This week we continue our tour of the east coast teams by looking at the Dallas Cowboys…wait what?
Initial Assumptions, Prior Bias and Basic analysis
The Cowboys are quite possibly THE most overexposed team in the NFL. They are consistently billed as a contender, year after year and they consistently underachieve, year after year. The only surprise is how they choose to crush their fans’ spirits. In this, they are like the NFC’s San Diego Chargers. True to form, the Cowboys (once again) came into the season loaded on both sides of the ball and yet are standing at middling 3-4. In these seven games, they have scored 19.6 points per game (ppg) on offense and allowed 23.1 ppg on defense which is not bad considering they lead the NFC in turnover differential (-11). This team is remarkably similar to the Eagles except that Tony Romo prefers to giveaway the ball primarily through the air (13 INT, 4 FUM) whereas Michael Vick has a more balanced approach to turnovers. Also, Jason Garrett hasn't scape goated his defensive co-ordinator yet, although he does share Andy Reid's love of "innovative" time management strategies.
The Cowboys have one of the worst running games in the NFL both in volume (86 yds/game, 28th in NFL) and efficiency (3.6 yds/attempt, 31st in NFL). As a result, I expect Mike Nolan to focus on the passing game. Good news Cowboys you may actually have some semblance of a running game this week!!!
The big difference between the Cowboys and Eagles is at QB. Where Vick is not really suited to the short passing game, Romo is actually a good, accurate QB (67% completion percentage) with an excellent possession receiver in Jason Witten. If the Falcons sit back and challenge Romo to beat them by going on long drives he could very well do it. The better strategy is to confuse and pressure him. While your opinions on Romo may vary, I think we can all agree that he is not above making dumb decisions when he is pressured (13 interceptions, 4 fumbles – leads the league in giveaways). I suspect the defensive gameplan will be similar to the ones seen earlier against Denver and San Diego.
The bigger question is what happens if the Falcons are leading in the second half. The Falcons have a tendency to switch to a more passive zone when they are leading in the second half. This could really hurt us against Romo who has the ability and confidence to bring his team back, if given the chance. Its going to be important to stay aggressive throughout the game.
The Cowboys defense is quite similar to the Eagles defense. Middling run defense, good pass defense. Against the run game, the defensive line has not shown an ability to get in the backfield (22nd in short yardage situations, 27th in stopping RB at or behind the line of scrimmage). In the passing game, the Cowboys do a good job of playing bend-but-don’t break defense, allowing shorter completions (60% completions allowed) but clamping down on 3rd down (34.1% conversion, 7th in NFL). That said the secondary looks eminently vulnerable to big plays (7.2 yds/attempt) especially off of play action/misdirection plays. In addition, they have not shown any particular inclination or ability to force interceptions. Expect a gameplan similar to the Eagles game – a couple of long drives with runs, screens and slants thrown in followed by a long bomb to Julio or Roddy – except that I’d call the long bombs more often. I expect Roddy to have a big day.
On the face of it this should be easier than the Eagles game (at least for the offense). However, I think the Cowboys have a better defensive co-ordinator in Rob Ryan and we won’t be able to get off to quite the strong start we did against the Eagles. Still, I expect the Falcons to score at least 20 points and around of 25- 30 if we manage to force a few turnovers.
Interesting Statistical Battle
Once again, the 3rd down battle will be extremely important. The Falcons offense is converting 46.6% of their 3rd downs while the Cowboys defense is allowing only 34.1% of the 3rd downs they face to be converted. Fortunately, Dallas seems to do poorly against tight ends in coverage (ranked 25th in NFL). Expect Tony Gonzales to have a big day.
Moral of the Story
The Cowboys performance is always a wild card but I suspect after the Giants loss they are going to throw up a good game and challenge the Falcons till the very end. As a result, this game is going to be a lot more difficult than it looks based on the statistical evaluation and I would be seriously concerned about an upset if not for the Cowboys consistent ability to repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot. Expect an early lead followed by some Romo heroics to bring the Cowboys back. Matt Ryan’s will need to deliver the 20th game winning drive of his career, and I believe he will!
- Stat that evokes irrational fear – Romo is 19-2 in November.
- Random prediction based on above stat and associated irrationality - If the Cowboys win this game, they will go 3-1 in November losing to the Cleveland Browns!
- Pedantic note of the day – If 8 out of 25 teams which started 7-0 went on to win the superbowl, it means 32% of teams in a position similar to the Falcons won the superbowl. It does NOT mean the Falcons have a 32% chance of winning the superbowl. There is a difference.
- This is likely going to be the last of these articles I do here. I’ve been asked to write for Blogging Dirty and I’m going to take them up on it. Lastly, my sincere thanks go out to everyone who read my drivel and gave me their feedback. Your kind words were greatly appreciated.
Stats used in this article are from ESPN.com unless stated otherwise.