Entering their Thanksgiving matchup with the Oakland Raiders at 6-5, the Dallas Cowboys were in desperate need of a win to keep pace with the Philadelphia Eagles. They got it, taking down Oakland in an up-and-down 31-24 contest.
Had the Cowboys lost, they would have fallen a game behind the Eagles in the NFC East. With the win, the 'Boys find themselves atop the division via their head-to-head tiebreaker over Philly.
The win over the Raiders wasn't necessarily the prettiest victory, but Dallas will take it. As always, I'll grade each position using a combination of traditional stats, advanced stats and film study. The primary factor in my grades will be expected points added (EPA), or how many expected points each player contributed to the win.
1. Tony Romo
2. Kyle Orton
Quarterback Tony Romo hardly lit up the box score, but he was able to throw for 225 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions on 32 attempts. That average of 7.01 yards per attempt isn't sensational, but Romo played mistake-free football in a vital game.
Romo recorded a 10.8 EPA on the day, which was over twice that of Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin. Romo's success rate, which is the percentage of his plays on which the Cowboys increased their chances of scoring, was 54.1 percent. That's above his season average of 49.1 percent.
2. Lance Dunbar
3. Joseph Randle
4. Phillip Tanner
The Cowboys' win over the Raiders belonged to the team's top two running backs. DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar combined for 145 yards on 29 carries (5.0 yards per carry), including three touchdowns from Murray.
Most impressively, both Murray and Dunbar recorded success rates over 53 percent, which is sensational for running backs. Murray's success rate was 60.9 percent. The highest rushing success rate by any team in 2013 is 47.6 percent.
1. Dez Bryant
2. Miles Austin
3. Terrance Williams
4. Cole Beasley
Dez Bryant was the only wideout to record more than 23 receiving yards for Dallas. He was efficient in hauling in seven catches on nine targets, although he took them for only 61 yards. That meant his success rate was just 50 percent, although, thanks to a touchdown on a back-shoulder fade, Bryant also posted the highest EPA of any Dallas receiver at 5.4.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, receiver Miles Austin was horribly inefficient. He caught just one of his five targets and actually decreased the Cowboys' point expectation by 2.7 points.
1. Jason Witten
2. James Hanna
3. Gavin Escobar
One of the reasons I believe catch rate and yards per catch to be a little bit overrated is that they don't account for a receiver's ability to get open. On Thanksgiving, for example, tight end Jason Witten caught all three of his targets and averaged 17.7 yards per catch. But at the end of the day, he still had only three catches and 53 yards.
The numbers are indicative of something you can see on film: Witten just can't gain separation like he used to. He can still be an effective player, but it seems like Romo is starting to realize Witten isn't the security blanket he once was.
Witten is currently on pace for 72 receptions and 829 yards.
LT Tyron Smith
LG Ronald Leary
C Travis Frederick
C Phil Costa
RG Mackenzy Bernadeau
RT Doug Free
RT Jermey Parnell
I labeled left tackle Tyron Smith vs. defensive end Lamarr Houston as my matchup to watch before the game, and Smith delivered in a big way. He didn't allow a sack or pressure all day, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and opened up some huge lanes for the backs.
Overall, the entire line played well. The team allowed only one sack and seven total pressures. Further, the sack appeared to be due to a blown assignment from running back DeMarco Murray. If the line continues to play this well, the Cowboys have an excellent chance to win the NFC East.
DE DeMarcus Ware
DE George Selvie
DE Kyle Wilber
DE Everette Brown
DE Jarius Wynn
DT Jason Hatcher
DT Nick Hayden
DT Drake Nevis
DT Corvey Irvin
While the Raiders were able to generate only seven pressures defensively, veterans DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher racked up six pressures alone. Defensive tackle Nick Hayden was the only other defensive lineman with a pressure.
Still, one of the Cowboys' major problems in this game was their inability to bring down quarterback Matt McGloin. They didn't sack him a single time, so they were lucky to allow only 17 points to the Raiders offense.
Despite no pressures or sacks, defensive end George Selvie was second on defense with a 1.6 EPA.
1. Bruce Carter
1. Ernie Sims
1. Kyle Bosworth
2. Orie Lemon
2. Martez Wilson
With linebackers Sean Lee, Justin Durant and DeVonte Holloman all nursing injuries, the Cowboys were running thin at the position against the Raiders. Amazingly, only Bruce Carter and Ernie Sims recorded tackles, totaling eight combined.
Although running back Rashad Jennings ran for two touchdowns, the Dallas defense did a good job of corralling him. Jennings had only 35 yards on 17 carries.
None of the linebackers recorded a positive EPA.
1. Brandon Carr
1. Orlando Scandrick
Slot: B.W. Webb
2. Sterling Moore
Cornerback Brandon Carr had a relatively rough day against wide receiver Andre Holmes, allowing four completions for 70 yards, including 11.7 yards per attempt, according to PFF. Meanwhile, cornerback Orlando Scandrick gave up 53 yards on seven targets, or 7.6 yards per attempt.
Carr redeemed himself with a late interception in the end zone, though. That helped him lead all Dallas defenders with a 3.3 EPA. After he made the pick, the Raiders' win probability dropped in half, from 28 percent to 14 percent.
1. Barry Church
1. Jeff Heath
2. J.J. Wilcox
2. Danny McCray
Safety Barry Church led the Cowboys in tackles yet again, this time with eight. As much as the Cowboys have been hurt by linebacker Sean Lee's absence, Church has stepped up in a big way. He's now on pace for 135 tackles. Church was also stellar in coverage, giving up only 19 yards on six targets.
Meanwhile, safety Jeff Heath was picked on a little more, allowing 51 yards on five throws, including a completion to five different players.
K Dan Bailey
P Chris Jones
LS L.P. Ladouceur
Kicker Dan Bailey made his only field-goal attempt, increasing his 2013 field-goal accuracy to 90.5 percent. Punter Chris Jones averaged 47.6 yards on five punts and has shown notable improvement over the past month.