Dallas Cowboys Lose To Philadelphia Eagles As Toxic Events Narrate Sixth Straight Loss

Toxic Events were everywhere in Sunday Night's matchup against Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Dallas was on the wrong side of the equation. Here's how it all went down.

You think the Dallas Cowboys offense did enough to win the game last night, don’t you?

In their 33-27 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Eagles (see Fish's game story here and his Premium column from an unfortunate locker room here), Dallas’ O did perform much better than they did against Seattle. They scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, 3 for 3 on scoring on each possession. Yet, it still wasn’t enough to win the game before going to overtime. The reason? The Cowboys lost the battle of the Toxic Events, and when you lose it as badly as Dallas did, it’s almost impossible to win a game.

There are numerous game theories that get bandied about, several of which hold pertinence. Sacks and penalties kill scoring opportunities. It’s extremely difficult to win a game with a backup quarterback when the opposition has film on them in your offense and a chance to prepare for the fil-in.  The team with the superior talent at the quarterback position will usually win a game without crazy circumstances being inserted. Add the Toxic Differential Ledger to this list.

Last week, there was such a small amount of Toxic Events, Dallas winning the battle 4-2 over Seattle but losing the game should be seen as a one-off. This week, it’s amazing Dallas was even able to send the game into overtime. While the offense wasn’t doing nearly enough, the defense was allowing the Eagles offense to rack up Toxic Event after Event. Here are the results:

______TOXIC EVENTS LEDGER______

 

TeamToxic EventLedger
DAL 1-10-DAL 18 (11:18) D.McFadden left tackle to DAL 31 for 13 yards (N.Carroll). DAL +1
DAL 1 1-10-DAL 31 (10:38) (Shotgun) M.Cassel pass deep left to D.Bryant to PHI 18 for 51 yards (J.Hicks). DAL +2
PHI 1 3-18-PHI 12 (5:51) (No Huddle, Shotgun) S.Bradford pass deep left to M.Austin to PHI 39 for 27 yards (M.Claiborne). DAL +1
PHI 2 2-7-PHI 49 (11:05) (No Huddle) R.Mathews left end to DAL 30 for 21 yards (B.Jones). EVEN
PHI 2 1-10-DAL 18 (10:30) (No Huddle, Shotgun) R.Mathews left end to DAL 6 for 12 yards (A.Hitchens). PHI +1
DAL 2 3-2-DAL 38 (6:14) D.McFadden left end to PHI 45 for 17 yards (C.Maragos). EVEN
DAL 2 2-10-PHI 45 (5:24) (Shotgun) D.McFadden right guard to PHI 29 for 16 yards (C.Maragos, F.Cox). DAL +1
DAL 2 1-25-PHI 44 (3:57) M.Cassel scrambles right end to PHI 33 for 11 yards (C.Maragos). DAL +2
PHI 3 2-7-PHI 8 (10:58) (Shotgun) D.Murray up the middle to PHI 19 for 11 yards (J.Wilcox) DAL +1
PHI 3 1-10-PHI 19 (10:26) (No Huddle, Shotgun) S.Bradford pass deep right to D.Murray to DAL 37 for 44 yards (A.Hitchens). EVEN
PHI 3 1-10-DAL 34 (8:58) (No Huddle, Shotgun) S.Bradford pass short right to J.Matthews pushed ob at DAL 6 for 28 yards (J.Wilcox). PHI +1
DAL 4 3-8-DAL 31 (14:16) (Shotgun) M.Cassel pass short middle to C.Beasley to PHI 39 for 30 yards (M.Jenkins). EVEN
PHI 4 (12:59) (Shotgun) M.Cassel pass short right intended for D.McFadden INTERCEPTED by J.Hicks at PHI 33. J.Hicks for 67 yards, TOUCHDOWN. 2 PHI +1
DAL 4 C.Sturgis kicks 68 yards from PHI 35 to DAL -3. L.Whitehead to PHI 24 for 79 yards (E.Biggers) EVEN
PHI 4 2-10-PHI 30 (9:45) (No Huddle, Shotgun) R.Mathews up the middle to PHI 41 for 11 yards (J.Wilcox). PHI +1
PHI 4 1-10-PHI 41 (9:17) (No Huddle, Shotgun) S.Bradford pass deep right to Z.Ertz to DAL 32 for 27 yards (J.Heath). PHI +2
DAL 4 2-2-DAL 28 (6:41) D.McFadden left end pushed ob at DAL 40 for 12 yards (N.Carroll) PHI +1
PHI 4 2-1-PHI 29 (2:47) (No Huddle, Shotgun) S.Bradford pass short right to J.Matthews ran ob at DAL 37 for 34 yards. PHI +2
PHI 5 2-14-PHI 28 (13:25) (No Huddle, Shotgun) D.Murray right end to PHI 48 for 20 yards (J.Heath) PHI +3
PHI 5 1-10-DAL 41 (11:08) (Shotgun) S.Bradford pass deep right to J.Matthews for 41 yards, TOUCHDOWN. PHI +4

Dallas ended the first half up +2 in T.E.’s, with a tie game at 7. After the half though, the tide turned and Dallas was clearly playing in “catchup” mode for the remainder of the half. Philadelphia took the lead on four different occasions in the second half, forcing Dallas to claw their way back in.

