in a single season at 14.

With a 3+ touchdown game vs the Colts, Romo will tie the longest streak of consecutive 3+ TD games of his career at 3. He needs 2 touchdowns to reach 30+ TD's for the fourth time in his career. No other Cowboys QB has ever thrown 30+ TD's in a season.

Romo needs 1 game with 300+ passing yards to pass Joe Montana for the 9th most 300+ yard games in NFL history. Both players are tied with 45. Romo needs one more game with multiple TD passes and zero interceptions to tie his career-high at 7 - which he did in 2009 and 2011.

A win on today would make the Colts the 10th team that Romo has faced multiple times while remaining undefeated. The other teams are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-0), Carolina Panthers (4-0), St. Louis Rams (3-0), Cincinnati Bengals (2-0), Miami Dolphins (2-0), Buffalo Bills (2-0), Cleveland Browns (2-0), Oakland Raiders (2-0) and the Houston Texans (2-0).

DeMarco Murray needs 87 yards to set a new franchise record for rushing yards in a single season, passing Emmitt Smith's 1,773 yards in 1995. Murray needs just one more 100-yard rushing game to set a new franchise record at 12 in a single season. He needs 1 rushing touchdown to tie Herschel Walker for 9th most in franchise history. He needs 2 to tie Ron Springs for 8th most.

Murray needs 7 rushes to pass Walt Garrison for the 7th most in franchise history and 27 rushes to break Emmitt Smith's franchise record of 377 rushes in a single season.

Dez Bryant needs 76 receiving yards to pass Frank Clarke for 6th most in franchise history. Bryant needs 3 touchdowns to tie Jason Witten for 3rd most in franchise history (as long as Jason Witten doesn't score any touchdowns before then). Bryant needs 10 catches to tie Tony Dorsett for 10th most in franchise history and needs 1 touchdown to tie Frank Clarke for 2nd most in a season in franchise history (14). He needs 2 touchdowns to tie T.O.'s franchise record of most receiving TD's in a single season (15).

Bryant can extend his streak of consecutive games with a TD vs AFC opponents to 12.

Dan Bailey needs to make 5 more field goals without any misses to become the first kicker in NFL history to have 3 consecutive seasons with a FG percentage over 90.0. Bailey needs to score 16 points (5 field goals and an extra point) to pass Tony Dorsett for the 3rd most points scored in franchise history. He needs to make one more 40-49 yard FG to tie Rafael Septien for the most in franchise history at 36. It took Septien 73 attempts from that distance to get there. Bailey has attempted just 38.

Jason Witten needs 8 catches to tie Art Monk for 14th most in NFL history ... Henry Melton needs 2 sacks to tie his single-season career high (7). ... Barry Church needs one more pass breakup to set a new career high at 7. ... Orlando Scandrick needs one more interception to set a new career high at 3 in a single season.

KD Drummond's Advanced-Stats Notebook

The NFL is entering its final two weeks of the 2014 regular season. It is these crucial moments of the season where the landscape is fortified with teams playing at their best in an effort to roll into the playoffs on a hot streak. The 2014 Dallas Cowboys seem to be doing just that. Over the last two weeks, the Cowboys offense has scored 79 points; tying Weeks 5 & 6 of 2013 as the most points the franchise has scored in back-to-back weeks since the epic regular season of 2007. That achievement occurred in the season’s first two contests. In essence, this is the best the team has been playing, on offense, down the stretch, in a long time. The advanced metrics mostly bear this out as well.

The Cowboys and Eagles (going into the weekend) are the only teams at the top of most offensive rankings that have suffered any kind of major setback to their starting quarterbacks. Green Bay, Denver, New England, Indianapolis and San Diego have all enjoyed stunning quarterback health, with the exception of Peyton Manning missing a few series last week. Romo was obviously not healthy in Week One and was knocked out of the Redskins game causing him to miss the following game against Arizona. He also was unable to take the pain-killing Torodol injection prior to a short-week game against Philadelphia, rendering him highly ineffective and able to take hits. Yet still, Dallas ranks right with those teams in terms of offensive production for the season.

