Heading into their Week 9 meeting with the Minnesota Vikings as heavy favorites, the Dallas Cowboys pulled out a late 27-23 victory. The Cowboys seem to like to make their fans bite their nails, so quarterback Tony Romo’s late-game touchdown pass to wide receiver Dwayne Harris with 35 seconds left on the clock was just another ride in the roller coaster that is the Dallas Cowboys.
After reviewing the game, I’ll use a combination of the film and stat analysis to grade each position from Sunday’s big win. In addition to traditional stats, I’ll also use numbers from Advanced NFL Stats, including expected points added (EPA). EPA measures a player’s impact by tracking the number of points a team can expect to score before and after the plays in which he was involved.
1 – Tony Romo
2 – Kyle Orton
From a pure bulk stat standpoint, Romo wasn’t bad with 337 yards and two touchdowns. He took 51 throws to do it, though, meaning Romo posted just 6.61 YPA. If he were to do that the rest of the season, the Cowboys would have almost no chance to make the playoffs.
Looking at a team’s expected points before and after plays, we can determine if a play was successful or not, i.e. did it help them score? On Sunday, Romo’s success rate—the percentage of plays that increased the Cowboys’ probability of scoring—was just 48.3 percent. That’s a really low number and suggests Romo was rather inefficient.
Romo gets extra points for leading the game-winning drive, especially since it came after a late pick. It’s amazing how quickly some of the “Romo is a choker” articles will shift to “Is Romo turning a corner?”
1 – DeMarco Murray
2 – Lance Dunbar
3 – Joseph Randle
4 – Phillip Tanner
The Cowboys had no running game of which to speak, totaling only 36 rushing yards on the day. Running back DeMarco Murray had 31 of them on only four carries, although 27 yards came on one touch. Backups Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle combined for -3 yards on four rushes.
Interestingly, the Cowboys continued to use play-action passes throughout the day, and with much success. That should be a surprise since there’s actually almost no correlation between rushing success and play-action efficiency. The idea that “you need to run to set up the pass” is outdated.
The backs added nine receptions for 36 yards. Overall, though, there wasn’t much to see.
1 – Dez Bryant
2 – Terrance Williams
3 – Cole Beasley
4 – Dwayne Harris
Despite stepping up of late, it’s never a good thing when Cole Beasley leads the Cowboys wide receivers in yards. With 68 yards on six catches, however, Beasley did just that against the Vikings. Wide receiver Dez Bryant wasn’t far behind with six catches for 64 yards.
It was a really surprising outcome for a Dallas offense that was supposed to torch Minnesota through the air. Bryant and fellow starter Terrance Williams combined for only 97 yards.
In terms of expected points, the wide receivers totaled only 2.7 EPA all day. That’s a really low number for a group of receivers. Bryant and Williams alone had -2.8 EPA. That means that the Cowboys actually lost nearly a field goal in expected points when throwing to Bryant and Williams.
Bryant was particularly poor since he saw 11 targets, meaning he totaled only 5.81 YPA. Part of that was due to Bryant surprisingly dropping a couple passes.
1 – Jason Witten
2 – James Hanna
3 – Gavin Escobar
Backup tight ends James Hanna and Gavin Escobar were once again not much of a factor with just 21 receiving yards among them, but starter Jason Witten stole the show. Although he’s showing signs of aging, Witten looked rejuvenated on Sunday with eight grabs for 102 yards, and the Cowboys needed all of them.
Witten totaled 4.8 EPA on the day—due in large part to his touchdown—and 66.7 percent of his looks increased the Cowboys’ chances of winning. Witten averaged 10.2 YPA.
LT Tyron Smith
LG Ronald Leary
C Travis Frederick
C Phil Costa
RG Mackenzy Bernadeau
RT Doug Free
RT Jermey Parnell
It was a tale of two halves for the Cowboys offense line. They struggled as a unit in the first half, giving Romo very little time to throw. Right tackle Doug Free in particular was having trouble with defensive end Brian Robison, which was my matchup to watch in this contest.
