Cowboys Advanced Stats Notebook for Lions

The Cowboys and the Lions square off in the classic battle of dynamic offense against stout defense. But who has the edge on the flip side? The answer might surprise.

And then there were 12.

The NFL Playoffs are here and for the first time in five years, the Dallas Cowboys have been invited to participate. In an intersection of narratives, Dallas might be the hardest team to put a finger on in the tournament. On one hand, teams without playoff experience rarely have success in the tournament. For a team with a head coach with a storied history of game management errors, the inexperience factor looms large. On the other hand, no team has greater motivation from the “no one believes in us” mantra. Often cited, rarely true… the great team that no one believes in resides in Valley Ranch as an entire nation of media and fans alike dismiss Dallas’ worthiness to be considered on par with teams such as Seattle, New England and Green Bay.

That’s where statistical measures enter the picture. On the year, Dallas has proven more than worthy of being considered a top team. While, for the most part, the defense has done just enough, a potent offense has carried the burden to a 12-4 mark. Two separate 6-1 streaks on the season lay proof to that. However it is the play during the last month of the season that proves Dallas is ready for the biggest stage. Dallas’ 4-0 mark in response to entering the month in a tenuous-at-best situation shows their mettle. Not only has the team registered 165 points over those four games, but the defense has been playing as a Top 10 unit by many measures over the same stretch. When people talk about a team playing above their normal levels during the playoffs, this is what the precursor looks like.

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.

Here’s a look at where Dallas stands at the end of the regular season, as well as their Wild Card foe the Detroit Lions.

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 has been surging over the past several weeks. As the season moved along, Week 1 became less and less influential in describing the team that is playing now. That game’s DVOA is now “weighted” at only 9%, While Weeks 14-17 will be weighted at a full 100%.



DVOA has never liked Dallas as much as it does right now. Their formula clearly sees Seattle (who has now won the DVOA crown three years running, first team since 92-94 Cowboys) and New England as the upper echelon, and Green Bay, Baltimore, Denver and Dallas as the next tier of contenders. Four weeks ago, Dallas’ Weighted DVOA was at 5.9%, while Detroit’s was at 5.8%. Clearly, Dallas ended the season on a much better level than the Lions did.

Standard Statistics

Dallas Cowboys

Off Yds / GOff Pts / GDef Yds / GDef Pts / G
Total 383.6 29.2 355.1 22.0
Rank 7th t4th 19th 15th

 

Detroit Lions

Off Yds / GOff Pts / GDef Yds / GDef Pts / G
Total 340.8 20.1 300.9 17.6
Rank19th 22nd 2nd 3rd

Dallas’ D has allowed just under 20 points per game in December. Prior, they were giving up 22.8 a contest. That’s an entire scoring drive difference per matchup. Their yards-allowed-per-game has dropped from 364 to just 328. Both of those totals extrapolated over the course of 16 games would rank Dallas’ D as Top 10 in each category. The Detroit D on the other hand has resided there all season, in the Top 5 as a matter of fact.

Third Down Conversions



Dallas had a chance to finish the year in the top spot but failed in their passive-aggressive way they ended the Washington game (which also cost Ton Romo a completion percentage mark above 70%). Meanwhile Detroit ranks as the worst third-down offense of the playoff teams.



Meanwhile, at long last the Dallas D was able to surpass its 2013 self on third down defense. Again, a matchup of one of the league’s best against one of the league’s worst shapes up.

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.”



Dallas’ turnover differential in the last four weeks has been +9, while their big play differential has also been +9. Here’s a look at the six NFC teams and what they’ve accomplished for the season, and in the last four games.

TeamToxic Differential 2014Toxic Diff Last 4 Weeks
Seattle76+22
Green Bay37+9
Dallas23+18
Carolina12>+15*
Arizona-9-10
Detroit28+7


Seattle sets the pace, with Dallas and Carolina close behind. It’s no surprise that these teams along with Pittsburgh are the hottest in the league entering the playoffs.

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 Aikman.com for more.



The Aikman Efficiency rankings give Dallas a clear advantage, though both teams are ranked in the Top 10.

