Toxic Events Improve Some, But Backups Can't Lead Dallas To Victory

In our Week 16 look at the Toxic Events from the Cowboys 16-6 loss to Buffalo, we see that there isn't always a parrelel between explosive plays and points.

Cowboys fans might've felt like they were grasping at a final straw entering Sunday's contest in Buffalo. They drew the short one, in multiple ways. Kellen Moore was named the new starter for Dallas, but the results were eerily similar to the previous attempts at backup quarterbacking.  The Backup Quarterback Theorem is pretty straight forward. Outside of young guys who are being groomed as heir apparents, backup quarterbacks aren't going to win very many games in the long run. Sure, you might be able to bubble up and get a surprise win here or there, but for the most part the team with the better quarterback will win the game and rarely is that the guy who wasn't good enough to start somewhere else.

No, it's not impossible. In-game replacements for injury will often times stun the opposing defense. The offensive coordinator knows exactly what the backup does well, and doesn't, while the opposition has no clue about their tendencies. NFL teams usually use the last four games of a team to study up and prepare their gameplans; but if there's no tape it becomes that much harder. First appearances, and first starts normally work out favorably, or at least competitively. As the backup plays more, though, teams can quickly hone in on their weaknesses and tendencies, because the arsenal is pretty limited. They are, after all, backups in a league devoid of enough quality players  for each team to even have a franchise QB.

There are exceptions, of course. Situations where the starter isn't a franchise guy, that moving to a backup isn't a death sentence. There's no real difference between Brian Hoyer and TJ Yates, Nick Foles and Case Keenum. But in Dallas, the difference between Tony Romo and the pupu platter de jour of Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore is more like a gulf. Of Mexico.

Not only is Romo a much better quarterback than this group, he's also a better offensive coordinator than Scott Linehan, and better at reading defensive fronts than two-time Pro Bowler Travis Frederick. When Romo goes down, the "Romo Friendly" offense which had outsiders scoffing at the notion, couldn't be more obvious.

Kellen Moore can't fill those shoes, just like his two predecessors. In hindsight, the trigger on Brandon Weeden was probably pulled too early. The trade for Matt Cassel was probably one of desperation, similar to the trading for Roy Williams half a decade ago. Fans shouldn't make the mistake, though, of thinking that Weeden's performance in Houston the last two weeks means much of anything. Being an in-game replacement is what Weeden does well; he's done it in Dallas. As for their thumping of Tennessee in Week 16, fans should note that he was facing.. you guessed it... another backup quarterback. This time, the backup quarterback for the team who is likely going to have the number one pick in April's draft. After having the second overall pick in last year's draft, and then firing their coach midseason. The Titans are a giant cluster, playing out the string. Let's not break out the annointing oil on Weeden just yet.

As for Moore, his limitations were on full display. Yes, he does have some touch on his passes, but he was wildly erratic and inaccurate on Sunday. 13 for 31 for 186 yards isn't going to win anyone a multitude of games anytime soon. The Bills had half of game of tape on Moore to study, that's it. His arm does not look strong enough to compete at an NFL level, just like the reports said. At this point, he doesn't look savvy enough to be any type of future backup solution. The Cowboys were able to make some big plays, more than in recent games but nowhere near what's needed to be a quality offense. More importantly, they weren't able to capitalize on those big plays on the rare occasions they happened. Here's a look at the Toxic Events Ledger for the game:

