“The Cowboys outgained the Giants by a mile; they controlled the clock and still lost!”
Well, those aren’t always the greatest indicators of being “dominant” in a football game.
Over the years, Toxic Differential tracking has evolved as a great descriptive tool for explaining wins and losses. A Toxic Event is basically a big play in a game; passes over 25 yards, runs over 10 yards, turnovers and for my purposes, special teams touchdowns.
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). It basically goes a step further than just saying “Whomever wins the turnover battle normally wins the game”.
In fact, in keeping track of this differential for Cowboys games over the last two years, the ledger has done a pretty good job of explaining the ebbs and flows of the majority of the contests. The reasoning is pretty simple.
Say a team completes five consecutive plays, for gains of 5 yards each; totaling 25 yards. That means there are also 5 opportunities for something to go wrong on the way to that 25 yards. Big plays win games, because they earn a lot of yardage without multiple risks attached to them. There can only be one shot at an interception, one fumble, one sack, etc etc.
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.”
Here’s a look at the ledger for the Cowboys 27-20 loss to the Giants this past Sunday, and it clearly shows the “pace” of the game.
|DAL||1 1-15-DAL 27 (9:40) L.Whitehead left end ran ob at DAL 42 for 15 yards (L.Collins). End around.||DAL +1|
|DAL||1 1-10-DAL 42 (9:11) J.Randle right end pushed ob at NYG 45 for 13 yards (J.Thomas).||DAL +2|
|NYG||2 2-1-DAL 34 (12:21) (No Huddle) O.Darkwa left tackle to DAL 24 for 10 yards (R.McClain, B.Church)||DAL +1|
|NYG||2 2-1-DAL 15 (11:10) (No Huddle, Shotgun) O.Darkwa left guard for 15 yards, TOUCHDOWN.||EVEN|
|DAL||2 2-8-DAL 42 (10:23) (Shotgun) M.Cassel pass deep left to T.Williams ran ob at NYG 31 for 27 yards.||DAL +1|
|DAL||2 2-10-NYG 45 (8:26) J.Randle left tackle to NYG 34 for 11 yards (K.Wynn).||DAL +2|
|DAL||2 1-10-DAL 45 (4:24) D.McFadden left end pushed ob at NYG 40 for 15 yards (B.Meriweather).||DAL +3|
|DAL||2 1-10-NYG 40 (3:42) M.Cassel pass deep left to J.Witten pushed ob at NYG 5 for 35 yards (B.Meriweather).||DAL +4|
|NYG||2 2-10-NYG 33 (1:33) (Shotgun) E.Manning pass short middle to D.Harris to DAL 29 for 38 yards (B.Carr).||DAL +3|
|NYG||2 1-10-NYG 25 (:16) (Shotgun) S.Vereen up the middle to NYG 39 for 14 yards (B.Jones, S.Lee).||DAL +2|
|NYG||3 2-9-50 (11:34) (Shotgun) M.Cassel pass short right intended for T.Williams INTERCEPTED by D.Rodgers-Cromartie at NYG 42. D.RodgersCromartie for 58 yards, TOUCHDOWN.||DAL +1|
|DAL||3 1-10-DAL 31 (9:14) M.Cassel pass deep left to B.Butler pushed ob at NYG 43 for 26 yards (J.Hosley).||DAL +2|
|NYG||3 2-7-NYG-40 (7:54) M.Cassel pass deep left intended for T.Williams INTERCEPTED by B.Meriweather at NYG 1. B.Meriweather to NYG 1 for no gain (T.Williams).||DAL +1|
|NYG||3 3-5-NYG 6 (6:33) (Shotgun) E.Manning pass deep right to R.Randle pushed ob at 50 for 44 yards (B.Carr).||EVEN|
|NYG||3 1-10-50 (5:55) (No Huddle) S.Vereen right tackle pushed ob at DAL 11 for 39 yards (C.White).||NYG +1|
|DAL||3 2-8-DAL 23 (2:35) D.McFadden right end to DAL 45 for 22 yards (L.Collins, K.Wynn). NYG-J.Thomas was injured during the play.||EVEN|
|NYG||4 1-15-NYG 39 (15:00) (Shotgun) M.Cassel pass deep middle intended for B.Butler INTERCEPTED by D.Rodgers-Cromartie at NYG 22. D.Rodgers-Cromartie to NYG 34 for 12 yards (L.Collins).||NYG +1|
|DAL||4 3-9-NYG 46 (8:03) (Shotgun) M.Cassel pass deep right to T.Williams pushed ob at NYG 25 for 21 yards (T.Wade) [R.Ayers Jr.].||EVEN|
|DAL||4 1-10-NYG 25 (7:25) (Shotgun) M.Cassel pass deep right to D.Street for 25 yards, TOUCHDOWN [G.Selvie].||DAL +1|
|NYG||4 D.Bailey kicks 65 yards from DAL 35 to NYG 0. D.Harris for 100 yards, TOUCHDOWN||EVEN|
|NYG||4 4-3-NYG 32 (1:36) B.Wing punts 53 yards to DAL 15, Center-Z.DeOssie. C.Beasley MUFFS catch, RECOVERED by NYG-M.White at DAL 16.||NYG +1|
First off, you can see the reason that Dallas’ brass was quick to say Matt Cassel would start until Tony Romo was ready to return. The big play returned to the Cowboys offense in a big way. Even with their lack of turnovers forced, Dallas tallied 10 Toxic Events for the game. They had just two against the Patriots, five against the Saints and only four against Atlanta.
The evenness in Toxic Differential does a much better job of explaining how the Cowboys lost a close one, than the standard volume stats of total yards and time of possession. Here, you can clearly see that the teams were evenly matched, with a slight edge going to the Giants; just as a one-score loss would indicate. If you’d like to take it even further, add a Toxic Event for the bogus OPI that negated Darren McFadden’s 31-yard touchdown on a drive that resulted in a field goal instead. On fourth and 8 late in the game, Dallas attempts a field goal to tie instead of going for it when they needed 7 points. Ledger changes, Cole Beasley isn’t trying to do too much when fielding a punt because the score is tied instead of being down 7… but we digress.
Dallas has lost the Toxic Differential battle in each of their four consecutive losses, and will need to come out on the right side of the equation against the Seahawks in order to stop the bleeding.