Advanced stats say surging 49ers present formidable foe for Cowboys

Cowboys scored over 100 more points and allowed less points than SF, but the 49ers hold a slight edge in key win indicators. @ProfessorO_NFL dives into DVOA, EPA, ANY/A and Toxicity.

The 2021 NFL regular season officially ended with the 12-5 Dallas Cowboys dominating the Philadelphia Eagles in a record-breaking night for quarterback Dak Prescott. The Cowboys were short-handed due to injuries and COVID-19 cases but able to win on Saturday then watch to see if they could move up in NFC seeding. With the Seattle Seahawks beating the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers upsetting the Los Angeles Rams, the Cowboys were able to move from the four seed to the three and will have their sights on the 49ers this Sunday in the opening round of the playoffs.

The 49ers ended their season on a high with a come-from-behind victory. They finished the season third in their division with a 10-7 record but with the sixth seed. They will fly into Dallas with similar momentum as both teams have won four of their last five games.

This matchup features several intriguing storylines, however the one that is sure to garner a lot of attention will be the matchup of Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn facing off with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for Quinn’s Atlanta Falcons during their best days that included a trip to the Super Bowl. Their knowledge of each other’s schemes and thought processes presents an interesting meeting.

Each week we open up the Advanced Stat Notebook to analyze how each team ranks in EPA, DVOA, ANY/A and Toxic Differential. These four key metrics have a high correlation to win probability.

Eagles’ offense has EPA edge, but do Cowboys own Week 18 advanced stat title?

Think the Cowboys have been light years ahead of the Eagles this season? Think again. The stats notebook shows a fairly even matchup between the rivals. | From @ProfessorO_NFL

The NFC East features two playoff teams this season in the 11-5 Dallas Cowboys and 9-7 Philadelphia Eagles. With both teams facing injury challenges and COVID zapping their rosters, there has been a lot of chatter regarding how many starters will play and for how long. The word out of Dallas this week has been that the Cowboys plan to play their starters with a goal of winning, but their starters are compromised, especially on defense.

The Cowboys have won four of their last five games but were unable to beat the Arizona Cardinals last week, losing 25-22.  The Eagles are currently on a four-game winning streak, picking up a win over the Washington Football Team last weekend.

Each week we open up the Advanced Stat Notebook to analyze how each team ranks in EPA, DVOA, ANY/A and Toxic Differential. These four key metrics have a high correlation to win probability.

They tried it, but Washington can’t compare to Cowboys in advanced analytics

What areas are the WFT competitive with the division-leading Cowboys? A look at EPA, DVOA, Success rate and more metrics for Week 16. | From @ProfessorO_NFL

The Cowboys have three scenarios for clinching the division this week, and it’s wholly possible their work will be done for them before they hit the field on Sunday night. On Thursday, they earned a spot in the playoffs by virtue of the San Francisco 49ers’ loss at the hand of the Tennessee Titans, but just because others can and have assisted Dallas it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be prepared to handle their own business.

The Dallas Cowboys (10-4) will host the Washington Football Team (6-8) on Sunday Night Football with the opportunity to give Cowboys fans a late Christmas gift.  The Cowboys are currently the No. 2 seed in the NFL and have chance to clinch the divisional title with any of the following scenarios: a win/tie over Washington, a Philadelphia Eagles loss/tie or a combination of 1.5 wins by LV, Jax, LAC, NE, MIN and Atlanta). All of those other contests happen earlier in the day on Sunday, but things still could come down to a divisional matchup.

The Cowboys are riding a three-game-in-three-week road winning streak, the first time they’ve accomplished this feat since 1969. They boast the No. 1 defense in the league on third-down conversions allowed (31.9%) and are tied for No.1 in takeaways with 31 on the season.

The Football Team is in the midst of a five-game stretch of NFC East opponents. They’ve lost the last two games to Dallas and Philadelphia and their playoff odds are getting increasingly smaller with each defeat. Some good news for WFT is that quarterback Taylor Heinicke was removed from COVID protocol and will be eligible to play Sunday Night.