In fact, in games were Romo could be considered as “primarily healthy”, the Cowboys have now moved to 10-0 on the 2014 season.

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.

The landscape of the NFC playoff shifted with Dallas’ win over Philadelphia, but nothing is set in stone. The Cowboys currently hold the third seed at 10-4, but have a similar likelihood to earn the Number One overall seed as they do to miss the playoffs with just a single loss in the last two games. How prepared are they to win out? Let’s look at the advanced stats picture for them and this Sunday’s all-important opponent, the 10-4 Indianapolis Colts.


Mean Wins is Football Outsiders current projection for how each team will finish the season.

DVOA stands for Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average. It basically measures how much better a team (or player) is than the average team (or player) against the same opponent in the same game situations. Weighted DVOA puts more weight on the team’s recent performance, rather than weighing all games equally. Which makes sense, in regards to future success, how a team has played over the last six games is much more important than how they played Week 1.

Dallas’ W-DVOA made a huge jump, +5.0% after defeating the Eagles. As we move further along in the season, Week 1 becomes less and less influential in describing the team that is playing now. In two weeks, that game’s DVOA will be “weighted” at only 9%, While Weeks 14-17 will be weighted at a full 100%.



Standard Statistics

Dallas Cowboys

Off Yds / GOff Pts / GDef Yds / GDef Pts / G
Total 377.7 27.2 359.9 23.4
Rank 9th 7th 22nd 19th

 

Indianapolis Colts

Off Yds / GOff Pts / GDef Yds / GDef Pts / G
Total 421.4 30.3 351.0 22.6
Rank3rd 3rd 15th 17th

For the third time in four weeks, Dallas will be facing off against a team that has shown a more potent offense than they have over the course of the season. They have failed once, and succeeded once. Being that the team’s hopes lay with their offense, it’s fitting that the rubber game will determine whether or not said offense has a chance to show itself off in the big dance.

Third-Down Conversions



Dallas maintains the top spot and has occupied it for most of the season, despite a very low lull during the year’s third quarter. Dallas’ third down efficiency in the last game was poor overall, but was perfect while Dallas raced to an early 21-0 lead. They converted their first 6 third-down opportunities (one via defensive penalty), while also scoring two of their touchdowns on third down situations.



Now on the flip side, Dallas will be facing the league’s best third-down defense. Dallas’ D is still mired at the bottom of the league, as they continue to operate at a stop percentage worse than 2013’s epically bad campaign. Dallas will likely need to be near even if they want to prevail.

Toxic Differentials

Toxic Differential is a metric that started with Super Bowl-winning head coach Brian Billick when he was the offensive coordinator during the Randy Moss era in Minnesota. It’s used to measure a team’s ability to create and prevent both turnovers and explosive plays. Toxic Differential is calculated by adding together a team’s turnover differential (takeaways - giveaways) and its big play differential (big plays for - big plays against). Various sites have various definitions for what constitutes a big play. As they have the most comprehensive ranking, we’ll roll with SportingCharts.com’s definition of 10+ yards on a running play and 25+ yards on a pass play. As SportingCharts says, “Over the last 10+ seasons, a majority of teams that have won the Super Bowl finished the regular season in the Top 10 for Toxic Differential.”



Want to know how Dallas was able to dominate Philadelphia this past Sunday? Here’s a look at the Toxic Events when using 20 yards as the cutoff for a “big” passing play.

