Advanced Stats Notebook: Cowboys At Eagles

Dallas tries to win a seventh road game of the season, in a rematch against the team that handed them their hats on Thanskgiving. Will the Cowboys emerge from the clash with the Philadelphia Eagles with the NFC East lead? Our Advanced-Stats Notebook:

Leading up to the Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, there were more than a handful of media members proclaiming that the short week Dallas faced would have no adverse effect on their performance. The Cowboys, after all, played on a short week for Thanksgiving every year, and historically perform rather well. The opponent would also be playing on a short week and as such, there was no inherent disadvantage for the Cowboys. A few astute observers countered with several key points to offer up a reason why the situation was a bit unfair to the Cowboys. For one, the Cowboys played on Sunday Night, prior to the midday game on Thursday. No team has had to play a Thursday night game following a Sunday night game this season. Secondly, the night game, was on the road. Dallas rarely plays a road game prior to Thanksgiving, and even more rare is it the late afternoon game. Those scenarios have happened before, but never have they played a Sunday Night road game prior to the Thanksgiving matchup.

Even with those scheduling quirks working against them, that in and of itself would not be enough to hamstring the Cowboys the way it did that day. Until you include the fact that Tony Romo, who has to take a Torodol shot prior to every game since midseason, was unable to take one for this game. Romo’s performance was an outlier on the 2014 season. He wanted no parts of any type of contact, and it greatly affected the Cowboys offense. He would often fall down in the pocket with the nearest defender still a yard or two away from getting to him. That of course, doesn’t excuse the season-worst performance of the offensive line. However, it could have contributed to a mediocre-at-best defense pressing things, and losing their gap integrity and tackling techniques. Those slip-ups are inexcusable though, and must also be corrected. Dallas will have plenty of rest prior to Sunday Night’s rematch, but will the other things that went horribly wrong, be corrected? If so, than the battle should be an equal fight. And if it’s an equal fight, than the Advanced Stats should lend us some insight as to who is the better team.

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 picture hasn’t changed much. Dallas is still currently on the outside looking in. They lose a three-way tiebreaker with Seattle and Detroit. Fortunately, all it takes is a win against the Eagles and not only will they be in position, but they’ll hold the advantage for the third spot in the conference. Here’s a look at the numbers that say it is more than possible. It’s probable.


Mean Wins is FootballOutsiders 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.

I suspect that Dallas’ Weighted DVOA took a hit from last week (down from 5.9% to 3.9%) based on letting a really bad team, Chicago, come back down the stretch. Still, the beatdown the Eagles took closed the gap between the two teams.

Standard Statistics

Dallas Cowboys

Off Yds / GOff Pts / GDef Yds / GDef Pts / G
Total 378.8 26.4 365.0 23.2
Rank 9th 8th 22nd 17th

 

Philadelphia Eagles

Off Yds / GOff Pts / GDef Yds / GDef Pts / G
Total 394.8 29.9 371.9 23.8
Rank5th 4th 24th 20th

As was the case two weeks ago, Dallas is meeting an opponent with a higher functioning offense than the one they possess. However, just as was the case before, the defensive advantage, despite all of their issues, lies with Dallas. As was the case in the Seattle game last week, Philadelphia’s challenge is if their offense struggles to gain first downs, they put their defense in a no-win situation. No rest, constantly on the field. That’s what Dallas will try their best to utilize to their advantage.

Third Down Conversions



It feels good to return to the throne, Dallas is once again leading the league in third down conversion rate. Dallas was highly successful on third downs last week against the Bears, in part because they were so good at getting in manageable down/distance situations. Dallas only had one third-down situation longer than 3rd and 6 before they salted the game away. Romo was crisp on third down passes, completing eight of nine attempts.

This of course, is stemming the tide from the last month, as Dallas had been operating near league-bottom in third down conversions. The reason for the failures could have everything to do with the offense becoming highly predictable. As Blogging The Boys points out in this great write-up, Dallas’ commitment to the run has resulted in opponents knowing what Dallas will do based on down and distance. To wit:

Nobody is complaining about the success of the ground game, and nobody was complaining about the lack of balance when the Cowboys were 6-1 earlier in the season. But running more has not made the Cowboys a more balanced team, far from it. The only question is, will this be a strength or a weakness for the team over the final four games?

