Dallas Cowboys Toxic Events Perfectly Describe Outcome Again; This Time In Victory

Can a game be described by just the big plays? You know how this is going to turn out ... yet, Cowboys fan, you're intrigued ...

Finally.

Tony Romo returned - with a cake, a speech, a cigar and a win, as Fish describes in his Cowboys Premium column - and all is right with the world. Well, at least for four days. Dallas’ entire team was clearly inspired by the return of the team’ franchise quarterback in the 24-14 win at Miami. (Our gamer here.) Despite facing a more-than-formidable defensive front, Dallas was able to move the ball through the air and through the ground, and for the first time in forever the defense stood tall in the fourth quarter.

Romo didn’t play perfectly, but his mastery of the offense was apparent in the return to life of both Terrance Williams and Gavin Escobar. Escobar had only been targeted one time since Week 5; but had two crucial catches and almost made a diving catch in the end zone on a third target. Meanwhile, Terrance Williams had been ranking at the bottom of the league in terms of catch percentage but hauled in all four targets on Sunday, including a body-catch TD and a beautiful toe-tap along the sidelines for a first-down catch.

The effort was there from everyone, and it sure seemed to be inspired by the return of the leader. Dallas once again found itself on the positive side of the Toxic Events Ledger, even with Romo shaking off the rust a bit. Here’s a look at the game broken down by big plays.  

____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. 

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.”

______TOXIC EVENTS LEDGER______

 This was an interesting game from the T.E. point of view. Dallas controlled the scoreboard for the all of the game, never trailing, yet the Dolphins controlled the ledger up until Dallas salted the game away. At the half, Miami was at a +1 margin, but the difference never rose beyond two events.

TEAMEVENTLEDGER
MIA 1 1-10-MIA 27 (14:53) (Shotgun) L.Miller left guard to MIA 39 for 12 yards (J.Wilcox; B.Church). MIA +1
MIA 1 3-6 MIA 12 (1:23) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short left intended for D.Bryant INTERCEPTED by B.Grimes at MIA 1. B.Grimes to MIA 18 for 17 yards (D.McFadden). MIA +2
DAL 2 3-11-MIA 8 (15:00) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass short middle intended for G.Jennings INTERCEPTED by R.McClain at MIA 12, TOUCHDOWN. MIA +1
MIA 2 1-10-MIA 20 (14:55) E.Mitchell reported in as eligible. L.Miller left end to MIA 36 for 16 yards (J.Heath). MIA +2
DAL 2 1-10-DAL 36 (5:45) R.Turbin left tackle to MIA 47 for 17 yards (B.Grimes) MIA +1
DAL 2 3-10-MIA 31 (1:23) (No Huddle, Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep right to T.Williams for 31 yards, TOUCHDOWN. EVEN
MIA 2 1-15-MIA 41 (:55) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass deep right to J.Landry to DAL 12 for 47 yards (B.Jones). MIA +1
DAL 3 2-7-DAL 23 (14:22) D.McFadden right tackle to DAL 43 for 20 yards (K.Sheppard). EVEN
MIA 3 2-14-MIA 45 (12:22) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short middle intended for R.Turbin INTERCEPTED by N.Hewitt at MIA 43. MIA +1
MIA 3 3-6-DAL 29 (5:26) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass deep right to K.Stills for 29 yards, TOUCHDOWN. MIA +2
DAL 3 1-10-MIA 44 (1:44) D.McFadden right end to MIA 9 for 35 yards (R.Jones) MIA +1
DAL 4 3-14-DAL 9 (5:16) (Shotgun) D.McFadden left end to DAL 24 for 15 yards (M.Thomas). EVEN
DAL 4 1-10-DAL 44 (3:40) D.McFadden up the middle to MIA 45 for 11 yards (N.Hewitt). DAL +1
DAL 4 1-10-MIA 45 (2:54) D.McFadden up the middle to MIA 35 for 10 yards (K.Sheppard; B.Grimes). DAL +2

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.

