Cowboys Big Stats: 3rd Downs And Toxic Events

In a 60-minute game, it's easy to lose track of the plays that truly matter. Here's a look at the key moments of the game that shaped Dallas' 38-27 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Once again, Dallas has returned to the Payback Well of Whoopings Past. Two weeks after being dismantled in front of the country, the Cowboys returned the favor to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night, taking control of the NFC East race with a 38-27 victory in Pennsylvania. The win moves Dallas to 10-4 on the season while knocking Philadelphia down to 9-5 on the year. Dallas was able to race out to an early 21-0 lead, on the back of all three units imposing their will on the Eagles.

On the very first play of the game, Dallas eviscerated the one true advantage Philadelphia had entering the contest; their return game. On the strength of that aspect, Philly had the best Special Teams DVOA in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Dallas’ kicker Dan Bailey launched a perfect kick high into the air and bounced it well in front of return-man, Josh Huff. Due to the kick’s height, the Cowboys coverage team was able to reach the ball when the Eagles did, and Teams Ace C.J. Spillman was able to come away with the ball.

That launched the Cowboys offense from within the red zone, and they quickly turned the opportunity into points, that quickly turned into a 21-0 lead. The impetus for the quick start could easily be identified, continuing drives and aggressive plays.


Both Dallas’ offense and defense shined in third down situations. The final stats on the game weren’t as becoming, but the margin for victory was built on these plays. Here’s a look at the third down opportunities on offense for Dallas.

QtrPlayDrive Ended In
13-6-PHI 14 (14:13) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short middle to T.Williams to PHI 6 for 8 yards (C.Williams)Touchdown, 2 plays later, Murray run from 1 yard out.
13-7-DAL 15 (10:33) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep middle to J.Witten to DAL 36 for 21 yards (N.Allen). 
13-5-DAL 41 (9:06) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short left to J.Witten to PHI 42 for 17 yards (M.Jenkins). 
13-3-PHI 23 (6:17) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short left to J.Witten ran ob at PHI 19 for 4 yards (N.Allen).Touchdown, 6 plays later, Romo 4 yds to Bryant
23-10-PHI 30 (12:58) (Shotgun) T.Romo sacked at PHI 38 for -8 yards (F.Cox). 
 PENALTY on PHI-C.Williams, Illegal Contact, 5 yards, enforced at PHI 30 - No Play.Touchdown, 2 plays later, Romo 26 yards to Bryant

And here lies one of the major stories from the game. Dallas converted just one third down opportunity via an actual play after the first quarter. That was the 25 yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant early in the fourth quarter. Other than that, Dallas only converted two other opportunities, via defensive penalty by the Eagles.

On defense, Dallas was able to control the Eagles on their first three posessions. The “longside” kick by Bailey thwarted the first drive before it started. Then, on each of the next two drives, Dallas forced Philadelphia to send it’s defense back on the field after 1:26 of game clock had elapsed. Two three and outs meant that Dallas used 12 minutes of the first quarter and another three of the second before Philadelphia could get their offense in gear.

Although the third down pendulum would swing towards the norm as the game progressed (Dallas ended up 5 for 13 on offense, and allowing Philly 5 for 11), the early success gave Dallas the lead it would later need, as well as the effect of wearing down the Eagles defense for later in the game.


In the Advanced Stats Notebook, a recent addition has been the Toxic Differentials. It’s basically a formula that looks at the turnover battle, combined with big plays on either side of the ball. Big plays are defined here as any run longer than 10 yards, and any pass longer than 20 yards. SportingCharts, the entity that keeps track of these numbers is a little stingier on pass plays, requiring 25 yards to qualify.

Dallas entered the game 9th in the league, with a -1 turnover margin and +10 big play differential. The Eagles were 22nd, -6 in turnovers and -1 in big plays. The trend continued in a big way on Sunday night. Using the 20 yard plateau for pass plays, here’s a look at the Toxic Events:

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
DAL4Q: 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

The ebb and flow of the game is all right there in the big plays. For all those stat aficionados that claim you can’t quantify momentum; meet your counter argument. Dallas raced out to their huge lead on the back of 4 big plays with no response from the Eagles. The Eagles then righted their ship and scored 24 straight points to take the lead via their own set of 4 Toxic Events. Dallas then regained control with 8 of the final 9 Toxic Events to win the game in comfortable fashion.

For a team that is now 10-0 when their franchise quarterback is in more than reasonable health, the big play is a key indication of just how strong they are. At the moment, they appear capable of beating any team in the NFL.

Be on the lookout for this week's Advanced Stats Notebook, where we'll check in on the Cowboys season ranks, as well as their upcoming opponents, the Indianapolis Colts.

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