One final thought: The league average pass ratio is 57% this season. Last year, the Cowboys had a pass ratio of 64%, this year they are down to 50%. Which means the Cowboys are exactly as far away from the league average this year as they were last year, except in the other direction.

Damn.



Now on the flip side, here’s the problem with Dallas doing what Seattle did to slow down Philly’s offense. Seattle can get off the field in a reasonable fashion. Dallas can’t. Over the past three games, Seattle gets off the field twice as often as Dallas does when opponent’s are in third down. Yes, this includes Dallas holding Chicago’s bumbling offense to 2 for 10 last week.

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.”

Aikman Efficiency Rankings

I was first introduced to the Aikman Efficiency Rankings via O.C.C.’s article on BTB 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 Aikman.com for more.



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 Packers13115.984.931
2Denver Broncos13104.98519.9
3New England Patriots13101.283.917.3
4Dallas Cowboys13105.192.912.2
5Indianapolis Colts1398.587.211.3
6Seattle Seahawks1395.385.59.8
7Buffalo Bills1386.677.69
8San Diego Chargers1310091.38.7
9Miami Dolphins1392.183.48.7
10Detroit Lions138880.87.2
11Cincinnati Bengals1385.578.47.1
12Atlanta Falcons139588.56.5
13Houston Texans1390.585.64.9
14San Francisco 49ers1385.180.74.4
15Arizona Cardinals1486.382.63.7
16Cleveland Browns1376.272.63.6
17Pittsburgh Steelers13103.9100.33.6
18New Orleans Saints1398.895.53.3
19Kansas City Chiefs1392.289.62.6
20New York Giants1388.186.51.6
 Avg Team 88.188.10
21Baltimore Ravens1394.597.5-3
22St. Louis Rams1484.788.5-3.8
23Philadelphia Eagles1383.891.1-7.3
24Carolina Panthers1385.995.2-9.3
25Tennessee Titans1381.792.7-11
26Chicago Bears1391103.4-12.4
27Minnesota Vikings1375.891.8-16
28Washington Redskins1389.2109.2-20
29Oakland Raiders1375.597.2-21.7
30Tampa Bay Buccaneers137899.8-21.8
31Jacksonville Jaguars1372.898.8-26
32New York Jets1367.8107.3-39.5

Here’s why there is so much hope for a Dallas victory. They dominate in the stat most closely correlated with winning. A caveat, Dallas hasn’t faced Indianapolis like Phildelphia has, and replaces Green Bay with Chicago on their schedule. Both teams are Top 5 here and that would shrink the gap between the teams, although not eliminate it.

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. Here’s how the team’s square up in this metric.

Rk TmANY/A ForANY/A AllowedDifferential
RkTmANY/AANY/ADifferential
1Green Bay Packers8.95.93
2Denver Broncos7.95.12.8
3New England Patriots7.35.91.4
6Indianapolis Colts7.66.31.3
5Detroit Lions6.351.3
4Cleveland Browns6.14.81.3
7Buffalo Bills5.74.61.1
8Seattle Seahawks6.65.51.1
9Arizona Cardinals6.65.70.9
10Houston Texans6.760.7
11Dallas Cowboys7.46.80.6
13Miami Dolphins5.75.20.5
12Cincinnati Bengals6.25.70.5
14San Diego Chargers76.60.4
15Baltimore Ravens76.80.2
16San Francisco 49ers5.65.40.2
17Pittsburgh Steelers7.77.60.1
 Avg Team6.26.20
18Kansas City Chiefs5.96-0.1
19New York Giants66.2-0.2
20Atlanta Falcons6.97.2-0.3
21St. Louis Rams5.55.8-0.3
22Philadelphia Eagles6.16.5-0.4
23New Orleans Saints6.97.4-0.5
24Carolina Panthers5.76.4-0.7
25Tennessee Titans5.56.4-0.9
26Minnesota Vikings4.66-1.4
27Chicago Bears5.97.4-1.5
28Tampa Bay Buccaneers5.26.8-1.6
29Washington Redskins67.9-1.9
30Oakland Raiders4.67-2.4
31Jacksonville Jaguars4.17-2.9
32New York Jets3.97.6-3.7

Again, we see that Philadelphia’s success has so much to do with their special teams prowess. When that isn’t clicking, they tend to look closer to last week than their good weeks.