TEAMEVENTDALMIA
MIA 1 1-10-MIA 27 (14:53) (Shotgun) L.Miller left guard to MIA 39 for 12 yards (J.Wilcox; B.Church). 0 0
MIA 1 3-6 MIA 12 (1:23) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short left intended for D.Bryant INTERCEPTED by B.Grimes at MIA 1. B.Grimes to MIA 18 for 17 yards (D.McFadden). 0 0
DAL 2 3-11-MIA 8 (15:00) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass short middle intended for G.Jennings INTERCEPTED by R.McClain at MIA 12, TOUCHDOWN. 7 0
MIA 2 1-10-MIA 20 (14:55) E.Mitchell reported in as eligible. L.Miller left end to MIA 36 for 16 yards (J.Heath). 7 0
DAL 2 1-10-DAL 36 (5:45) R.Turbin left tackle to MIA 47 for 17 yards (B.Grimes) 7 0
DAL 2 3-10-MIA 31 (1:23) (No Huddle, Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep right to T.Williams for 31 yards, TOUCHDOWN. 7 0
MIA 2 1-15-MIA 41 (:55) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass deep right to J.Landry to DAL 12 for 47 yards (B.Jones). 14 0
MIA 2 0:16 J.Cameron 12 yd. pass from R.Tannehill (A.Franks kick) (3-54, 0:52) 14 7
DAL 3 2-7-DAL 23 (14:22) D.McFadden right tackle to DAL 43 for 20 yards (K.Sheppard). 14 7
MIA 3 2-14-MIA 45 (12:22) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short middle intended for R.Turbin INTERCEPTED by N.Hewitt at MIA 43. 14 7
MIA 3 3-6-DAL 29 (5:26) (Shotgun) R.Tannehill pass deep right to K.Stills for 29 yards, TOUCHDOWN. 14 14
DAL 3 1-10-MIA 44 (1:44) D.McFadden right end to MIA 9 for 35 yards (R.Jones) 14 14
DAL 4 14:55 D.Bryant 16 yd. pass from T.Romo (D.Bailey kick) (8-80, 5:25) 21 14
DAL 4 9:09 D.Bailey 30 yd. Field Goal (7-10, 3:46) 24 14
DAL 4 3-14-DAL 9 (5:16) (Shotgun) D.McFadden left end to DAL 24 for 15 yards (M.Thomas). 24 14
DAL 4 1-10-DAL 44 (3:40) D.McFadden up the middle to MIA 45 for 11 yards (N.Hewitt). 24 14
DAL 4 1-10-MIA 45 (2:54) D.McFadden up the middle to MIA 35 for 10 yards (K.Sheppard; B.Grimes). 24 14

Miami failed to capitalize on their first event, but looking at the field position and the merit of it’s timeliness makes it of lesser impact. Their second T.E. actually kept points off the board for Dallas; in essence it was a scoring play for them.

Dallas capitalized soon after. Miami was backed up against their own end zone after their interception and blocking penalty, and Ro McClain’s interception was an easy walk in for the score and the early 7-0 lead. Ryan Tannehill eyed his receiver the entire way, and as he wound up his throwing motion, McClain slipped underneath the receiver for an easy Pick Six.

© Steve Mitchell | 2015 Nov 22 | USA Today

Miami again wasted their next T.E., failing to get any points after an explosive run from Lamar Miller. Dallas was handcuffed by field position the entire game. They didn’t have it and Miami had oodles of it, but it’s an important note here. Miami’s early Toxic Events happened on the rare occasions that they were pretty deep in their own territory and were plays that didn’t move them deep into Dallas’ side of the field.

Meanwhile, Dallas went on a long scoring drive, over 8 minutes on their next possession. A first-down Toxic Event run by newcomer Robert Turbin moved Dallas into the Dolphins half of the field. A few plays later Dallas would suffer huge penalties that put them in a 2nd and 27 situation. For most teams, this is the end of a drive; but with a truly elite quarterback that isn’t the case. We speak regularly about how offensive penalties and sacks are the death knell for offenses, but Tony Romo consistently escapes these situations.

© Steve Mitchell | 2015 Nov 22 | USA Today

Romo was sacked twice on this drive (one negated by a defensive penalty) and there were two penalties on the offensive line. Still, thanks to another Toxic Event, Dallas was able to score a touchdown when Romo found Terrance Williams for a 31 yard leaping body-catch and a 14-0 lead.

How did Miami close the gap before the half? A Toxic Event of course. With unde two minutes remaining, a 47-yard perfect strike from Ryan Tannehill to Jarvis Landry got Miami deep into Cowboys territory and they’d score a few plays after to narrow the margin to 14-7.

Dallas wasted their first Toxic Event to start the 3rd quarter as Darren McFadden’s 20-yard run took them well into Miami territory. How did they end up not scoring? Miami forced another turnover to squash the drive and keep points off the board once again.

The Dolphins would tie the score at 14 in the middle of the quarter when Tannehill would add an explosive play to the ledger, finding Kenny Stills for a 29 yard score.

From there, Dallas would dominate the rest of the game.  A huge McFadden 35-yard T.E. would get Dallas inside the Miami 10 and a few plays later Romo would find Dez Bryant in the back of the end zone to take the lead again, 21-14.  Dallas would methodically march down for a field goal without the help of any explosive plays, but then would have three T.E.’s on their final offensive possession to seal the win.

Once again, Toxic Events rule the day in a Cowboys game.


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