______TOXIC EVENTS LEDGER______

TeamEventLedger
DAL 1 3-6-DAL 34 (11:50) (Shotgun) K.Moore pass deep right to B.Butler pushed ob at BUF 39 for 27 yards (C.Graham). Caught along sideline at BUF 43. DAL +1
DAL 1 3-6-BUF 45 (4:24) (Shotgun) D.McFadden left end to BUF 32 for 13 yards (R.Brooks). DAL +2
BUF 1 1-10-BUF 40 (2:45) (Shotgun) K.Williams right tackle to DAL 34 for 26 yards (A.Hitchens, B.Jones). DAL +1
DAL 2 3-7-DAL 35 (13:30) (Shotgun) K.Moore pass short middle to C.Beasley to BUF 40 for 25 yards (N.Robey). Caught at DAL 40, crossing to left. DAL +2
DAL 2 2-9-BUF 43 (7:35) (Shotgun) K.Moore pass short middle to B.Butler pushed ob at BUF 9 for 34 yards (B.Rambo). Caught at BUF 33, crossing to left. DAL +3
BUF 2 3-13-DAL 45 (1:10) (Shotgun) T.Taylor pass deep left to S.Watkins to DAL 8 for 37 yards (B.Jones). Caught at DAL 10. DAL +2
DAL 2 (:08) (Shotgun) T.Taylor pass short right intended for C.Hogan INTERCEPTED by D.Olatoye at DAL -5. Touchback. DAL +3
BUF 3 2-16-DAL 35 (8:57) (Shotgun) T.Taylor scrambles left end pushed ob at DAL 22 for 13 yards (T.Mitchell). DAL +2
DAL 3 1-10-DAL 30 (5:32) D.McFadden left guard pushed ob at BUF 42 for 28 yards (C.Graham). DAL +3
BUF 3 (3:18) K.Moore pass short left intended for B.Butler INTERCEPTED by A.Tarpley (L.McKelvin) at BUF 17. A.Tarpley pushed ob at DAL 46 for 37 yards (D.McFadden). DAL +2
DAL 3 (2:01) (Shotgun) T.Taylor pass short left to K.Williams to DAL 24 for 20 yards (B.Church). FUMBLES (B.Church), RECOVERED by DALB.Carr at DAL 19. B DAL +3
DAL 4 2-15-DAL 45 (14:54) R.Turbin up the middle to BUF 44 for 11 yards (R.Brooks, C.Graham). DAL +4
BUF 4 1-10-BUF 12 (13:57) (Shotgun) K.Williams right end to BUF 22 for 10 yards (B.Carr; S.Lee). DAL +3
BUF 4 1-10-BUF 30 (3:25) (Shotgun) M.Gillislee up the middle to BUF 45 for 15 yards (B.Jones, D.Lawrence). DAL +2
BUF 4 2-5-50 (2:34) (Shotgun) M.Gillislee right tackle for 50 yards, TOUCHDOWN. Key block: C.Hogan DAL +1
BUF 4 (2:20) J.Gay kicks 55 yards from BUF 35 to DAL 10. L.Whitehead to DAL 25 for 15 yards (A.Tarpley). FUMBLES (A.Tarpley), RECOVERED by BUF-A.Dixon at DAL 26. EVEN

____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.”</p>

TOXIC EVENTS IN RELATION TO SCORING

TeamEventDallas ScoreBuffalo Score
DAL 1 3-6-DAL 34 (11:50) (Shotgun) K.Moore pass deep right to B.Butler pushed ob at BUF 39 for 27 yards (C.Graham). Caught along sideline at BUF 43. 0 0

