A lot has been made of the upcoming matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional round of the playoffs, and it’s got me thinking about the tangibles for each defense.
I’m of the mind that numbers matter in any contest. To quote Winston Churchill, “The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.” While I doubt the intended significance toward such a triviality as football, it does have a very relevant meaning. And that’s why we keep stats—to look back and see what has been done.
I like statistics because I can look back and see what was done in order to better gauge what will be done.
I’m also of the mindset that a particular stat—the QB rating—is somewhat useless when it comes to gauging a quarterback’s play. It has become something we look at often to see how a QB did in a game, but it being high or low has never been correlated directly with winning football games.
For instance, look at week 13 between the Cowboys and Giants. The Giants won the game but Tony Romo had a QB rating of 112.1.
For those that do not know, the QB rating is calculated based on completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions. It’s essentially a measure of efficiency and nothing more.
But as I stated, I believe it to be rather useless for determining a quarterback’s level of play. It is, however, a viable stat when trying to figure out what a defense can do and has done.
Consider my logic—a few good ways of labeling a defense successful is to look at how many yards per game they allow, how many third down conversions, how many yards per play they give up, how many touchdowns they allow, and how many interceptions they take. Most of which is factored into a QB rating calculation.
So I like to look at a teams schedule and see what kind of QB ratings they’ve allowed opposing quarterbacks to have. The truth is that while an efficient QB is great, e.g., Brett Favre only throwing for seven interceptions this season, I’d much rather have an effective QB. And that’s what this method is based on.
In the 2009 season the Vikings defense has allowed an average opposing QB rating of 90.8. That’s six games of 16 allowing a QB rating of over 100.
The Cowboys, in contrast, have allowed an average opposing rating of 82.8. That’s only two games of 17, including the wild card round, in which they allowed a rating over 100.
Both defenses are highly ranked against the run (Vikings 2nd, Cowboys 4th ). Both offenses rank well running the ball (Vikings 13th, Cowboys 7th).
It basically shows me that the Vikings are going to be in a tough spot trying to run against Dallas more so than Dallas will be stuffed by Minnesota. It’s a fair conclusion even considering that Adrian Peterson is a future Hall of Fame running back.
Everyone likes to say how versatile he is and there’s been references made that the Cowboys have to have three backs to equal what Minnesota has in just one, but it’s overlooked what impact that really has on the players.
Sure, Peterson is allowed to find a rhythm and ride it out being the primary back and getting 20+ carries a game, but that kind of running takes its toll. By the end of a game he’s tired. Even if he’s in a rhythm, he’s worn down from either running up and down the field, or fighting a tough defense for every yard. He does lead the league in no gain and negative yard runs this year.
Meanwhile the Cowboys have a better ranked rushing attack. Perhaps lending credit to the fact they have three guys who stay fresher during the course of a game.
What does it mean? The Vikings are going to have to rely on Brett Favre long before the Cowboys will be relying on Tony Romo. And that is when Romo is at his best—as a game manager, as opposed to a game winner.
History has shown that Favre struggles against Dallas anyway. History has shown that the Vikings struggle in home playoff games against Dallas. History has shown that teams on a late season winning streak go farther than teams wrapping up regulation under .500. The Cowboys went 3-0 the final three games of the season while the Vikings only went 1-2.
And since I predict the game will come down to how the quarterbacks play I’ll let you know how each defense has done.
Minnesota allows a higher QB rating, completion percentage, and average yards per completion. The Cowboys’ defense has one less sack over an extra game, and one less interception over an extra game.
It’s a game of numbers that these men play, and the numbers show that the Vikings will have their work cut out for them.
And finally, consider this—the Vikings are 8-0 at home this year and definitely have an advantage at home. Obviously they play better at home, but the Cowboys, this year, have played better on the road.
Cowboys Start 2-0, Will They Finally Make it Count?
Starting an NFL season 2-0 has always drawn headlines, and especially when it's as rare as it is for the Dallas Cowboys. The question now is if, unlike in years passed, the Cowboys are finally going to build something special on that solid foundation.
Over the last two weeks, wins against the New York Giants and Washington Redskins have given Dallas the doubly-good record of 2-0 both overall and in the NFC East. While neither team is seen as a contender this year, division games tend to go off script and be more competitive than what's on paper.
The Cowboys have handled their business so far this year and in impressive fashion. Can they keep it up?
Before 2019, Dallas has only had a 2-0 start three other times in the last 20 seasons. All of them occurred during Tony Romo's run as starting quarterback, but only once with Jason Garrett as head coach.