TEAMTOXIC EVENTLEDGER
DAL1Q: KICK (15:00) D.Bailey kicks 47 yards from DAL 35 to PHI 18. J.Huff MUFFS catch, RECOVERED by DAL-C.Spillman at PHI 18. C.Spillman to PHI 18 for no gain (C.Maragos).DAL +1
DAL1Q: 3-7-DAL 15 (10:33) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep middle to J.Witten to DAL 36 for 21 yards (N.Allen).DAL +2
DAL1Q: 2-10-PHI 44 (:13) J.Randle left end to PHI 30 for 14 yards (E.Acho).DAL +3
DAL2Q: 2-11-PHI 26 (12:01) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep right to D.Bryant for 26 yards, TOUCHDOWN.DAL +4
PHI2Q: 3-7-PHI 35 (10:22) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Sanchez pass deep middle to B.Celek to DAL 42 for 23 yards (B.Church). DAL-O.ScandrickDAL +3
PHI2Q: 1-10-DAL 42 (9:56) L.McCoy left tackle to DAL 28 for 14 yards (J.Wilcox)DAL +2
PHI3Q: 3-12-PHI 27 (9:32) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Sanchez pass deep right to J.Maclin to DAL 1 for 72 yards (J.Wilcox).DAL +1
PHI3Q: 3-19-DAL 18 (6:59) (Shotgun) T.Romo sacked at DAL 12 for -6 yards (V.Curry). FUMBLES (V.Curry), RECOVERED by PHI-F.Cox at DAL 14.EVEN
DAL3Q: 2-9-DAL 23 (4:54) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep right to D.Bryant to DAL 45 for 22 yards (B.Fletcher).DAL +1
DAL3Q: 2-10-PHI 44 (3:01) D.Murray left guard to PHI 23 for 21 yards (M.Jenkins).DAL +2
DAL3Q: 2-11-PHI 24 (1:37) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short right to D.Bryant to PHI 2 for 22 yards (M.Jenkins).DAL +3
DAL3Q: 3-7-PHI 24 (:04) (Shotgun) M.Sanchez pass deep middle intended for Z.Ertz INTERCEPTED by J.Wilcox at PHI 42. DAL +4
DAL4Q: 1-10-PHI 42 (15:00) D.Murray right end to PHI 28 for 14 yards (M.Jenkins).DAL +5
DAL4Q: 3-7-PHI 25 (12:55) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep right to D.Bryant for 25 yards, TOUCHDOWNDAL +6
PHI4Q: 2-21-PHI 9 (12:15) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Sanchez pass short middle to J.Huff pushed ob at DAL 47 for 44 yards (B.Carr).DAL +5
DAL"4Q: 2-13-PHI 20 (7:53) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Sanchez pass short middle to B.Celek to PHI 34 for 14 yards (J.Wilcox). FUMBLES (J.Wilcox), RECOVERED by DAL K.Wilber at PHI 34."DAL +6
DAL4Q: 1-10-PHI 41 (1:57) (Shotgun) M.Sanchez pass short middle intended for J.Maclin INTERCEPTED by B.Carter at DAL 45. B.Carter to PHI 47DAL +7

Aikman Efficiency Rankings

I was first introduced to the Aikman Efficiency Rankings via O.C.C.’s article on Blogging The Boys back in September. In it, (available here) he references an interview that Jim Colishaw did with Cowboys DC Rod Marinelli. Marinelli stated that the only two stats he pays attention to are turnovers and the Aikman Efficiency Rankings. Let that sink in; if our DC holds it in such high regard, it should be part of The Notebook!

Head to the BTB article for a full breakdown of the Rankings, but as a synopsis, the rankings take into account the following seven categories: Total points scored (not including returns & safeties), turnovers allowed/forced, Red Zone Efficiency, Yards per play rush, adjusted yards per play pass, total first downs and third down conversion percentage. That’s a pretty fair summary of true indicators of performance.

Go To

Primary 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.

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 2013 was 0.71, an astonishingly high correlation. It is almost as good as scoring differential (0.89) at predicting the W/L record of an NFL team.

