Stop if you’ve heard this before. The Cowboys offense was near impossible to contain this weekend.
The Cowboys exposed the Indianapolis Colts 42-7, on their way to clinching the NFC East Division for the first time since 2009. For the ninth time on the season, Dallas was able to score 30 or more, setting the standard for the NFL in 2014. New England is next at eight games. In addition, Dallas passed the 40-burger threshold for the second time in three weeks, bringing their total points scored over that span to 121 points; high mark for the league as well. To achieve this as the season is winding down and teams are doing their best to get in gear for the playoffs is all the more remarkable.
How has Dallas been doing it? They’ve been dominating two key areas; third down conversions and Toxic Events.
Last week, Dallas dominated third down conversions early in the game as they raced to an early 21-0 cushion against the Eagles. Things evened out, but Dallas was able to withstand Philadelphia’s run of Toxic Events (big plays, this will be explained later) and third down conversions to again extend the lead to a safe distance. This week, Dallas never let Indianapolis off the mat in either statistical category. The domination was from the opening 8 minute 21 second drive to the final whistle.
Against Philadelphia, Dallas scored on every drive but one in which they avoided committing an offensive penalty (there was a sack on that drive, however). Against Indianapolis there were nearly similar results. Of the five drives where Dallas didn’t score, three had either a turnover (Randle fumble) a sack, or an offensive penalty. A fourth was at the end of the game, leading 42-7, when they called three consecutive runs. All in all, when Dallas doesn’t suffer a breakdown of their own doing, they are turning those opportunities into points.
This, of course, comes with third down efficiency. Dallas started the game four-for-four in third down efficiency on offense as they raced to a 28-0 lead. Of course, one was a bit of fortune, as a taunting penalty after a third-down stop kept Dallas’ initial drive going. This was against a defense that entered the contest leading the league in third down conversion defense. Here’s a look at the four plays.
|Quarter||Play||Drive Ended In:|
|1||3-2-DAL 39 (12:30) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short left to J.Witten pushed ob at DAL 41 for 2 yards (L.Landry).|
|1||3-11-IND 48 (10:05) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short left to L.Dunbar to DAL 48 for -4 yards (J.Freeman).|
|PENALTY on IND-J.Freeman, Taunting, 15 yards, enforced at DAL 48.||Touchdown, 6 plays later, Romo to Williams 9 yards.|
|2||3-1-IND 26 (15:00) J.Randle right guard to IND 24 for 2 yards (E.Walden; D.Jackson).||Touchdown, next play, Romo to Beasley 24 yards.|
|2||3-1-IND 10 (7:24) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short right to J.Witten to IND 1 for 9 yards (D.Jackson).||Touchdown, next play, Murray for 1 yard.|
On the flip side, Dallas’ much-maligned third down defense came to play. They stopped Indianapolis on four of their first five third down attempts while getting extremely lucky with a botched fake punt pass that was dropped by an open receiver. The Colts finished converting 38% of their opportunities (5 for 13).
Here’s a look at the offense’s and defense’s rankings for the season in general.
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. Using the 20 yard plateau for pass plays, here’s a look at the Toxic Events from the Colts massacre:
|DAL||1Q: 2-11-DAL 40 (11:28) T.Romo scrambles right end ran ob at IND 47 for 13 yards.||DAL +1|
|DAL||1Q: 4-11-IND 19 (4:36) (Punt formation) P.McAfee pass incomplete deep right to D.McDonald. Pass thrown off fake punt incomplete at the Colts 35 on a "go"||DAL +2|
|DAL||1Q: 2-5-DAL 30 (2:17) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep left to D.Bryant to IND 46 for 24 yards (V.Davis).||DAL +3|
|DAL||2Q: 1-10-IND 24 (14:19) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short middle to C.Beasley for 24 yards, TOUCHDOWN. Pass complete on a "skinny" post.||DAL +4|
|DAL||2Q: 2-9-DAL 34 (12:30) T.Romo pass short right to J.Witten to IND 46 for 20 yards (M.Adams). Pass complete on a "corner" route.||DAL +5|
|IND||2Q: 1-10-IND 39 (:55) (Shotgun) A.Luck pass short left to D.Herron to DAL 39 for 22 yards (B.Church).||DAL +4|
|DAL||2Q: 2-2-DAL 22 (:17) (Shotgun) A.Luck pass deep middle intended for C.Fleener INTERCEPTED by J.Wilcox at DAL -9. J.Wilcox to DAL 37 for 46 yards||DAL +5|
|DAL||3Q: 2-6-IND 24 (14:39) (No Huddle, Shotgun) A.Luck pass short right intended for R.Wayne INTERCEPTED by A.Hitchens (N.Hayden) at IND 27. A.Hitchens||DAL +6|
|DAL||3Q: 2-11-IND 25 (4:48) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep middle to J.Witten for 25 yards, TOUCHDOWN. Pass complete on a "seam" route.||DAL +7|
|DAL||4Q: 2-12-IND 38 (14:19) (Shotgun) T.Romo scrambles up the middle to IND 31 for 7 yards (M.Adams).||DAL +8|
|IND||4Q: 3-11-IND 27 (12:58) J.Randle right tackle to IND 14 for 13 yards (D.Butler). FUMBLES (D.Butler), RECOVERED by IND-D.Jackson at IND 15.||DAL +7|
|DAL||4Q: 3-6-IND 43 (10:19) (Shotgun) B.Weeden pass deep right to T.Williams for 43 yards, TOUCHDOWN. Pass complete on a "fly" pattern.||DAL +8|
|IND||4Q: 1-10-IND 41 (1:34) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck pass short left to H.Nicks to DAL 38 for 21 yards (B.Carr).||DAL +9|
|DAL||4Q: 1-10-IND 48 (1:25) M.Hasselbeck sacked at IND 40 for -8 yards (O.Scandrick). FUMBLES (O.Scandrick), RECOVERED by DAL-G.Selvie at DAL 49.||DAL +10|
Toxic Events for Dallas has skyrocketed over the last three weeks. Using SportingCharts.com’s measures, Dallas was at +5 entering the Bears game, ranking them 11th in the league. Three games later, Dallas is up to +21, moving them to eighth place overall on the season. Here are the current standings:
It can be said, that the last three games have been the most important of the season. In the game against Chicago, Dallas found itself down a game in the standings to Philadelphia. A loss would have put the Eagles in a position to clinch the NFC East the following week with a win. Even with the victory over the Bears, a loss to the Eagles would have put Dallas in a most desperate position. Finally, Sunday’s tilt with Indianapolis was the team’s best performance of the year when they had a chance to clinch the division and the playoff spot themselves.
It’s obvious that the Cowboys are an offensive force to be reckoned with. However, they will only go as far as the defense can compliment the offense and not allow other potent teams to run toe-to-toe. This is how you avoid late-game mishaps, clock management errors and the like. Eliminate the importance of any mistakes by playing sound football in key areas. When it comes to third-down conversions and big plays, Dallas is dominating. This recipe should serve them very well, whether home or on the road in the playoffs.
*Here's Fish taking us inside the Cowboys room for the story of the gameplan for the playoff-clincher - and Romo's "stolen'' jersey. Premium stuff!
*Reflections on that big day ... Cowboys Chronology of The Clinch.
*Should Dallas rest in Washington? A Cowboys Crunchtime Podcast on the subject.
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