Each week we open up the Advanced Stat Notebook to analyze how each team ranks in EPA, DVOA, ANY/A and Toxic Differential. These four key metrics have a high correlation to win probability. Let’s review this week’s edition to see which team will get presents and which will get coal.

CeeDee Lamb ‘back to the drawing board’ as Cowboys WR closes in on 1,000 yards

CeeDee Lamb is 110 yards away from a 1,000-yard season. That doesn’t mean what it used to, but Lamb is nonetheless in elite Cowboys company. | From @ToddBrock24f7

With the NFL moving to a 17-game schedule, a 1,000-yard season means a little less than it used to. But it’s still a threshold that’s ingrained in the DNA of those who play and follow the sport.

And Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb is perched right on the doorstep.

Lamb finished his rookie season with 935 yards, an impressive feat considering he did it with four different quarterbacks, two of whom were Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert. So far this season, Lamb has 890 yards, 13 games into the season. Even after missing Week 12’s contest with a concussion, last year’s first-round draft pick is one big game away from breaking the magic number. He could do it this Sunday against the Giants, the team he burned for his first 100-yard game, as a rookie last year.

The mark that Lamb has made on the Cowboys franchise is already permanent, just 28 games into his pro tenure. With 1,825 yards, he ranks 35th on the club’s all-time receiving list and could surpass storied names like Timmy Newsome, Ron Springs, and Butch Johnson before the regular season wraps up. Lamb is currently in sixth place in team history in yards per game (65.2) and is an incredible third in receptions per game (4.9), even outpacing Dez Bryant, Michael Irvin, and Jason Witten.

The 22-year-old has outperformed several Dallas icons at the outset of his career. His receiving-yards total over his first two seasons is higher than that of Tony Hill, Irvin, Pearson, and Bryant. Lamb trails only Bob Hayes, who logged 2,235 yards over his first two campaigns. (Remarkably, Hayes did that in just 27 games- and on just 110 catches- in 1965 and 1966, a far less pass-happy era in the NFL.)

ESPN’s Todd Archer notes in a Wednesday piece that Lamb’s connection with Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott over their first 16 games together puts the duo on par- so far- with other famous club combos like Meredith-to Hayes, Staubach-to-Pearson, Aikman-to-Irvin, Romo-to-Owens, and Romo-to-Bryant.

Whether Prescott-to-Lamb will go on to live alongside those legends remains to be seen. For now, as the Dallas offense struggles through an uncharacteristic slump, the Louisiana native is more focused on getting back in sync with his quarterback.

“I feel like that kind of sparked early,” Lamb said last week of his connection with Prescott, dating back to last season. “My first five games, it was fun. Then obviously after that, we lost him. And then Year 2, came out hot again. He missed a week, and then I missed a week. After, obviously, the connection’s not going to be the same, so just kind of getting that back. Just getting back to the drawing board, man, that’s all it is.”

If Prescott and Lamb can translate this week’s drawing board to the playing field at MetLife Stadium, it could give the Oklahoma product his first 1,000-yard season… and inch him a bit higher in the Cowboys history books.

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Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb says he will play in Week 13 against Saints

CeeDee Lamb missed the Cowboys Thanksgiving matchup with a concussion. He’s passed protocol and has confirmed he’ll play against the Saints. | From @StarConscience

Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb missed the Dallas Cowboys’ Week 12 matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders due to a concussion suffered against the Kansas City Chiefs the week prior. After going through meetings last Monday and showing no setbacks on Tuesday and Wednesday, the thought was he might have a chance to play on Thanksgiving.

Lamb would sit out, though, and the Cowboys went with Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson as the starting receivers in Thursday’s loss. However, after practicing on Monday, Lamb confirmed he would play against the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football.

The Cowboys leading receiver in 2021 did everything he could to pull off a miracle and get back on the field against the Raiders just four days after his concussion, but he wasn’t quite right to do so.

“I wasn’t feeling like myself, kind of something still lingering around,” Lamb said. “I couldn’t describe what it was and I knew at that moment I wasn’t mentally nor physically prepared.”

The return of Lamb along with potentially getting back Amari Cooper from the Reserve/COVID list would give the Cowboys their two top pass catchers, and with Dak Prescott struggling over the last few games, the timing is perfect. The Cowboys are looking to get over their recent slump, losing three of their four games.