Rk TmGOff Passer RatingDef Passer RatingDifferential
1Green Bay Packers14108.683.225.4
2Denver Broncos14105.383.421.9
3New England Patriots14100.78317.7
4Dallas Cowboys14106.99115.9
5Indianapolis Colts1497.285.511.7
6Buffalo Bills1484.873.910.9
7New Orleans Saints14101.492.98.5
8Seattle Seahawks1493.785.38.4
9Cincinnati Bengals1483.776.47.3
10Kansas City Chiefs1493.786.77
11Detroit Lions148881.16.9
12Miami Dolphins1490.484.26.2
13Atlanta Falcons1495.5905.5
14San Francisco 49ers1484.980.14.8
15San Diego Chargers1496.892.44.4
16Pittsburgh Steelers14104.3100.53.8
17Arizona Cardinals1486.382.63.7
18Houston Texans1488.3853.3
19New York Giants1490.187.42.7
20Cleveland Browns147471.72.3
 Avg Team 87.687.60
21Baltimore Ravens1494.895.1-0.3
22St. Louis Rams1484.788.5-3.8
23Carolina Panthers1486.493.2-6.8
24Philadelphia Eagles1482.693.4-10.8
25Tennessee Titans1480.992.5-11.6
26Minnesota Vikings1476.691.5-14.9
27Chicago Bears1488.9106.1-17.2
28Washington Redskins1489.9109.9-20
29Tampa Bay Buccaneers147799.1-22.1
30Oakland Raiders1474.498.3-23.9
31Jacksonville Jaguars1472.298.8-26.6
32New York Jets1469.1104.6-35.5

Dallas’ passer rating differential has been skyrocketing since Romo returned to the lineup. Despite the clunkers against San Francisco and the first Eagles game, his season-long rating is now at 110.4, second in the league only to Aaron Rodgers.

Adjusted Net Yards Per Pass Attempt, or ANY/A, comes in third when it comes to correlating to victory with an R2 coefficient of 0.69. 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. Nothing exemplifies Dallas’ dominance over Philadelphia like ANY/A. Romo’s was 9.09, Sanchez’s was 4.03. Basically, for every drop back in the game, Dallas was getting 5 more yards per play than Philadelphia. Remember that when you look at the total differentials of each team over an entire season. Here’s how the team’s square up in this metric.

Rk TmANY/A ForANY/A AllowedDifferential
1Denver Broncos85.12.9
2Green Bay Packers8.35.72.6
3New England Patriots7.45.81.6
4Detroit Lions6.351.3
5Indianapolis Colts7.46.21.2
6Buffalo Bills5.64.41.2
7Cleveland Browns5.84.71.1
8Seattle Seahawks6.45.41
9Dallas Cowboys7.56.60.9
10Arizona Cardinals6.65.70.9
11Cincinnati Bengals65.40.6
12Houston Texans6.55.90.6
13Baltimore Ravens76.40.6
14Kansas City Chiefs6.25.80.4
15New Orleans Saints7.270.2
16San Francisco 49ers5.55.30.2
17Miami Dolphins5.65.40.2
18Pittsburgh Steelers7.87.70.1
19New York Giants6.26.20
 Avg Team6.26.20
20San Diego Chargers6.76.8-0.1
21St. Louis Rams5.55.8-0.3
22Carolina Panthers5.86.2-0.4
23Atlanta Falcons6.97.4-0.5
24Philadelphia Eagles66.6-0.6
25Tennessee Titans5.66.4-0.8
26Minnesota Vikings4.76-1.3
27Tampa Bay Buccaneers5.16.8-1.7
28Washington Redskins68-2
29Chicago Bears5.67.7-2.1
30Oakland Raiders4.57.2-2.7
31Jacksonville Jaguars47.1-3.1
32New York Jets47.5-3.5

Again, we’re looking at two teams separated by only fractions. Dallas has a slight advantage in passer rating differential, Indy has a slightly larger lead in ANY/A performance.

Week 16 DVOA Ratings

DVOA is a metric, devised by Football Outsiders, which 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.” The metric is outputted in “percentage points better than average”.

COWBOYSOffense DVOADefense DVOAST DVOATotal DVOA
Value 14.9% 9.2% 1.0% 6.7%
Team Rank 5th 26th 11th 13th
COLTSOffense DVOADefense DVOAST DVOATotal DVOA
Value 2.7% -2.1% 4.1% 9.0%
Team Rank 13th 13th 7th10th

DVOA is the lone metric used here in the notebook that incorporates special teams play. Dallas was able to overcome the league’s best ST unit by virtue of what might have been the ST play of the year, the “longside kick” to open the game. Dallas might need more teams magic, as they are facing another Top 10 teams’ team in the Colts.