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 Packers16109.98227.9
2Dallas Cowboys16110.988.522.4
3Denver Broncos16101.382.418.9
4Seattle Seahawks1695.180.414.7
5New England Patriots1697.58413.5
6Buffalo Bills168674.511.5
7Cincinnati Bengals1684.275.88.4
8Indianapolis Colts1696.888.78.1
9San Francisco 49ers1686.379.56.8
10Houston Texans1686.480.46
11Kansas City Chiefs1692.286.45.8
12Pittsburgh Steelers16103.298.34.9
13Atlanta Falcons1693.488.94.5
14New Orleans Saints169792.94.1
15Detroit Lions1685.9832.9
17New York Giants1692.289.42.8
16Miami Dolphins1692.589.72.8
18San Diego Chargers1693.491.32.1
19Baltimore Ravens169190.60.4
 Avg Team1687.187.10
20Cleveland Browns1672.874.1-1.3
21Carolina Panthers1686.289.5-3.3
22Arizona Cardinals1681.886-4.2
23Philadelphia Eagles1684.891.6-6.8
24St. Louis Rams1684.991.8-6.9
25Tennessee Titans168193.6-12.6
26Minnesota Vikings1679.292.8-13.6
27Chicago Bears1687.3101.7-14.4
28Washington Redskins1688.8108.3-19.5
29Tampa Bay Buccaneers1675.297.4-22.2
30Oakland Raiders1674.496.9-22.5
31New York Jets1675.1101.5-26.4
32Jacksonville Jaguars167299.1-27.1

Dallas’ strong end to the season has catapulted them to second overall in passer rating differential. Four weeks into the season they were 15th, they were as low as 13th after the loss to Arizona. Now, they own one of the most elite differentials in one of the most correlative categories.

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
1Green Bay Packers8.45.52.9
2Denver Broncos7.752.7
3Dallas Cowboys86.21.8
4Seattle Seahawks6.751.7
5Buffalo Bills5.64.51.1
6New England Patriots6.95.91
7Indianapolis Colts7.36.31
8Houston Texans6.35.40.9
9Detroit Lions6.15.20.9
10Baltimore Ravens6.76.10.6
11Pittsburgh Steelers7.87.20.6
12Cleveland Browns5.650.6
13Cincinnati Bengals5.85.30.5
14New York Giants6.76.30.4
15San Francisco 49ers5.65.20.4
16Kansas City Chiefs65.80.2
 Avg Team6.16.10
17Carolina Panthers5.85.80
18Arizona Cardinals6.26.20
19San Diego Chargers6.46.5-0.1
20New Orleans Saints6.86.9-0.1
21Miami Dolphins5.86-0.2
22Atlanta Falcons6.77.1-0.4
23Philadelphia Eagles6.16.7-0.6
24St. Louis Rams5.56.3-0.8
25Tennessee Titans5.56.5-1
26Minnesota Vikings4.96.1-1.2
27Chicago Bears5.47.3-1.9
28Tampa Bay Buccaneers4.86.7-1.9
29Washington Redskins5.97.9-2
30New York Jets4.87-2.2
31Oakland Raiders4.67.1-2.5
32Jacksonville Jaguars47-3

Here, Dallas is right on the precipice of the elite. In third, Dallas trails Green Bay and Denver b a healthy margin, but they enjoy a similar cushion over their wild card foe Detroit.

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 17.0% 4.1% 0.9% 6.7%
Team Rank 4th 22nd 13th 6th
LIONSOffense DVOADefense DVOAST DVOATotal DVOA
Value -3.7% -13.8% -5.7% 4.4%
Team Rank 19th 3rd 31st14th

DVOA is the lone metric used here in the notebook that incorporates special teams play. Detroit’s special teams have been awful, and that is most likel attributed to several missed kicks over the course of the season.

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.

Detroit has the advantage on defense by a lot, but not as much as Dallas’ advantage on offense. 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

The picture should be pretty clear. Over the course of the season, Dallas’ offense is a much more finely tuned engine than Detroit, but the Lions defense is just as elite. The difference comes in the way that Dallas defense ended the season on an upswing, while Detroit is sporting the same offense, even with the return over Calvin Johnson.




CowboysHQ Top Stories

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Off Yds / GOff Pts / GDef Yds / GDef Pts / G
Total 383.6 29.2 355.1 22.0
Rank 7th t4th 19th 15th
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\r\n Detroit Lions \r\n
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Off Yds / GOff Pts / GDef Yds / GDef Pts / G
Total 340.8 20.1 300.9 17.6
Rank19th 22nd 2nd 3rd

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Dallas’ D has allowed just under 20 points per game in December. Prior, they were giving up 22.8 a contest. That’s an entire scoring drive difference per matchup. Their yards-allowed-per-game has dropped from 364 to just 328. Both of those totals extrapolated over the course of 16 games would rank Dallas’ D as Top 10 in each category. The Detroit D on the other hand has resided there all season, in the Top 5 as a matter of fact.

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Third Down Conversions

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Dallas had a chance to finish the year in the top spot but failed in their passive-aggressive way they ended the Washington game (which also cost Ton Romo a completion percentage mark above 70%). Meanwhile Detroit ranks as the worst third-down offense of the playoff teams.