____TOXIC EVENTS DEFINITION____

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”.

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. <a href=" http://www.sportingcharts.com/nfl/stats/toxic-differential/2014/" target="_blank">As SportingCharts says</a>, “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.”</p>

TOXIC EVENTS IN RELATION TO SCORING

Here’s a look at the scoring plays, integrated into the Ledger, so we can get a clear view of how these big plays led to the scoring.

TeamToxic EventPHI ScoreDAL Score
DAL 1-10-DAL 18 (11:18) D.McFadden left tackle to DAL 31 for 13 yards (N.Carroll). 0 0
DAL 1 1-10-DAL 31 (10:38) (Shotgun) M.Cassel pass deep left to D.Bryant to PHI 18 for 51 yards (J.Hicks). 0 0
DAL Cowboys 1 6:44 C.Beasley 5 yd. pass from M.Cassel (D.Bailey kick) (11-93, 5:46) 0 7
PHI 1 3-18-PHI 12 (5:51) (No Huddle, Shotgun) S.Bradford pass deep left to M.Austin to PHI 39 for 27 yards (M.Claiborne). 0 7
PHI 2 2-7-PHI 49 (11:05) (No Huddle) R.Mathews left end to DAL 30 for 21 yards (B.Jones). 0 7
PHI 2 1-10-DAL 18 (10:30) (No Huddle, Shotgun) R.Mathews left end to DAL 6 for 12 yards (A.Hitchens). 0 7
PHI Eagles 2 (9:01) D.Murray 1 yd. run (C.Sturgis kick) (13-80, 4:17) 7 7
DAL 2 3-2-DAL 38 (6:14) D.McFadden left end to PHI 45 for 17 yards (C.Maragos). 7 7
DAL 2 2-10-PHI 45 (5:24) (Shotgun) D.McFadden right guard to PHI 29 for 16 yards (C.Maragos, F.Cox). 7 7
DAL 2 1-25-PHI 44 (3:57) M.Cassel scrambles right end to PHI 33 for 11 yards (C.Maragos). 7 7
PHI 3 2-7-PHI 8 (10:58) (Shotgun) D.Murray up the middle to PHI 19 for 11 yards (J.Wilcox) 7 7
PHI 3 1-10-PHI 19 (10:26) (No Huddle, Shotgun) S.Bradford pass deep right to D.Murray to DAL 37 for 44 yards (A.Hitchens). 7 7
PHI 3 1-10-DAL 34 (8:58) (No Huddle, Shotgun) S.Bradford pass short right to J.Matthews pushed ob at DAL 6 for 28 yards (J.Wilcox). 7 7
PHI Eagles 3 (8:36) R.Mathews 6 yd. run (C.Sturgis kick) (7-95, 2:39) 14 7
DAL Cowboys 3 (2:04) C.Beasley 17 yd. pass from M.Cassel (D.Bailey kick) (10-80, 6:32) 14 14
DAL 4 3-8-DAL 31 (14:16) (Shotgun) M.Cassel pass short middle to C.Beasley to PHI 39 for 30 yards (M.Jenkins). 14 14
PHI 4 (12:59) (Shotgun) M.Cassel pass short right intended for D.McFadden INTERCEPTED by J.Hicks at PHI 33. J.Hicks for 67 yards, TOUCHDOWN. 2 21 14
DAL 4 C.Sturgis kicks 68 yards from PHI 35 to DAL -3. L.Whitehead to PHI 24 for 79 yards (E.Biggers) 21 14
DAL Cowboys 4 (10:52) D.Bryant 18 yd. pass from M.Cassel (D.Bailey kick) (3-24, 1:55) 21 21
PHI 4 2-10-PHI 30 (9:45) (No Huddle, Shotgun) R.Mathews up the middle to PHI 41 for 11 yards (J.Wilcox). 21 21
PHI 4 1-10-PHI 41 (9:17) (No Huddle, Shotgun) S.Bradford pass deep right to Z.Ertz to DAL 32 for 27 yards (J.Heath). 21 21
PHI Eagles 4 (7:22) C.Sturgis 31 yd. Field Goal (10-67, 3:30) 24 21
DAL 4 2-2-DAL 28 (6:41) D.McFadden left end pushed ob at DAL 40 for 12 yards (N.Carroll) 24 21
DAL Cowboys 4 2:53 D.Bailey 41 yd. Field Goal (10-57, 4:29) 24 24
PHI 4 2-1-PHI 29 (2:47) (No Huddle, Shotgun) S.Bradford pass short right to J.Matthews ran ob at DAL 37 for 34 yards. 24 24
PHI Eagles 4 1:46 C.Sturgis 53 yd. Field Goal (6-45, 1:07) 27 24
DAL Cowboys 4 0:02 D.Bailey 44 yd. Field Goal (9-54, 1:44) 27 27
PHI 5 2-14-PHI 28 (13:25) (No Huddle, Shotgun) D.Murray right end to PHI 48 for 20 yards (J.Heath) 27 27
PHI 5 1-10-DAL 41 (11:08) (Shotgun) S.Bradford pass deep right to J.Matthews for 41 yards, TOUCHDOWN. 33 27