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.

Washington is a decidedly average team, but look at how much better the Cowboys offense is than Washington's. 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.

>

Summary

In a contest of evenly matched teams, the edge -- stop us if you're read this above! -- might once again come down to turnovers. Luck has thrown three pick-sixes in the last two games and is among the league leaders in interceptions thrown. The advanced stats say it’s a toss-up, but the recent performances of the team say the odds might finally be in Dallas’ favor.

Mark Lane's "Cowboys 100''

Since 1978, when the 16-game schedule was introduced, no 10-4 team has ever ended up missing the playoffs. That includes Dallas (7 of 7) and Indy (the Colts have been 10-4 four other times in franchise history, in 1971, 1975, 1977, 2008). The Cowboys are 3-1 in the month of December against the Colts franchise. The last time the Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts faced each other both having 10 or more wins was Super Bowl V.



Every situation. From the Colts' perspective, historically, to the Cowboys', to even the referees. ... we've got you covered in incredible detail here in "Cowboys 100.'' And when you want to talk it out? The Cowboys get talked about on CowboysHQ Discussion Boards. Get your free membership along with almost 25,000 Cowboys fans here!

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The Final Word

“As big of a game as that was last week and the win, I think our team understands the stakes just get higher. That’s good. We need to embrace that.” - Jason Witten.


CowboysHQ Top Stories

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Off Yds / GOff Pts / GDef Yds / GDef Pts / G
Total 377.7 27.2 359.9 23.4
Rank 9th 7th 22nd 19th
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\r\n Indianapolis Colts \r\n
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Off Yds / GOff Pts / GDef Yds / GDef Pts / G
Total 421.4 30.3 351.0 22.6
Rank3rd 3rd 15th 17th

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For the third time in four weeks, Dallas will be facing off against a team that has shown a more potent offense than they have over the course of the season. They have failed once, and succeeded once. Being that the team’s hopes lay with their offense, it’s fitting that the rubber game will determine whether or not said offense has a chance to show itself off in the big dance.

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Third-Down Conversions

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Dallas maintains the top spot and has occupied it for most of the season, despite a very low lull during the year’s third quarter. Dallas’ third down efficiency in the last game was poor overall, but was perfect while Dallas raced to an early 21-0 lead. They converted their first 6 third-down opportunities (one via defensive penalty), while also scoring two of their touchdowns on third down situations.

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Now on the flip side, Dallas will be facing the league’s best third-down defense. Dallas’ D is still mired at the bottom of the league, as they continue to operate at a stop percentage worse than 2013’s epically bad campaign. Dallas will likely need to be near even if they want to prevail.

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Toxic Differentials

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Toxic Differential is a metric that started with Super Bowl-winning head coach Brian Billick when he was the offensive coordinator during the Randy Moss era in Minnesota. It’s used to measure a team’s ability to create and prevent both turnovers and explosive plays. Toxic Differential is calculated by adding together a team’s turnover differential (takeaways - giveaways) and its big play differential (big plays for - big plays against). Various sites have various definitions for what constitutes a big play. As they have the most comprehensive ranking, we’ll roll with SportingCharts.com’s definition of 10+ yards on a running play and 25+ yards on a pass play. As SportingCharts says, “Over the last 10+ seasons, a majority of teams that have won the Super Bowl finished the regular season in the Top 10 for Toxic Differential.”\r\n

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Want to know how Dallas was able to dominate Philadelphia this past Sunday? Here’s a look at the Toxic Events when using 20 yards as the cutoff for a “big” passing play.\r\n