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Meanwhile, at long last the Dallas D was able to surpass its 2013 self on third down defense. Again, a matchup of one of the league’s best against one of the league’s worst shapes up.

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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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Dallas’ turnover differential in the last four weeks has been +9, while their big play differential has also been +9. Here’s a look at the six NFC teams and what they’ve accomplished for the season, and in the last four games.\r\n

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TeamToxic Differential 2014Toxic Diff Last 4 Weeks
Seattle76+22
Green Bay37+9
Dallas23+18
Carolina12>+15*
Arizona-9-10
Detroit28+7


Seattle sets the pace, with Dallas and Carolina close behind. It’s no surprise that these teams along with Pittsburgh are the hottest in the league entering the playoffs.

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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:1458064] Go To Aikman.com for more.



The Aikman Efficiency rankings give Dallas a clear advantage, though both teams are ranked in the Top 10.

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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 Packers16109.98227.9
2Dallas Cowboys16110.988.522.4
3Denver Broncos16101.382.418.9
4Seattle Seahawks1695.180.414.7
5New England Patriots1697.58413.5
6Buffalo Bills168674.511.5
7Cincinnati Bengals1684.275.88.4
8Indianapolis Colts1696.888.78.1
9San Francisco 49ers1686.379.56.8
10Houston Texans1686.480.46
11Kansas City Chiefs1692.286.45.8
12Pittsburgh Steelers16103.298.34.9
13Atlanta Falcons1693.488.94.5
14New Orleans Saints169792.94.1
15Detroit Lions1685.9832.9
17New York Giants1692.289.42.8
16Miami Dolphins1692.589.72.8
18San Diego Chargers1693.491.32.1
19Baltimore Ravens169190.60.4
 Avg Team1687.187.10
20Cleveland Browns1672.874.1-1.3
21Carolina Panthers1686.289.5-3.3
22Arizona Cardinals1681.886-4.2
23Philadelphia Eagles1684.891.6-6.8
24St. Louis Rams1684.991.8-6.9
25Tennessee Titans168193.6-12.6
26Minnesota Vikings1679.292.8-13.6
27Chicago Bears1687.3101.7-14.4
28Washington Redskins1688.8108.3-19.5
29Tampa Bay Buccaneers1675.297.4-22.2
30Oakland Raiders1674.496.9-22.5
31New York Jets1675.1101.5-26.4
32Jacksonville Jaguars167299.1-27.1
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Dallas’ strong end to the season has catapulted them to second overall in passer rating differential. Four weeks into the season they were 15th, they were as low as 13th after the loss to Arizona. Now, they own one of the most elite differentials in one of the most correlative categories.

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
1Green Bay Packers8.45.52.9
2Denver Broncos7.752.7
3Dallas Cowboys86.21.8
4Seattle Seahawks6.751.7
5Buffalo Bills5.64.51.1
6New England Patriots6.95.91
7Indianapolis Colts7.36.31
8Houston Texans6.35.40.9
9Detroit Lions6.15.20.9
10Baltimore Ravens6.76.10.6
11Pittsburgh Steelers7.87.20.6
12Cleveland Browns5.650.6
13Cincinnati Bengals5.85.30.5
14New York Giants6.76.30.4
15San Francisco 49ers5.65.20.4
16Kansas City Chiefs65.80.2
 Avg Team6.16.10
17Carolina Panthers5.85.80
18Arizona Cardinals6.26.20
19San Diego Chargers6.46.5-0.1
20New Orleans Saints6.86.9-0.1
21Miami Dolphins5.86-0.2
22Atlanta Falcons6.77.1-0.4
23Philadelphia Eagles6.16.7-0.6
24St. Louis Rams5.56.3-0.8
25Tennessee Titans5.56.5-1
26Minnesota Vikings4.96.1-1.2
27Chicago Bears5.47.3-1.9
28Tampa Bay Buccaneers4.86.7-1.9
29Washington Redskins5.97.9-2
30New York Jets4.87-2.2
31Oakland Raiders4.67.1-2.5
32Jacksonville Jaguars47-3
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Here, Dallas is right on the precipice of the elite. In third, Dallas trails Green Bay and Denver b a healthy margin, but they enjoy a similar cushion over their wild card foe Detroit.

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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
Value17.0%4.1%0.9%6.7%
Team Rank4th22nd13th6th
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LIONSOffense DVOADefense DVOAST DVOATotal DVOA
Value-3.7%-13.8%-5.7%4.4%
Team Rank19th3rd31st14th
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DVOA is the lone metric used here in the notebook that incorporates special teams play. Detroit’s special teams have been awful, and that is most likel attributed to several missed kicks over the course of the season.