 DAL

(9:45) D.Bailey 46 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-L.Ladouceur, Holder-C.Jones. 3 0
DAL 1 3-6-BUF 45 (4:24) (Shotgun) D.McFadden left end to BUF 32 for 13 yards (R.Brooks). 3 0
BUF 1 1-10-BUF 40 (2:45) (Shotgun) K.Williams right tackle to DAL 34 for 26 yards (A.Hitchens, B.Jones). 3 0
 BUF (:51) (Shotgun) K.Williams up the middle for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN. 3 6
DAL 2 3-7-DAL 35 (13:30) (Shotgun) K.Moore pass short middle to C.Beasley to BUF 40 for 25 yards (N.Robey). Caught at DAL 40, crossing to left. 3 6
DAL 2 2-9-BUF 43 (7:35) (Shotgun) K.Moore pass short middle to B.Butler pushed ob at BUF 9 for 34 yards (B.Rambo). Caught at BUF 33, crossing to left. 3 6
 DAL (5:29) D.Bailey 22 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-L.Ladouceur, Holder-C.Jones. 6 6
BUF 2 3-13-DAL 45 (1:10) (Shotgun) T.Taylor pass deep left to S.Watkins to DAL 8 for 37 yards (B.Jones). Caught at DAL 10. 6 6
DAL 2 (:08) (Shotgun) T.Taylor pass short right intended for C.Hogan INTERCEPTED by D.Olatoye at DAL -5. Touchback. 6 6
BUF 3 2-16-DAL 35 (8:57) (Shotgun) T.Taylor scrambles left end pushed ob at DAL 22 for 13 yards (T.Mitchell). 6 6
 BUF (6:21) D.Carpenter 32 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-G.Sanborn, Holder-C.Schmidt. 6 9
DAL 3 1-10-DAL 30 (5:32) D.McFadden left guard pushed ob at BUF 42 for 28 yards (C.Graham). 6 9
BUF 3 (3:18) K.Moore pass short left intended for B.Butler INTERCEPTED by A.Tarpley (L.McKelvin) at BUF 17. A.Tarpley pushed ob at DAL 46 for 37 yards (D.McFadden). 6 9
DAL 3 (2:01) (Shotgun) T.Taylor pass short left to K.Williams to DAL 24 for 20 yards (B.Church). FUMBLES (B.Church), RECOVERED by DALB.Carr at DAL 19. B 6 9
DAL 4 2-15-DAL 45 (14:54) R.Turbin up the middle to BUF 44 for 11 yards (R.Brooks, C.Graham). 6 9
BUF 4 1-10-BUF 12 (13:57) (Shotgun) K.Williams right end to BUF 22 for 10 yards (B.Carr; S.Lee). 6 9
BUF 4 1-10-BUF 30 (3:25) (Shotgun) M.Gillislee up the middle to BUF 45 for 15 yards (B.Jones, D.Lawrence). 6 9
BUF 4 2-5-50 (2:34) (Shotgun) M.Gillislee right tackle for 50 yards, TOUCHDOWN. Key block: C.Hogan 6 16
BUF 4 (2:20) J.Gay kicks 55 yards from BUF 35 to DAL 10. L.Whitehead to DAL 25 for 15 yards (A.Tarpley). FUMBLES (A.Tarpley), RECOVERED by BUF-A.Dixon at DAL 26. 6 16

The Cowboys had an explosive play on their opening drive, but the drive fizzled and they had to settle for a Dan Bailey field goal. Buffalo, however, turned their first explosive play into a touchdown near the end of the first quarter. Dallas wasted their next explosive play, when the normally reliable Dan Bailey couldn't navigate the December winds in Buffalo and left a 50 yard attempt accurate but short. It was just Bailey's second miss on the entire 2015 season as he prepares for his first (and long overdue) Pro Bowl appearance. The Cowboys went three-for-three in drives with explosive plays, but this time penalties did them in. They'd make it four-for-four in drives with explosive plays, but again had to settle for a field goal. Having four drives in a half with explosive plays is exactly what you want. It's an abject failure to only score six points out of those drives. Dallas' defense thwarted Buffalo's next explosive play, a 37-yard completion to Sammy Watkins with their own Toxic Play, an interception in the end zone.

That's two interceptions in consecutive weeks by roster churn players. Last week, Terrance Mitchell  got his first career pick after being on the practice squad just a few weeks and being called up after the release of Tyler Patmon. Sunday, Deji Olatoye got his first career pick, in the end zone, stealing a scoring opportunity away from Buffalo.

In the second half, Buffalo flipped the script on Dallas, owning the Toxic Events ledger. They, however, capitalized on their opportunities, scoring 10 points off of them. A Tyrod Taylor scramble when Dallas had Buffalo in 2nd and 16 kept a drive going that eventually ended up in a field goal. They then cancelled a Dallas explosive play, but making a red zone interception of Kellen Moore. Dallas couldn't turn a recovered fumble into anything, and late in the game, Buffalo had an explosive run, followed by the dagger, a 50 yard touchdown jaunt by Mike Gillislee that pushed the margin to 10 points with just over two minutes left.

Buffalo evened the Toxic Ledger with a fumble recovery of Lucky Whitehead miscue on a punt return, ending the remote chance of a furious finish that was never going to happen anyway.


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