Week 13 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”.

Want a visual as to the stark difference between early 2014 Dallas and right now Dallas?

COWBOYSOffense DVOADefense DVOAST DVOATotal DVOA
Value 13.3% 10.2% 0.6% 3.6%
Team Rank 6th 28th 13th 13th
EAGLESOffense DVOADefense DVOAST DVOATotal DVOA
Value -2.6% -7.2% 9.0% 13.0%
Team Rank 16th 8th 1st7th

DVOA is the lone metric used here in the notebook that incorporates special teams play. As such, Philadelphia’s league-leading unit pushes them ahead of Dallas in the overall rankings. It would be foolish to call their success here a fluke, and this only emphasizes the importance of Dallas locking down their return game, which is the primary factor in their rating here. Fortunately, Dallas gets both Jeff Heath and Tyler Patmon back, two key pieces of their coverage units. Also, Dwayne Harris is starting to resemble 2013 Dwayne Harris for the last three games. Could this be the week he breaks one (that isn’t called back by penalty)?

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

There isn’t much more to say. This game will likely determine which of the two teams wins the East, and which one will likely be watching the playoffs despite a quality season.




CowboysHQ Top Stories

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Off Yds / GOff Pts / GDef Yds / GDef Pts / G
Total 378.8 26.4 365.0 23.2
Rank 9th 8th 22nd 17th
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\r\n Philadelphia Eagles \r\n
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Off Yds / GOff Pts / GDef Yds / GDef Pts / G
Total 394.8 29.9 371.9 23.8
Rank5th 4th 24th 20th

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As was the case two weeks ago, Dallas is meeting an opponent with a higher functioning offense than the one they possess. However, just as was the case before, the defensive advantage, despite all of their issues, lies with Dallas. As was the case in the Seattle game last week, Philadelphia’s challenge is if their offense struggles to gain first downs, they put their defense in a no-win situation. No rest, constantly on the field. That’s what Dallas will try their best to utilize to their advantage.

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Third Down Conversions

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It feels good to return to the throne, Dallas is once again leading the league in third down conversion rate. Dallas was highly successful on third downs last week against the Bears, in part because they were so good at getting in manageable down/distance situations. Dallas only had one third-down situation longer than 3rd and 6 before they salted the game away. Romo was crisp on third down passes, completing eight of nine attempts.

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This of course, is stemming the tide from the last month, as Dallas had been operating near league-bottom in third down conversions. The reason for the failures could have everything to do with the offense becoming highly predictable. As Blogging The Boys points out in this great write-up, Dallas’ commitment to the run has resulted in opponents knowing what Dallas will do based on down and distance. To wit:

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Nobody is complaining about the success of the ground game, and nobody was complaining about the lack of balance when the Cowboys were 6-1 earlier in the season. But running more has not made the Cowboys a more balanced team, far from it. The only question is, will this be a strength or a weakness for the team over the final four games?

\r\nOne final thought: The league average pass ratio is 57% this season. Last year, the Cowboys had a pass ratio of 64%, this year they are down to 50%. Which means the Cowboys are exactly as far away from the league average this year as they were last year, except in the other direction.

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Damn.

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Now on the flip side, here’s the problem with Dallas doing what Seattle did to slow down Philly’s offense. Seattle can get off the field in a reasonable fashion. Dallas can’t. Over the past three games, Seattle gets off the field twice as often as Dallas does when opponent’s are in third down. Yes, this includes Dallas holding Chicago’s bumbling offense to 2 for 10 last week.

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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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Aikman Efficiency Rankings

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I was first introduced to the Aikman Efficiency Rankings via O.C.C.’s article on BTB 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:1447599] Go To Aikman.com for more.