The most recent was in 2015. Coming on the heels of an impressive 12-4 finish in 2014 and the agony of the Dez Bryant "no catch" call in the playoffs, big things were expected in Dallas that year.
But even though the Cowboys moved to 2-0 with a Week 2 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, the loss of Tony Romo to a broken collarbone in that game torpedoed the season. Dallas had to trot out the feckless trifecta of Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassell, and Kellen Moore at QB the rest of the year and only won two more games.
The other 2-0 starts for Tony Romo's Cowboys came in consecutive years from 2007 to 2008, again at times when expectations were high for the team based on perceived talent and upward momentum. Neither ended the way we hoped.
Coming off Romo's ascension to starting QB in 2006 and a surprising run to the playoffs, the Cowboys were one of the NFL's best teams the following year. They posted a 13-3 record in the regular season and were the top seed in the NFC for the postseason.
But that beautiful run ended in bitter disappointment when Dallas, despite enjoying a bye week and home field advantage, got shocked by the visiting Giants in their first playoff game.
Much like the 2015 season, Dallas went into 2008 looking to take things to the next level after a tough postseason exit. They actually started the year 3-0 and were looking like contenders again.
But again like 2015, a Romo injury struck a major blow to the team's efforts. A finger injury suffered in a bad overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals would cause Tony to miss the next three games. Dallas went from 4-1 to 5-4 during that absence.
Unfortunately, Romo's return did not right the ship that year. The Cowboys would suffer a horrific 1-3 slide in December and ultimately finish 9-7 and just outside of the playoff bubble. The season was capped with a humiliating 44-6 loss in Philadelphia.
This brief history lesson may not mean much to some of you. After all, every season is its own story.
But while major media will bombard you with stats about how teams who start 2-0 typically have certain outcomes to their seasons, the Dallas Cowboys have often defied those odds. We've found creative ways to ruin hot starts and overcome bad ones over the last two decades.
What really strikes me about this 2019 season is the level of expectation and how it compares to 2007, 2008, and 2015. True, expectations are always high around here. But even the most objective onlookers couldn't help but have high hopes for the Cowboys in those years based on what had happened the previous season.
Between the strong play after adding Amari Cooper and advancing to the the second round of the 2018 playoffs, Dallas had good cause to expect big things this season. Their approach to offseason business, such as adding veterans Robert Quinn and Randall Cobb and locking up key players to lucrative business, suggested that the Cowboys were going all in to try and win a championship with this roster.
So far the hype has been validated. Say what you want about the opposition these first two weeks, but I go back to the well-established history of NFC East play and how the results have often defied logic. Funky things tend to happen in division games, but the Cowboys have handled their rivals so far as if they were any other NFL basement dwellers.
But while the 2-0 start and two divisions wins are a great base for the 2019 season, we have ample evidence of how askew things can go from here. Thankfully, Dak Prescott has already proven to have more durability than our last starting QB. But much like we saw in 2017, an injury at left tackle or some other key position can do its own damage.
While players like Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and others will likely have many more years to try and win in Dallas, this is still a critical year for Jason Garrett. Coaching on the final year of his contract, Garrett would likely not see a new one if the team has another collapse. How much disappointment the Jones family will stomach this year depends on the final result.
But if you've been following this team as long as I have, your feelings about this year likely transcend any single coach or player. You've been waiting almost 25 years now to see the Dallas Cowboys get back to glory, and right now feels like one of the best opportunities.
It's an exciting time, but that long wait also comes with a knowledge of past outcomes.
Hopefully, this year, the strong start is the beginning of something truly special.
Inside The Numbers: Everything Points to Cowboys Win vs Dolphins
On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys (2-0) welcome the Miami Dolphins (0-2) to AT&T Stadium for week three of the NFL season. This game features two teams that are trending in vastly different directions. The Dallas Cowboys are one of the hottest teams to start the season and look to be positioning themselves for a run at the Super Bowl. The Miami Dolphins are heading the other direction as one of the worst teams in the NFL and positioning themselves for an opportunity to land the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft next spring.
While there are things the Dallas Cowboys can clean up, this game has the makings of a blowout at home against a Dolphins team that has allowed 102 points in their first two games.
The Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins have only played 14 times in the course of their history, with each winning seven of those contests. The Cowboys are 2-0 in the Jason Garrett era against the Dolphins with the last win coming in November of 2015.
That win in 2015 would be the last time that Tony Romo would start and win a game for the Dallas Cowboys. The next week against the Carolina Panthers, Romo would be lost for the season.