Robison ended up with two of the Vikings’ three sacks on the day. Minnesota’s pressure was actually greater than the numbers indicate, although Dallas got things cleaned up in the second half.
The offensive line was also poor in the running game. The majority of the backs’ struggles were the result of getting hit behind the line. Left tackle Tyron Smith had a notably poor game as a run blocker, which is uncharacteristic of him.
1 – Jason Hatcher
1 – Nick Hayden
2 – Drake Nevis
2 – Marvin Austin
It was a relatively quiet day for the Cowboys interior defensive line. That will be the case most weeks with only Jason Hatcher providing a legitimate pass-rushing threat from the defensive tackle position. Hatcher strained his neck, which was partially responsible for his numbers: three tackles and no sacks.
Defensive tackle Nick Hayden was pretty strong against the run on Sunday with six tackles, a few of which came in some crucial situations. He actually led all defensive players with 12.4 EPA because of the importance of his plays.
1 – George Selvie
1 – Kyle Wilber
2 – Jarius Wynn
2 – Caesar Rayford
3 – Everette Brown
The Cowboys had two sacks on Sunday. One came from a face that’s familiar in Dallas nowadays in defensive end George Selvie. The other came from a player the Cowboys just signed as a free agent—defensive end Everette Brown. With a sack and two tackles, Brown looked good in his Dallas debut.
Looking at the long-term picture, the Cowboys desperately need some help on the outside. Selvie looks like a player and Dallas would be smart to lock him up, but you have to wonder how much DeMarcus Ware has left in the tank. The Cowboys don’t have a suitable replacement for him on the roster, with defensive end Kyle Wilber again struggling to the tune of one tackle and no sacks.
1 – Sean Lee
1 – Justin Durant
1 – Ernie Sims
2 – Bruce Carter
2 – DeVonte Holloman
2 – Kyle Bosworth
He’s been a tackling machine over the last month, but linebacker Sean Lee made it out of this one with just nine total tackles. Five of those were assists, meaning both Bruce Carter and Justin Durant had at least as many solo tackles as Lee. Still, Lee led the team in total take-downs.
Carter actually didn’t start the game, instead sitting behind linebacker Ernie Sims. Carter was promoted to the first team in the second half, and he made an impact with the second-most solo tackles on the day behind cornerback Brandon Carr.
The linebackers actually did a decent job corralling running back Adrian Peterson. All Day ran for 140 yards on 25 carries, but 52 of those came on a single run to the perimeter. Otherwise, the ‘Boys held Peterson to 88 yards on 24 carries—3.67 YPC.
1 – Brandon Carr
1 – Orlando Scandrick
Slot – B.W. Webb
2 – Micah Pellerin
As mentioned, Carr led the defense with eight tackles. He also responded nicely in coverage after last week’s Calvin Johnson-related fiasco.
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick, starting in place of the injured Morris Claiborne, was his usual dominant self. He added another pick to his collection—the fifth of his career—and teamed up with Carr to hold the Vikings wide receivers to just 124 yards receiving.
Rookie cornerback B.W. Webb struggled in the slot. His quickness has yet to make up for his lack of size.
1 – Barry Church
1 – Jeff Heath
2 – Danny McCray
With quarterback Christian Ponder leading Minnesota, the Vikings rarely took shots downfield, meaning safeties Barry Church and Jeff Heath weren’t tested much. The duo ended up with eight total tackles. It’s a good thing neither player got injured because, with J.J. Wilcox on the shelf, the ‘Boys would have had to rely on safety Danny McCray.
K Dan Bailey
P Chris Jones
LS L.P. Ladouceur
Kicker Dan Bailey was once again perfect with two field goals and three extra points, while punter Chris Jones averaged 44.4 yards on his five punts. Jones has been inconsistent this year, but he looked decent on Sunday.