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Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb ruled out vs Raiders

The Cowboys top wideout will miss his first game of the season after being unable to clear concussion protocol just four days after banging his head. | From @KDDrummondNFL

The Dallas Cowboys spread hope in every which way imaginable this past week, trying as they often do to will things they want into existence. It rarely works, and it didn’t this time either. Wideout CeeDee Lamb suffered a concussion at the end of the first half against Kansas City on Sunday, crashing the back of his head into the ground on an underthrown Dak Prescott pass that was intercepted by Chavarius Ward.

Lamb, who leads the club in targets (77), receptions (50) and his career-high six receiving scores, never returned to action after halftime and went through the concussion protocol. He cleared everything but the final examination with an independent neurologist and has been ruled out of Thursday’s contest with the Las Vegas Raiders, according to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer.

This of course compounds the problem as Dallas’ offense is already without WR Amari Cooper, missing his second consecutive game on the COVID reserve list. The offense did not have a great game last week even before Lamb was lost and it seemed in part to the additional focus Chiefs defenders were able to pay everyone else with no Cooper. Now the Raiders have neither of the top two wideouts to contend with.

That puts a lot of pressure on Michael Gallup, TE Dalton Schultz and the reserve receivers to step up in the contest. Cedrick Wilson and Noah Brown each dropped two passes last week and the club failed to integrate Malik Turner into the contest until late. Dallas may also be wise to give Tony Pollard a bigger role as one of the quickest, shiftiest players on the team.

Ezekiel Elliott has been hobbled with a knee issue for several weeks though he continues to tough it out and show up every week.

Prescott will have his work cut out for him in trying to solve the Raiders defense and avoid a third loss in four games for a team that started the season winning seven of eight.

Dallas will welcome back Tyron Smith for the first time in four games, but playing without their top two wideouts along with their top two edge rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory makes for very tough going.

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3 Stars: Jourdan Lewis shines, Prescott, Lamb lead offensive explosion

Cornerback Jourdan Lewis tallied three pass breakups and an interception. Dak Prescott threw two touchdown passes, both to CeeDee Lamb. | From @StarConscience

The Dallas Cowboys needed a strong performance in Week 10 after having their six-game win streak snapped by the Denver Broncos. They got just that, and the Atlanta Falcons were the unfortunate victims of their wrath. Offense, defense, and special teams played their parts in the Cowboys’ 43-3 win.

Several players stepped up to contribute for Dallas. Rookie linebacker Micah Parsons got his sixth sack of the season, forcing a fumble, and once again led the team in tackles. Defensive end Dorance Armstrong recorded a sack as well and blocked a punt, which was recovered for a touchdown by rookie cornerback Nahshon Wright. Trevon Diggs hauled in his league-leading eighth interception and Anthony Brown registered his third of the season and tipped a pass that ended up in the arms of another defender. Ezekiel Elliott made it in the end zone on three separate occasions.

How good was the team’s performance? None of those players made this week’s edition of 3 Stars.

Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb sprains ankle; Dak Prescott should play Sunday

Mike McCarthy’s plan is for Prescott to play Week 9, but he has a dinged-up WR corps that saw his top 3 pass-catchers limited in practice. | From @ToddBrock24f7

The Cowboys started the season with a formidable three-headed monster at the wide receiver position. But those heads- Michael Gallup, Amari Cooper, and even CeeDee Lamb- are now dealing with their own separate injury concerns a few feet south, just as their quarterback appears to be over his own lower-body ailment.

Gallup has been shelved since just after the opener with an injured calf. Cooper reaggravated a hamstring this past Sunday. And on Wednesday, Lamb sprained an ankle in practice, according to head coach Mike McCarthy.

“He’ll be limited today,” McCarthy said of the second-year phenom out of Oklahoma. That was the only update provided to media members, so the extent of the injury is not known.

Lamb was seen working off to the side on Thursday, though, and is reportedly expected to suit up for Sunday’s date with Denver.

Cooper and Gallup also joined Lamb on the resistance cord circuit. McCarthy said of Cooper’s status, “I’d put him in the ‘limited’ [category]. Get him out there to go through the individual [portion], see how that goes.”