Though the NFL prides itself as an "any given Sunday" league because of the parity between teams, this is one of those games that has a Dallas Cowboys blowout win written all over it.
With 66 points scored in two games, the Dallas Cowboys currently rank sixth in the NFL in points for. The top two teams in the league, the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots have each had a shot at the Dolphins. The Ravens scored 59 points in week one and the Patriots scored 43 in week two.
It stands to reason with Reshad Jones ruled out of Sunday's contest and Minkah Fitzpatrick now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers that the Dallas Cowboys have a shot to score 40 points in this game. There's no reason to believe the Cowboys won't at least hit their 33 points per game average through the first two games of the season. Anything less than that would be the result of them taking their foot off the gas after generating a decent-sized lead.
On the flip side, the Dolphins have only scored 10 points in 2019. That was back in week one against the Ravens. In week two, they were shut out by the Patriots, which led to a change at the quarterback position. Josh Rosen will now be starting for the Dolphins, but their problems go beyond quarterback play, though it hasn't been good either.
Offensive Success Rate
The Miami Dolphins have run the fewest plays in the league and have the worst yards per play average in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys average 7.6 yards per play, which is the best average in the league.
The Miami Dolphins have a league-worst offensive success rate of just 31%, per Sharp Football Stats. The league average success rate is 47%. Sharp Football Stats defines a successful play as one that gains at least "40% of yards-to-go on first down, 60% of yards-to-go on second down and 100% of yards-to-go on third or fourth down."
The Dallas Cowboys success rate of 57% is tied for first in the NFL through two weeks with the New England Patriots.
The Dolphins are going to have a really difficult time keeping up with the offensive efficiency of the Dallas Cowboys.
Going into week two, the Miami Dolphins have been very susceptible to the deep passing game. Now with 2018 first-round draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick off to Pittsburgh in a trade earlier this week, the Dolphins secondary just became even more suspect. In the first two weeks of the season, the Miami Dolphins have allowed Lamar Jackson and Tom Brady to complete 5 of 7 passes beyond 20 yards downfield for 207 yards and three touchdowns.
In week one of the season, Lamar Jackson averaged 16.2 yards per attempt on 20 attempts. 16.2!!! That's an insane number. Tom Brady, in week two, only averaged 9.4 yards per attempt against the Dolphins. That's also a really good number but was only good for fourth in the NFL in week two.
Under Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore the Dallas Cowboys haven't been shy about taking shots down the field in the passing game. Through two weeks, Dak Prescott's completed six passes beyond 20 yards downfield and has an adjusted completion percentage of 87.5%. He's been incredibly accurate throwing the ball deep and should have opportunities for more big plays against the 0-2 Dolphins.
Heading to week three, the Miami Dolphins have allowed the most rushing yards per game of any team in the NFL. Now some of that is due to getting behind really quickly and by a large number against the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. Though they've allowed a lot of yards, they've also allowed the most first downs by rush in the NFL with 21.
This bodes extremely well for a Dallas Cowboys offense that was able to build big leads against the New York Giants and Washington Redskins over the first couple of weeks. Those big leads in the second half allowed Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line to make their mark with the running game and grind out the clock.
Per Warren Sharp Football Stats, the Baltimore Ravens had a 54% rushing success rate against the Dolphins in week one. In week two, the New England Patriots had a rushing success rate of 60%. Both weeks were well above the average rushing success rate around the NFL.
Though the Dallas Cowboys rushing success rate is right at the league average of 47%, they're averaging 4.7 yards per carry and should see their success rate climb in week three against the Dolphins.
Among quarterbacks with at least 20 dropbacks in 2019, both newly named starter Josh Rosen and former starter Ryan Fitzpatrick rank in the top six of the most frequently pressured quarterbacks in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Their combined pressure rate of 44% would be the third most pressured in the NFL.
The 10 sacks between the two quarterbacks would tie for first in the NFL with Houston Texans Quarterback DeShaun Watson (who led the NFL in sacks last season.
Under pressure, Josh Rosen has a completion percentage of just 12.5% and he's thrown two interceptions. That's the worst completion percentage among quarterbacks with at least 20 dropbacks per PFF. Rosen has a passer rating of zero when pressured.
This doesn't bode well for the Miami Dolphins who will have to face DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn this week. An offensive line that has a lot of problems keeping the quarterback upright isn't going to be able to hold up against these two. If the Dolphins attempt to provide help on the edges, it will create opportunities for Maliek Collins and the rest of the interior defensive line.
This bodes well for a defense that has played well but hasn't looked like the dominant force many thought they'd be in the 2019 season. Facing the hapless Miami Dolphins, the Cowboys look like a team that's about to feast.