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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 Packers13115.984.931
2Denver Broncos13104.98519.9
3New England Patriots13101.283.917.3
4Dallas Cowboys13105.192.912.2
5Indianapolis Colts1398.587.211.3
6Seattle Seahawks1395.385.59.8
7Buffalo Bills1386.677.69
8San Diego Chargers1310091.38.7
9Miami Dolphins1392.183.48.7
10Detroit Lions138880.87.2
11Cincinnati Bengals1385.578.47.1
12Atlanta Falcons139588.56.5
13Houston Texans1390.585.64.9
14San Francisco 49ers1385.180.74.4
15Arizona Cardinals1486.382.63.7
16Cleveland Browns1376.272.63.6
17Pittsburgh Steelers13103.9100.33.6
18New Orleans Saints1398.895.53.3
19Kansas City Chiefs1392.289.62.6
20New York Giants1388.186.51.6
 Avg Team 88.188.10
21Baltimore Ravens1394.597.5-3
22St. Louis Rams1484.788.5-3.8
23Philadelphia Eagles1383.891.1-7.3
24Carolina Panthers1385.995.2-9.3
25Tennessee Titans1381.792.7-11
26Chicago Bears1391103.4-12.4
27Minnesota Vikings1375.891.8-16
28Washington Redskins1389.2109.2-20
29Oakland Raiders1375.597.2-21.7
30Tampa Bay Buccaneers137899.8-21.8
31Jacksonville Jaguars1372.898.8-26
32New York Jets1367.8107.3-39.5

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Here’s why there is so much hope for a Dallas victory. They dominate in the stat most closely correlated with winning. A caveat, Dallas hasn’t faced Indianapolis like Phildelphia has, and replaces Green Bay with Chicago on their schedule. Both teams are Top 5 here and that would shrink the gap between the teams, although not eliminate it.

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. Here’s how the team’s square up in this metric.

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Rk TmANY/A ForANY/A AllowedDifferential
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RkTmANY/AANY/ADifferential
1Green Bay Packers8.95.93
2Denver Broncos7.95.12.8
3New England Patriots7.35.91.4
6Indianapolis Colts7.66.31.3
5Detroit Lions6.351.3
4Cleveland Browns6.14.81.3
7Buffalo Bills5.74.61.1
8Seattle Seahawks6.65.51.1
9Arizona Cardinals6.65.70.9
10Houston Texans6.760.7
11Dallas Cowboys7.46.80.6
13Miami Dolphins5.75.20.5
12Cincinnati Bengals6.25.70.5
14San Diego Chargers76.60.4
15Baltimore Ravens76.80.2
16San Francisco 49ers5.65.40.2
17Pittsburgh Steelers7.77.60.1
 Avg Team6.26.20
18Kansas City Chiefs5.96-0.1
19New York Giants66.2-0.2
20Atlanta Falcons6.97.2-0.3
21St. Louis Rams5.55.8-0.3
22Philadelphia Eagles6.16.5-0.4
23New Orleans Saints6.97.4-0.5
24Carolina Panthers5.76.4-0.7
25Tennessee Titans5.56.4-0.9
26Minnesota Vikings4.66-1.4
27Chicago Bears5.97.4-1.5
28Tampa Bay Buccaneers5.26.8-1.6
29Washington Redskins67.9-1.9
30Oakland Raiders4.67-2.4
31Jacksonville Jaguars4.17-2.9
32New York Jets3.97.6-3.7

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Again, we see that Philadelphia’s success has so much to do with their special teams prowess. When that isn’t clicking, they tend to look closer to last week than their good weeks.

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Week 13 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”.

[MEDIA:1441961]Want a visual as to the stark difference between early 2014 Dallas and right now Dallas?

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COWBOYSOffense DVOADefense DVOAST DVOATotal DVOA
Value13.3%10.2%0.6%3.6%
Team Rank6th28th13th13th
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EAGLESOffense DVOADefense DVOAST DVOATotal DVOA
Value-2.6%-7.2%9.0%13.0%
Team Rank16th8th1st7th
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DVOA is the lone metric used here in the notebook that incorporates special teams play. As such, Philadelphia’s league-leading unit pushes them ahead of Dallas in the overall rankings. It would be foolish to call their success here a fluke, and this only emphasizes the importance of Dallas locking down their return game, which is the primary factor in their rating here. Fortunately, Dallas gets both Jeff Heath and Tyler Patmon back, two key pieces of their coverage units. Also, Dwayne Harris is starting to resemble 2013 Dwayne Harris for the last three games. Could this be the week he breaks one (that isn’t called back by penalty)?

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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.

\r\n

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.

\r\n\r\n

Summary

\r\n

\r\n

There isn’t much more to say. This game will likely determine which of the two teams wins the East, and which one will likely be watching the playoffs despite a quality season.