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TEAMTOXIC EVENTLEDGER
DAL1Q: KICK (15:00) D.Bailey kicks 47 yards from DAL 35 to PHI 18. J.Huff MUFFS catch, RECOVERED by DAL-C.Spillman at PHI 18. C.Spillman to PHI 18 for no gain (C.Maragos).DAL +1
DAL1Q: 3-7-DAL 15 (10:33) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep middle to J.Witten to DAL 36 for 21 yards (N.Allen).DAL +2
DAL1Q: 2-10-PHI 44 (:13) J.Randle left end to PHI 30 for 14 yards (E.Acho).DAL +3
DAL2Q: 2-11-PHI 26 (12:01) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep right to D.Bryant for 26 yards, TOUCHDOWN.DAL +4
PHI2Q: 3-7-PHI 35 (10:22) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Sanchez pass deep middle to B.Celek to DAL 42 for 23 yards (B.Church). DAL-O.ScandrickDAL +3
PHI2Q: 1-10-DAL 42 (9:56) L.McCoy left tackle to DAL 28 for 14 yards (J.Wilcox)DAL +2
PHI3Q: 3-12-PHI 27 (9:32) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Sanchez pass deep right to J.Maclin to DAL 1 for 72 yards (J.Wilcox).DAL +1
PHI3Q: 3-19-DAL 18 (6:59) (Shotgun) T.Romo sacked at DAL 12 for -6 yards (V.Curry). FUMBLES (V.Curry), RECOVERED by PHI-F.Cox at DAL 14.EVEN
DAL3Q: 2-9-DAL 23 (4:54) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep right to D.Bryant to DAL 45 for 22 yards (B.Fletcher).DAL +1
DAL3Q: 2-10-PHI 44 (3:01) D.Murray left guard to PHI 23 for 21 yards (M.Jenkins).DAL +2
DAL3Q: 2-11-PHI 24 (1:37) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short right to D.Bryant to PHI 2 for 22 yards (M.Jenkins).DAL +3
DAL3Q: 3-7-PHI 24 (:04) (Shotgun) M.Sanchez pass deep middle intended for Z.Ertz INTERCEPTED by J.Wilcox at PHI 42. DAL +4
DAL4Q: 1-10-PHI 42 (15:00) D.Murray right end to PHI 28 for 14 yards (M.Jenkins).DAL +5
DAL4Q: 3-7-PHI 25 (12:55) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep right to D.Bryant for 25 yards, TOUCHDOWNDAL +6
PHI4Q: 2-21-PHI 9 (12:15) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Sanchez pass short middle to J.Huff pushed ob at DAL 47 for 44 yards (B.Carr).DAL +5
DAL\"4Q: 2-13-PHI 20 (7:53) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Sanchez pass short middle to B.Celek to PHI 34 for 14 yards (J.Wilcox). FUMBLES (J.Wilcox), RECOVERED by DAL K.Wilber at PHI 34.\"DAL +6
DAL4Q: 1-10-PHI 41 (1:57) (Shotgun) M.Sanchez pass short middle intended for J.Maclin INTERCEPTED by B.Carter at DAL 45. B.Carter to PHI 47DAL +7
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Aikman Efficiency Rankings

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I was first introduced to the Aikman Efficiency Rankings via O.C.C.’s article on Blogging The Boys back in September. In it, (available here) he references an interview that Jim Colishaw did with Cowboys DC Rod Marinelli. Marinelli stated that the only two stats he pays attention to are turnovers and the Aikman Efficiency Rankings. Let that sink in; if our DC holds it in such high regard, it should be part of The Notebook!

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Head to the BTB article for a full breakdown of the Rankings, but as a synopsis, the rankings take into account the following seven categories: Total points scored (not including returns & safeties), turnovers allowed/forced, Red Zone Efficiency, Yards per play rush, adjusted yards per play pass, total first downs and third down conversion percentage. That’s a pretty fair summary of true indicators of performance.

[MEDIA:1450843] Go To Aikman.com for more.



The Aikman rankings say that these two teams are about as even as they can come, separated by just .5 points. Aikman’s formula thinks more highly of the Cowboys offense than standard metrics do.

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Primary Differential Rankings

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\r\n\r\nWe 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.