For the Dallas Cowboys, Dak Prescott has only been sacked one time. He's getting the ball out much quicker in 2019 than he was in 2018. In 2019, Dak Prescott has the sixth-fastest time to attempt at 2.33 seconds per Pro Football Focus among quarterbacks with at least 25 dropbacks. In 2018, Prescott had the 10th slowest time at 2.66 seconds. Per Pro Football Focus, Prescott is the least pressured quarterback in the NFL at this point of the season. He's only been pressured on 15.4% of his dropbacks.
Dak Prescott is making quicker decisions after the snap in 2019 because he has a greater understanding of what he's seeing before the snap. The Cowboys offense allows him to get a read of the defense with their use of pre-snap motion, which then allows Dak to know where he wants to go with the ball, once he's confirmed the coverage after the snap. This allows for Prescott to get rid of the ball much faster than he has in the past, which is why he's not getting pressured as much. Of course it helps that the offensive line is playing better to start the 2019 season than it was a year ago.
I don't see a way that the Miami Dolphins are going to be able to create enough consistent pressure to affect Prescott in the pocket. This week looks like another big game for Prescott and the passing offense.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Dallas Cowboys will win this game. With the betting line set at 21 points, it would be a tremendous upset if the Cowboys didn't walk away with the W. Everything points to the Cowboys putting up their third double-digit win of the season and should be able to walk to another 30 point game for the offense. The Miami Dolphins are in tank mode and won't be able to put up much of a fight. When teams tank, it can kill morale and after trading two of their former first-round picks in Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick, it's obvious that the Dolphins are looking to the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Dallas Cowboys win this game in a rout and the offensive stars continue their excellent start to the season. The defense gets a couple of takeaways and begins to hit their stride in the sack department with the return of Robert Quinn.
Dallas Cowboys 41 - Miami Dolphins 9
Cowboys’ Trysten Hill to Make Regular Season Debut vs Dolphins?
A lot has been made of the Dallas Cowboys' decision to make 2019 second-round pick Trysten Hill inactive for the first two games of the regular season. With Taco Charlton also being inactive, people attempted to compare the two to make broad generalizations about Hill's present and future in the NFL. The problem is these two are vastly different players in different situations.
Speaking to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Friday, Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones talked about where Trysten Hill was in his development and ability. It sounds as if Hill is ready to make his regular-season debut for the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
Trysten Hill will make his NFL debut Sunday vs. Miami. Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on @1053thefan: "He's ready to go. It's time for him to go. Rod's fired up about what he can bring to the table here. He's had a really good week of practice.
With Antwaun Woods and Tyrone Crawford likely out for this game, the Dallas Cowboys could use some help on the interior defensive line. Christian Covington and Maliek Collins are the only true defensive tackles set to be active for the Cowboys, which makes Hill's debut a foregone conclusion. With Crawford and Woods dealing with injuries Hill will have the opportunity to play a lot against a Miami Dolphins offensive line that has allowed 10 sacks in their first two games.
Crawford and Woods' absences means the Dallas Cowboys will have around 40-50 snaps to be distributed to the rest of the defensive line. Christian Covington will get the first shot to play the 1-technique defensive tackle. Kerry Hyder and Joe Jackson will get some of those Tyrone Crawford snaps since they can play both on the interior and on the edge like Crawford can.
There will be opportunities for Hill, especially if the Dallas Cowboys can get out to a big lead. If he's active, which all signs indicate he will be, then the Cowboys' coaching staff will use this game to get Hill as much experience as possible.
Trysten Hill is a player that Rod Marinelli and even Kris Richard are really excited about. They believe that he has what it takes to be an elite defensive tackle in the NFL, he just needs to refine certain aspects of his game. Hill has elite quickness and get off on the snap. He's very good at getting penetration and causing disruption in the backfield. He needs to work on his technique and playing with better leverage when engaged with blockers, but the tools and the effort are there for Marinelli to turn him into the dominant 3-technique defensive tackle that they've been looking for.
Facing the Miami Dolphins on Sunday will is an excellent opportunity for Trysten Hill to get some experience and earn opportunities to be on the gameday roster in the future.
Trysten Hill has the skills to be a force for the Dallas Cowboys. With the depth that the Cowboys have along the defensive line, it's not always possible to bring everyone you have to the gameday roster. With injuries and earned opportunities, the time has come for Trysten Hill to get an opportunity to show his skills in the regular season. That's a good thing for the Dallas Cowboys. Not so much for Josh Rosen and the Miami Dolphins.
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