\r\n
\r\n
\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"

Leading up to the Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, there were more than a handful of media members proclaiming that the short week Dallas faced would have no adverse effect on their performance. The Cowboys, after all, played on a short week for Thanksgiving every year, and historically perform rather well. The opponent would also be playing on a short week and as such, there was no inherent disadvantage for the Cowboys. A few astute observers countered with several key points to offer up a reason why the situation was a bit unfair to the Cowboys. For one, the Cowboys played on Sunday Night, prior to the midday game on Thursday. No team has had to play a Thursday night game following a Sunday night game this season. Secondly, the night game, was on the road. Dallas rarely plays a road game prior to Thanksgiving, and even more rare is it the late afternoon game. Those scenarios have happened before, but never have they played a Sunday Night road game prior to the Thanksgiving matchup.

Even with those scheduling quirks working against them, that in and of itself would not be enough to hamstring the Cowboys the way it did that day. Until you include the fact that Tony Romo, who has to take a Torodol shot prior to every game since midseason, was unable to take one for this game. Romo’s performance was an outlier on the 2014 season. He wanted no parts of any type of contact, and it greatly affected the Cowboys offense. He would often fall down in the pocket with the nearest defender still a yard or two away from getting to him. That of course, doesn’t excuse the season-worst performance of the offensive line. However, it could have contributed to a mediocre-at-best defense pressing things, and losing their gap integrity and tackling techniques. Those slip-ups are inexcusable though, and must also be corrected. Dallas will have plenty of rest prior to Sunday Night’s rematch, but will the other things that went horribly wrong, be corrected? If so, than the battle should be an equal fight. And if it’s an equal fight, than the Advanced Stats should lend us some insight as to who is the better team.

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 picture hasn’t changed much. Dallas is still currently on the outside looking in. They lose a three-way tiebreaker with Seattle and Detroit. Fortunately, all it takes is a win against the Eagles and not only will they be in position, but they’ll hold the advantage for the third spot in the conference. Here’s a look at the numbers that say it is more than possible. It’s probable.

As was the case two weeks ago, Dallas is meeting an opponent with a higher functioning offense than the one they possess. However, just as was the case before, the defensive advantage, despite all of their issues, lies with Dallas. As was the case in the Seattle game last week, Philadelphia’s challenge is if their offense struggles to gain first downs, they put their defense in a no-win situation. No rest, constantly on the field. That’s what Dallas will try their best to utilize to their advantage.

It feels good to return to the throne, Dallas is once again leading the league in third down conversion rate. Dallas was highly successful on third downs last week against the Bears, in part because they were so good at getting in manageable down/distance situations. Dallas only had one third-down situation longer than 3rd and 6 before they salted the game away. Romo was crisp on third down passes, completing eight of nine attempts.

This of course, is stemming the tide from the last month, as Dallas had been operating near league-bottom in third down conversions. The reason for the failures could have everything to do with the offense becoming highly predictable. As Blogging The Boys points out in this great write-up, Dallas’ commitment to the run has resulted in opponents knowing what Dallas will do based on down and distance. To wit:

Here’s why there is so much hope for a Dallas victory. They dominate in the stat most closely correlated with winning. A caveat, Dallas hasn’t faced Indianapolis like Phildelphia has, and replaces Green Bay with Chicago on their schedule. Both teams are Top 5 here and that would shrink the gap between the teams, although not eliminate it.

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?

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.

Again, we see that Philadelphia’s success has so much to do with their special teams prowess. When that isn’t clicking, they tend to look closer to last week than their good weeks.

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”.

DVOA is the lone metric used here in the notebook that incorporates special teams play. As such, Philadelphia’s league-leading unit pushes them ahead of Dallas in the overall rankings. It would be foolish to call their success here a fluke, and this only emphasizes the importance of Dallas locking down their return game, which is the primary factor in their rating here. Fortunately, Dallas gets both Jeff Heath and Tyler Patmon back, two key pieces of their coverage units. Also, Dwayne Harris is starting to resemble 2013 Dwayne Harris for the last three games. Could this be the week he breaks one (that isn’t called back by penalty)?

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.

There isn’t much more to say. This game will likely determine which of the two teams wins the East, and which one will likely be watching the playoffs despite a quality season.

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