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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.

Detroit has the advantage on defense by a lot, but not as much as Dallas’ advantage on offense. 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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The picture should be pretty clear. Over the course of the season, Dallas’ offense is a much more finely tuned engine than Detroit, but the Lions defense is just as elite. The difference comes in the way that Dallas defense ended the season on an upswing, while Detroit is sporting the same offense, even with the return over Calvin Johnson.

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And then there were 12.

The NFL Playoffs are here and for the first time in five years, the Dallas Cowboys have been invited to participate. In an intersection of narratives, Dallas might be the hardest team to put a finger on in the tournament. On one hand, teams without playoff experience rarely have success in the tournament. For a team with a head coach with a storied history of game management errors, the inexperience factor looms large. On the other hand, no team has greater motivation from the “no one believes in us” mantra. Often cited, rarely true… the great team that no one believes in resides in Valley Ranch as an entire nation of media and fans alike dismiss Dallas’ worthiness to be considered on par with teams such as Seattle, New England and Green Bay.

That’s where statistical measures enter the picture. On the year, Dallas has proven more than worthy of being considered a top team. While, for the most part, the defense has done just enough, a potent offense has carried the burden to a 12-4 mark. Two separate 6-1 streaks on the season lay proof to that. However it is the play during the last month of the season that proves Dallas is ready for the biggest stage. Dallas’ 4-0 mark in response to entering the month in a tenuous-at-best situation shows their mettle. Not only has the team registered 165 points over those four games, but the defense has been playing as a Top 10 unit by many measures over the same stretch. When people talk about a team playing above their normal levels during the playoffs, this is what the precursor looks like.

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.

Here’s a look at where Dallas stands at the end of the regular season, as well as their Wild Card foe the Detroit Lions.

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 has been surging over the past several weeks. As the season moved along, Week 1 became less and less influential in describing the team that is playing now. That game’s DVOA is now “weighted” at only 9%, While Weeks 14-17 will be weighted at a full 100%.


DVOA has never liked Dallas as much as it does right now. Their formula clearly sees Seattle (who has now won the DVOA crown three years running, first team since 92-94 Cowboys) and New England as the upper echelon, and Green Bay, Baltimore, Denver and Dallas as the next tier of contenders. Four weeks ago, Dallas’ Weighted DVOA was at 5.9%, while Detroit’s was at 5.8%. Clearly, Dallas ended the season on a much better level than the Lions did.

 


Dallas’ D has allowed just under 20 points per game in December. Prior, they were giving up 22.8 a contest. That’s an entire scoring drive difference per matchup. Their yards-allowed-per-game has dropped from 364 to just 328. Both of those totals extrapolated over the course of 16 games would rank Dallas’ D as Top 10 in each category. The Detroit D on the other hand has resided there all season, in the Top 5 as a matter of fact.

Dallas had a chance to finish the year in the top spot but failed in their passive-aggressive way they ended the Washington game (which also cost Ton Romo a completion percentage mark above 70%). Meanwhile Detroit ranks as the worst third-down offense of the playoff teams.


Meanwhile, at long last the Dallas D was able to surpass its 2013 self on third down defense. Again, a matchup of one of the league’s best against one of the league’s worst shapes up.

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.”

Dallas’ turnover differential in the last four weeks has been +9, while their big play differential has also been +9. Here’s a look at the six NFC teams and what they’ve accomplished for the season, and in the last four games.

Seattle sets the pace, with Dallas and Carolina close behind. It’s no surprise that these teams along with Pittsburgh are the hottest in the league entering the playoffs.

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.



The Aikman Efficiency rankings give Dallas a clear advantage, though both teams are ranked in the Top 10.

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.


Dallas’ strong end to the season has catapulted them to second overall in passer rating differential. Four weeks into the season they were 15th, they were as low as 13th after the loss to Arizona. Now, they own one of the most elite differentials in one of the most correlative categories.

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. 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.


Here, Dallas is right on the precipice of the elite. In third, Dallas trails Green Bay and Denver b a healthy margin, but they enjoy a similar cushion over their wild card foe Detroit.

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. Detroit’s special teams have been awful, and that is most likel attributed to several missed kicks over the course of the season.

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.

Detroit has the advantage on defense by a lot, but not as much as Dallas’ advantage on offense. 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.

>

The picture should be pretty clear. Over the course of the season, Dallas’ offense is a much more finely tuned engine than Detroit, but the Lions defense is just as elite. The difference comes in the way that Dallas defense ended the season on an upswing, while Detroit is sporting the same offense, even with the return over Calvin Johnson.



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