Gallup, however, who has missed the Cowboys’ entire six-game winning streak, may still be sidelined for a while. He has already been designated to return; the team has another week and a half to either declare him active or shut him down for the rest of 2021.

“Just want to see him get through a full week, then evaluate it,” McCarthy explained. “But I thought he had a really good week last week. We’ll just see how it goes; we’re kind of up in the air on where he is.”

To that trifecta of dinged-up pass-catchers, add tight end Blake Jarwin, who injured a hip against Minnesota last Sunday night. He is already considered doubtful for the Broncos matchup.

And of course, there’s the man who’s supposed to be throwing passes to all of the aforementioned. After nursing his strained calf back to health, Dak Prescott “will practice today [during] team periods,” McCarthy said. “The plan is for him to practice and play [on Sunday].”

The Broncos enter the weekend with one of the stingiest pass defenses in the league, allowing a total completion percentage of just 58.3%, second only to Buffalo. Their allowed passer rating is 82.7, fourth-lowest overall, and they’ve given up just nine touchdown receptions through eight games.

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5 biggest EPA, WPA plays of Cowboys Week 8 win required skill, perserverance, luck

The Cowboys won nail-biter against the Vikings in a game that defied the odds as they picked up victory No. 6. A look at the EPA gains and WPA shifts of the biggest plays in the comeback. | From @ProfessorO_NFL

The Dallas Cowboys travelled to the land of 10,000 lakes to face the Minnesota Vikings on Halloween.  With the contest competing head to head with Game 5 of the World Series, the NFL matchup drew a larger audience with 12.82 million viewers.  Prior to the start of the game, the then 5-1 Cowboys reported quarterback Dak Prescott would be inactive leading the way for backup QB Cooper Rush to get his first NFL start.

Rush was ready for his big moment and overcame an up and down first half to throw for over 300 yards and lead a scoring drive with less than a minute left in the game to hand the then 3-3 Vikings their fourth loss of the season.

In a game with a backup quarterback making his first NFL start, the Cowboys lost the turnover battle for the first time this season, were called for over 10 penalties and trailed the majority of the game. As the saying goes, “good football teams find ways to win” and the Cowboys did just that.

Here are the five biggest plays of the game using Expected Points Added (EPA) and Win Probability models from rbsdm.com. EPA is a formula that takes historical data and applies it to every play to determine if it increases or decreases a team’s expected points given the outcome of that play.  Every down and distance has a level of expected points; the likelihood a team will score on that particular drive based on that situation. Therefore EPA measures the shift in expected points as a result of a specific play.

 

3 Cowboys fined after Week 6 win, including WR CeeDee Lamb for goodbye wave

Lamb’s wave didn’t draw a penalty flag, since it came after the game had officially ended, but it will cost him over $10,000 just the same. | From @ToddBrock24f7

CeeDee Lamb waved goodbye to Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills after beating him to the end zone on a 35-yard touchdown catch in overtime of last week’s dramatic win in New England.

But now the Dallas Cowboys receiver will be waving goodbye to $10,300 because of it.

The NFL announced fines for three Cowboys on Saturday for actions in the Week 6 game in Foxborough. Lamb’s fine was for unsportsmanlike conduct,  even thought the act itself came after the game officially went final and therefore didn’t draw a flag. The news was first reported by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, who points out that no fine was levied against Mills for his shove of Lamb.

But the second-year pass-catching phenom isn’t the only Cowboys player for whom the team’s fifth straight win proved to be a little costly.

Rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs received a $7,981 fine for unnecessary roughness; he hit Patriots receiver N’Keal Harry in the facemask after a play in the first quarter.

And offensive lineman Connor Williams drew the biggest fine of all, a $16,394 bill for a horribly-timed unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the final seconds of the fourth quarter of play. That infraction created a dire 3rd-and-25 situation; it was only thanks to quarterback Dak Prescott’s 24-yard completion to Lamb on the next play that the Cowboys were able to attempt the 49-yard-field goal from Greg Zuerlein that ended up sending the game into overtime.

The Cowboys have had 59 flags thrown against them so far this season, the most in the league.

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