\r\nThere 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.

\r\nIn 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.

\r\nR² between PRD and wins in 2013 was 0.71, an astonishingly high correlation. It is almost as good as scoring differential (0.89) at predicting the W/L record of an NFL team.

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Rk TmGOff Passer RatingDef Passer RatingDifferential
1Green Bay Packers14108.683.225.4
2Denver Broncos14105.383.421.9
3New England Patriots14100.78317.7
4Dallas Cowboys14106.99115.9
5Indianapolis Colts1497.285.511.7
6Buffalo Bills1484.873.910.9
7New Orleans Saints14101.492.98.5
8Seattle Seahawks1493.785.38.4
9Cincinnati Bengals1483.776.47.3
10Kansas City Chiefs1493.786.77
11Detroit Lions148881.16.9
12Miami Dolphins1490.484.26.2
13Atlanta Falcons1495.5905.5
14San Francisco 49ers1484.980.14.8
15San Diego Chargers1496.892.44.4
16Pittsburgh Steelers14104.3100.53.8
17Arizona Cardinals1486.382.63.7
18Houston Texans1488.3853.3
19New York Giants1490.187.42.7
20Cleveland Browns147471.72.3
 Avg Team 87.687.60
21Baltimore Ravens1494.895.1-0.3
22St. Louis Rams1484.788.5-3.8
23Carolina Panthers1486.493.2-6.8
24Philadelphia Eagles1482.693.4-10.8
25Tennessee Titans1480.992.5-11.6
26Minnesota Vikings1476.691.5-14.9
27Chicago Bears1488.9106.1-17.2
28Washington Redskins1489.9109.9-20
29Tampa Bay Buccaneers147799.1-22.1
30Oakland Raiders1474.498.3-23.9
31Jacksonville Jaguars1472.298.8-26.6
32New York Jets1469.1104.6-35.5

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Dallas’ passer rating differential has been skyrocketing since Romo returned to the lineup. Despite the clunkers against San Francisco and the first Eagles game, his season-long rating is now at 110.4, second in the league only to Aaron Rodgers.

Adjusted Net Yards Per Pass Attempt, or ANY/A, comes in third when it comes to correlating to victory with an R2 coefficient of 0.69. 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. Nothing exemplifies Dallas’ dominance over Philadelphia like ANY/A. Romo’s was 9.09, Sanchez’s was 4.03. Basically, for every drop back in the game, Dallas was getting 5 more yards per play than Philadelphia. Remember that when you look at the total differentials of each team over an entire season. Here’s how the team’s square up in this metric.

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Rk TmANY/A ForANY/A AllowedDifferential
1Denver Broncos85.12.9
2Green Bay Packers8.35.72.6
3New England Patriots7.45.81.6
4Detroit Lions6.351.3
5Indianapolis Colts7.46.21.2
6Buffalo Bills5.64.41.2
7Cleveland Browns5.84.71.1
8Seattle Seahawks6.45.41
9Dallas Cowboys7.56.60.9
10Arizona Cardinals6.65.70.9
11Cincinnati Bengals65.40.6
12Houston Texans6.55.90.6
13Baltimore Ravens76.40.6
14Kansas City Chiefs6.25.80.4
15New Orleans Saints7.270.2
16San Francisco 49ers5.55.30.2
17Miami Dolphins5.65.40.2
18Pittsburgh Steelers7.87.70.1
19New York Giants6.26.20
 Avg Team6.26.20
20San Diego Chargers6.76.8-0.1
21St. Louis Rams5.55.8-0.3
22Carolina Panthers5.86.2-0.4
23Atlanta Falcons6.97.4-0.5
24Philadelphia Eagles66.6-0.6
25Tennessee Titans5.66.4-0.8
26Minnesota Vikings4.76-1.3
27Tampa Bay Buccaneers5.16.8-1.7
28Washington Redskins68-2
29Chicago Bears5.67.7-2.1
30Oakland Raiders4.57.2-2.7
31Jacksonville Jaguars47.1-3.1
32New York Jets47.5-3.5
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Again, we’re looking at two teams separated by only fractions. Dallas has a slight advantage in passer rating differential, Indy has a slightly larger lead in ANY/A performance.

