Thanks to an 87-yard drive that began with less than four minutes left in the game and ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to running back DeMarco Murray on 4th-and-goal, the Dallas Cowboys took down the Washington Redskins to move to 8-7 and keep their playoff hopes alive.
When Dallas started the late touchdown drive at their own 13-yard line, their fortunes didn't look bright. Actually, using the win probability calculator at Advanced NFL Stats, we know Dallas probably had somewhere around a 22 percent chance of winning the game. That's actually the same percentage we saw on the fourth-down touchdown pass after Murray lost nine yards on a 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
Because Dallas won, they'll face the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17 for the division crown. The loser will miss the playoffs. To take down Philly, the offense is going to need to be a whole lot more efficient than they were against Washington.
Using a combination of traditional stats, advanced stats and film study, I've graded every position for the Cowboys on Sunday.
1. Tony Romo
2. Kyle Orton
One thing the Cowboys did well on Sunday was limit some of Romo's exposure to low-percentage passes. Romo has historically struggled in December, in part because his defenses have been pretty awful over the years. Another overlooked reason that's a hypothesis of mine is that, because he has such small hands, Romo struggles to grip and throw the ball accurately in cold, windy or otherwise subpar weather. If you look back at Romo's December struggles, many come outside in the elements.
Romo's bulk numbers of 226 yards and two touchdowns aren't overwhelming, but he threw only 27 passes. That's good for 8.37 YPA, which is a really solid number and one that will win most games. Actually, the only reason Dallas didn't score more than 24 points is because the offense wasn't on the field much, running just 50 plays.
In addition, Romo had plus-8.7 expected points added (EPA), which means he was responsible for creating 8.7 points of offense himself. Compare that to plus-1.2 EPA for Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins.
1. DeMarco Murray
2. Lance Dunbar
3. Joseph Randle
4. Phillip Tanner
With 96 yards on 22 carries, Murray averaged 4.36 YPC on his way to his first 1,000-yard season. More importantly, Murray's late 10-yard touchdown catch kept the Cowboys alive for one more week.
According to Advanced NFL Stats, Murray registered a 40.0 percent success rate on the day. That means 40 percent of his touches increased the Cowboys' chances of scoring on a given drive, which is about average for a running back.
Murray's EPA was actually negative before the late touchdown, which propelled him to plus-1.4 EPA. Murray was quietly inefficient against the Redskins, averaging only 2.52 YPC on all but his longest run of 43 yards. Still, he appeared to make the most of what was given to him.
1. Dez Bryant
2. Miles Austin
3. Terrance Williams
4. Cole Beasley
It was a relatively quiet day for Bryant, who took four receptions for 73 yards, one of which he took into the end zone. Bryant was also wide open in the end zone on the Cowboys' second-to-last drive, but Romo missed him on a dig route.
Williams actually led the Cowboys in receiving with 84 yards. He's basically become the No. 2 receiving option for Romo with tight end Jason Witten fading away.
Altogether, the Cowboys' wide receivers had only 11 receptions against the Redskins. Believe it or not, Beasley led the group with plus-4.4 EPA. That's because his two catches were big ones that helped the Cowboys move the chains in important situations. Bryant had minus-0.3 EPA since he caught only four of his 11 targets.
1. Jason Witten
2. James Hanna
3. Gavin Escobar
Witten's decline continues. With only 13 yards on two catches, he really wasn't a factor for Dallas. He was actually targeted only twice, which is why I like to analyze yards per route for receivers. Witten just wasn't getting open, and yards per route captures that.
Moving forward this year and in 2014, the Cowboys are going to need to seriously reassess their two-tight end approach. They obviously don't have the personnel for it right now with Witten being a borderline starting-quality tight end, as I told you would happen in the preseason.
LT Tyron Smith
LG Ronald Leary
C Travis Frederick
C/G Phil Costa
RG Mackenzy Bernadeau
RT Doug Free
RT Jermey Parnell
Overall, the offensive line played pretty well against the Redskins. They allowed two sacks, which I thought was actually pretty representative of the pass protection they afforded Romo. It was good, but not outstanding.
The line wasn't quite as effective in run-blocking as I imagined before the game, with a 36.4 percent rushing success rate. The overall YPC was inflated by Murray's long run, but the majority of the Cowboys' rushes actually hurt their chances of scoring. I thought Murray played pretty well, meaning there weren't massive holes for him to run through for much of the day.
DE DeMarcus Ware
DE George Selvie
DE Everette Brown
DE Edgar Jones
DT Jason Hatcher
DT Nick Hayden
DT Jarius Wynn
DT Corvey Irvin
The defensive line's inability to generate pressure is becoming a huge issue. They're lucky Cousins wasn't on his game, because they were nowhere near him on most plays. The Cowboys didn't record a single sack on the day.
Hayden had a better-than-average day, recording five tackles, plus-2.5 EPA and a team-leading 0.11 win probability added (WPA). WPA measures how much a team's win probability increases on certain plays, and the plays on which Hayden had a tackle increased the Cowboys' chances of winning by 11 percent.
It's pretty clear Ware isn't the same player he once was, nor should we expect him to return to form. I've seen injuries used as an "excuse" for his play, but that's kind of the point; at his age, the chances of injury are much higher than for younger players. Part of the reason Ware will have trouble producing at an elite level is because he can't stay healthy.
Carter was the Cowboys' best linebacker on the day, playing well and registering 11 total tackles. In terms of tackles alone, Carter's increased the Cowboys' WPA by the most at 0.07.
Holloman added six more tackles, although only one was solo, and Wilber checked in with five. The linebackers were also outstanding in coverage. Outside of wide receiver Pierre Garcon, the Redskins didn't have a single player with over 14 receiving yards. No tight end or running back had more than nine.
Carr was absolutely torched by Garcon throughout the game. Garcon ended up with 144 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches. I thought Carr had played a little better than his overall season numbers indicated because of a single poor showing against Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, but he was awful against the Redskins.
Meanwhile, the only time Garcon could be stopped was when the Cowboys played Scandrick on him. It's a shame it took until late in the second half for it to happen, because the Cowboys kept shadowing Garcon with Carr, and the wide receiver just kept getting open. Scandrick had a really big defended pass late in the game, as well as the second-most solo tackles for Dallas (five) and a team-leading plus-3.1 EPA.
I'll give the cornerbacks a "B," although Carr gets a D and Scandrick gets an A.
This game was a good reason why Church is having an outstanding campaign. While some of his tackles have come as the result of Dallas being poor in the front seven, the defense actually did a decent job on running back Alfred Morris, holding him to 3.67 YPA on 24 carries. Church still had seven tackles, though. He's not a ball-hawking safety, but he does what the Cowboys need him to do really well.
Wilcox had an absolutely ridiculous "late hit" penalty that cost Dallas three points and could have ended up costing them the game. We all knew he'd need some time to adjust from Georgia Southern, but he hasn't shown much so far this season.
K Dan Bailey
P Chris Jones
LS L.P. Ladouceur
Bailey was once again perfect, although he nearly missed the final extra point that put Dallas on top. Jones averaged 51.7 yards on his punts.