Look at all of the missed opportunities for Dallas. The Cowboys first touchdown came on a drive with two Toxic Events. On back-to-back plays, Dallas had a big run (McFadden for 13) and a big passing play (Bryant for 51). Those got them into the red zone and they completed the mission with 7 points.

Philadelphia couldn’t capitalize on their first T.E., which is understandable as it didn’t get them past midfield. They did however complete two big Ryan Mathews runs on their first drive of the second quarter and tied the score at 7 apiece.

Here’s how a football game gets lost inside the first half. On the ensuing possession, Dallas had two Toxic Events, long runs by McFadden of 16 and 17 yards to take them inside Philadelphia’s 30. Teams that make it inside the opponent’s 40 (the Green Zone), must score at least a field goal. On first and 10, Matt Cassel spins away from a blitzer that flew past McFadden, reset and aired out a pass to Terrance Williams in the end zone. Williams puts his hands in the DB’s back, muting his jump and secured the pass… and the offensive pass interference penalty.  

An illegal shift penalty on the next play pushes them back another five yards. A third toxic event on the drive, an 11 yard scramble by Cassel lets them escape 1st and 25, only to have a strip sack push them out of field goal range despite recovering the fumble.

On the Eagles first possession of the second half, the Cowboys had them pinned deep in their own territory. However, on the first play from the five, Sean Lee got injured again, and would miss the rest of the game. The flood gates opened.

Philadelphia had an amazing three T.E.s to help march them down the field, including a 44 yard wheel route taking advantage of Anthony Hitchens taking over for Lee at the Will backer position. DeMarco Murray started his revenge tour on this drive, with an 11 yard run before that catch. A big play to Jordan Matthews took them inside the 10 and set them up for their first lead.

The Cowboys would respond with a touchdown drive devoid of any T.E.s, coming close on a 22 yard completion to Cole Beasley. A 17-yard throw to Beasley would knot the game at 14.

From there, Toxic Events exploded all over the place. For the second time, Dallas had a drive with a T.E. that didn’t end in them scoring points. Even worse, points ended up on the other side of the ledger. Early in the fourth, on 3rd and 8, Cassel found Beasley over the middle and the diminutive receiver turned it into a 30 yard gain. Two plays later, though, Cassel was picked off by rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks. Hicks returned it 67 yards for the pick-six, again putting Dallas behind by 7.

The Cowboys response was emphatic, a 79 yard return by Lucky Whitehead turned into a 21-21 tie when Cassel found Dez Bryant on a pseudo-Hail Mary in the back of the end zone.

The teams traded Toxic Events and field goals for four straight possessions, leading to the overtime session. Philadelphia won the toss (which somehow, has become the focus of many) and added two additional Toxic Events to the ledger. The final blow, a 41 yard catch-and-run touchdown by Jordan Matthews sealed the deal.

Philadelphia scored on every single drive in which they had a toxic event. Six in total, accounted for four touchdowns and two field goals. On the flip side, Dallas didn’t score on two drives in which they had the valuable big plays, scoring once without one and never getting the opportunity in overtime because their defense couldn’t prevent Philly from adding to their total. To most observers, the game “felt” like Dallas was just hanging around, waiting to be put out of their misery and the ledger shows that a little better than the raw stats. Philadelphia was the better team on Sunday night.

                                       

Big plays are the true narrative of NFL football these days. They returned to the Cowboys offense on Sunday night, 8 in total. Unfortunately, they gave one back with the pick-six while the defense gave up 11 of their own. That’s no recipe for victory and it smells a lot like six losses in a row.


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