In what can only be described as a sickening loss for the Cowboys, Dallas blew a 23-point lead to go down to the Green Bay Packers in Week 15 by the final score of 37-36. At one point in the game, the Cowboys had a 97 percent chance to win, according to Advanced NFL Stats. Their odds of winning were 96 percent as late as five minutes remaining in the game.
Nonetheless, the 'Boys fell victim to some sketchy late-game play-calling and at least one poor decision from quarterback Tony Romo. The result was a loss that could be devastating for Dallas, who might now need to win their Week 16 matchup with the Washington Redskins to even have a chance to win the division in Week 17.
Using a combination of traditional stats, advanced stats and film study, I've graded each position for Dallas in this heartbreaking defeat.
Stats courtesy of Advanced NFL Stats unless noted otherwise.
Although the Cowboys moved the ball very effectively in the first half, Romo actually wasn't unbelievably efficient in this game. He averaged 7.46 yards per attempt, which is neither poor nor horrific. When combined with the two touchdowns and no interceptions Romo posted prior to late in the fourth quarter, it looked like he had done enough for Dallas to win.
Nonetheless, Romo made a really poor decision on a 2nd-and-6 with under three minutes to play, checking out of a run and throwing an interception to let Green Bay back in the game. While he should have never been placed in a situation in which he could potentially throw the ball, it was still a really boneheaded move from Romo.
That decision is reflected in his grade.
Murray ran all over Green Bay on Sunday, totaling 134 yards on 18 carries (7.4 YPC). More important, 61.4 percent of Murray's runs increased the Cowboys' chances of scoring, according to Advanced NFL Stats. That run success rate is really high and the result of outstanding blocking up front combined with patience and vision from Murray.
Murray had only three carries in the fourth quarter, however, even though Dallas still had a two-possession lead for much of that time. As much as the Cowboys could do well to throw the ball early and often, that changes when you have a big lead.
It's unlikely the Packers would have been able to come back from such a large second-half deficit if Dallas hadn't extended the game by throwing the ball so much in the second half.
No running back other than Murray had a touch.
For much of the game, the Cowboys did an excellent job of taking advantage of a poor defensive game plan from Green Bay. The Packers didn't appear overly eager to double-team Bryant, who responded with 11 catches for 153 yards and a score. Romo targeted Bryant 17 times, which is about where he should be when defenses aren't playing with a safety over top of him all the time.
Two-thirds of all Bryant targets increased the Cowboys' chances of scoring. That was the highest mark for any receiver, with Williams checking in second at 60.0 percent.
It's really disappointing to see Austin's fall from grace. He was targeted four times on Sunday, catching two passes for 35 yards. He has the physical tools, but he's just no longer capable of capitalizing on defensive attention on Bryant.
Although Witten has been inconsistent in capitalizing on double-teams on Bryant this year, he was solid on Sunday, catching four passes for 71 yards and a score. Targeted eight times, Witten averaged 8.9 yards per target. Even with his touchdown catch, though, Witten registered only 2.0 expected points added (EPA) on the day. Compare that to 10.5 for Bryant.
Hanna and Escobar combined for 15 yards on three targets. Both have proven to be highly ineffective as receivers this season.
LT Tyron Smith
LG Ronald Leary
C Travis Frederick
C/G Phil Costa
RG Mackenzy Bernadeau
RT Doug Free
RT Jermey Parnell
The offensive line played magnificently in this game, paving huge holes for Murray to run for 7.4 YPC. They were also effective in pass protection; although Romo was sacked three times, at least two of those were on him for holding on to the ball too long. Romo was hit four total times on the day, which is a good number considering he dropped back to pass 51 times.
Left tackle Tyron Smith was particularly effective, shutting down outside linebacker Clay Matthews as both a pass-rusher and run defender.
DE George Selvie
DE DeMarcus Ware
DE/OLB Kyle Wilber
DE Jarius Wynn
DE Everette Brown
DT Jason Hatcher
DT Nick Hayden
DT Drake Nevis
For the most part, the defensive line was again unable to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback. The Cowboys had two sacks, one of which came from cornerback Orlando Scandrick.
Selvie was the best defensive lineman for Dallas, by a wide margin. He had six tackles, which tied him for second on the defense, along with a sack and two tackles for loss. Those plays were good for 3.0 EPA.
Meanwhile, veterans DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher were nowhere to be found. They combined for one tackle. Yes, one tackle. Ware had one quarterback hit, but that's all of the pressure the duo was able to create.
The Cowboys have had absolutely horrific injury luck at the linebacker position this year, with Sean Lee and Bruce Carter both missing this game for Dallas. They were replaced by rookie Holloman, who recently missed seven games, and he was able to record four tackles.
The injury to cornerback Morris Claiborne was bigger than people think, not because Claiborne was playing all that well but because his absence affects two positions. Scandrick has been thrust into the starting lineup, which is fine, but rookie B.W. Webb has been forced to play as the nickel cornerback. The Cowboys gave more playing time to Moore against the Packers, though, and he responded very well.
Scandrick had a few lackluster plays against the Packers, coming up empty on a couple contested passes. One of those was a touchdown to Jordy Nelson that really started the Packers' second-half comeback.
Still, the cornerbacks have looked a whole lot worse than they are because of the lack of a pass rush. The fact that they "held" quarterback Matt Flynn to 7.7 YPA is impressive considering the lack of pressure.
Week in and week out, Church leads the Cowboys in tackles. While no other player had more than six tackles on the day, Church registered 11. Again, some of that is a bad sign since it means the front-seven defenders are missing tackles, but Church has also been formidable against the run. He compiled the highest EPA on the defense with his tackles.
Heath had four tackles, but he just doesn't look ready to be a starting safety in the NFL. This is a major position to upgrade in the offseason.
K Dan Bailey
P Chris Jones
LS L.P. Ladouceur
Bailey was a huge bright spot for Dallas, connecting on all five of his field-goal tries. Those five field goals traveled a total distance of 213 yards, an average of 42.6 yards per kick. None of them were particularly close to missing.
Chris Jones punted only twice for 51.5 yards, although one was a touchback.