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Week 16 DVOA Ratings

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\r\nDVOA is a metric, devised by Football Outsiders, which 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.” The metric is outputted in “percentage points better than average”.

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COWBOYSOffense DVOADefense DVOAST DVOATotal DVOA
Value14.9%9.2%1.0%6.7%
Team Rank5th26th11th13th
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COLTSOffense DVOADefense DVOAST DVOATotal DVOA
Value2.7%-2.1%4.1%9.0%
Team Rank13th13th7th10th
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DVOA is the lone metric used here in the notebook that incorporates special teams play. Dallas was able to overcome the league’s best ST unit by virtue of what might have been the ST play of the year, the “longside kick” to open the game. Dallas might need more teams magic, as they are facing another Top 10 teams’ team in the Colts.

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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.

Washington is a decidedly average team, but look at how much better the Cowboys offense is than Washington's. 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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Summary

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In a contest of evenly matched teams, the edge -- stop us if you're read this above! -- might once again come down to turnovers. Luck has thrown three pick-sixes in the last two games and is among the league leaders in interceptions thrown. The advanced stats say it’s a toss-up, but the recent performances of the team say the odds might finally be in Dallas’ favor.\r\n
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\r\n Mark Lane's \"Cowboys 100'' \r\n
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\r\nSince 1978, when the 16-game schedule was introduced, no 10-4 team has ever ended up missing the playoffs. That includes Dallas (7 of 7) and Indy (the Colts have been 10-4 four other times in franchise history, in 1971, 1975, 1977, 2008). The Cowboys are 3-1 in the month of December against the Colts franchise. The last time the Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts faced each other both having 10 or more wins was Super Bowl V.

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\r\nEvery situation. From the Colts' perspective, historically, to the Cowboys', to even the referees. ... we've got you covered in incredible detail here in \"Cowboys 100.'' And when you want to talk it out? The Cowboys get talked about on CowboysHQ Discussion Boards. Get your free membership along with almost 25,000 Cowboys fans here! \r\n
\r\n
\r\n\"Smile\"\r\n
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\r\nThe Final Word \r\n
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\r\n“As big of a game as that was last week and the win, I think our team understands the stakes just get higher. That’s good. We need to embrace that.” - Jason Witten.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
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\r\n","mobileBody":" Given the way the Eagles have played lately, maybe the Dallas Cowboys shouldn't be too shocked at the Saturday gift handed them. With the Redskins beating sinking Philadelphia, the Cowboys can now clinch the NFC East and a playoff berth with a win today against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium. You know, when you start 10-4, you always, over the course of 16-game NFL history, make the playoffs. So again, maybe we shouldn't be shocked at how this has unfolded for a Dallas team that to this point DESERVES to be in the playoffs. Heck, the Cowboys even have chances at homefield edge and a first-round bye in the playoffs should they win their final two games, today against Andrew Luck and on Dec. 28 at the wobbly Redskins.

Want to know how Dallas was able to dominate Philadelphia this past Sunday? Here’s a look at the Toxic Events when using 20 yards as the cutoff for a “big” passing play.

I was first introduced to the Aikman Efficiency Rankings via O.C.C.’s article on Blogging The Boys back in September. In it, (available here) he references an interview that Jim Colishaw did with Cowboys DC Rod Marinelli. Marinelli stated that the only two stats he pays attention to are turnovers and the Aikman Efficiency Rankings. Let that sink in; if our DC holds it in such high regard, it should be part of The Notebook!

Head to the BTB article for a full breakdown of the Rankings, but as a synopsis, the rankings take into account the following seven categories: Total points scored (not including returns & safeties), turnovers allowed/forced, Red Zone Efficiency, Yards per play rush, adjusted yards per play pass, total first downs and third down conversion percentage. That’s a pretty fair summary of true indicators of performance.

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