The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

How the Cowboys Stopped LeSean McCoy + Game Notes

At ABC, I broke down how Dallas stopped Shady:

Containing the Edges

The Cowboys halted McCoy because they played extremely disciplined run defense. McCoy is the “King of the Cutback,” so the ‘Boys did everything they could to not over-pursue, nearly always having a defender sealing each edge.

That was apparent early in the second quarter. The Eagles lined up in a Shotgun Trips formation.

They ran their patented read-option, with Shady flowing away from the “Trips” toward the boundary. The Cowboys did a good job of moving to the ball without giving McCoy room to cut back.

With defenders playing with outside leverage in both directions, McCoy had no choice but to keep it inside, picking up just a couple yards.

Just one play later, Philly ran the same concept to the opposite side of the field. They again lined up in “Trips,” this time using a tight end in-line opposite the three-receiver side.

Again, the edge defenders maintained their leverage so as to not allow Shady to bounce anything outside.

Again, he had nowhere to run.

This type of defensive concept is why we saw Sean Lee total 11 tackles while the starting outside linebackers combined for two (yes two) tackles. It was obvious that the outside defenders were playing not to make tackles at any cost, but rather to make sure McCoy couldn’t turn a would-be two-yard gain into a 40-yard run.

That idea is reflected in this pie chart.

Of the tackles made by the Cowboys’ 11 starters, only 15 percent combined came from the defensive ends and outside linebackers. Meanwhile, Sean Lee had 27.5 percent of the tackles by himself. He and the secondary combined to make 72.5 percent of the tackles. That’s what you’d expect when the perimeter defenders are playing disciplined run defense, extending plays instead of forcing the issue.

And at NBC, I posted some thoughts from the game:

- It won’t get much publicity since the Cowboys’ defense played well enough that the game was never really in question, but Jason Garrett punted three times in the first quarter when he should have gone for it: a fourth-and-one at the Cowboys’ 43-yard line, a fourth-and-five at the Eagles’ 36-yard line, and a fourth-and-one at the Cowboys’ 39-yard line.

- Using the fourth down calculator at Advanced NFL Stats, we can use past game data to calculate how many expected points the Cowboys lost by being so risk-averse. In total, the ‘Boys lost 2.7 expected points and a 10 percent chance of winning the game by punting three times. That’s just one type of decision in one quarter. But yeah, the team is totally fine as one of the only ones in the NFL without any type of analytics department.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Redskins Analysis: Film Study & Grades

At ABC, I broke down two important plays in the Cowboys’ Week 6 win over the Redskins, including the Terrance Williams touchdown:

The Terrance Williams Touchdown

Facing a second-and-10 at the Redskins’ 15-yard line with just under 10 minutes to play in the third quarter, the Cowboys held a five-point lead. They lined up in “Gun Trips”—a formation I’ve discussed in the past because the Cowboys simply don’t run out of it. Despite using it in situations like this when they could run, the ‘Boys have done so on less than one percent of their hundreds of snaps from the formation since 2009.

On this particular play, Williams was lined up at the bottom of the screen. The Redskins blitzed, rushing six defenders—everyone who was lined up in the box other than the middle linebacker, as well as the slot cornerback.

That slot defender—Josh Wilson—got in clean in Romo, who didn’t have a hot read on the play.

Romo’s only option was to either throw the ball away or try to avoid Wilson. He chose the latter, just barely eluding Wilson without going down to the ground.

Romo wasn’t done, though, gathering himself before firing to Williams in the back of the end zone. Williams wasn’t open, but Romo threw an absolutely perfect ball over top of cornerback E.J. Biggers. It was the quarterback’s best throw of the night, by far.

Romo didn’t play an outstanding game, primarily because he was under constant pressure from Washington, but this particular play changed the course of the contest. It gave the Cowboys a two-score lead—a lead they never relinquished—and set them up to head into Philadelphia tied with the Eagles atop the NFC East.

At Bleacher Report, I handed out position grades:

Tony Romo

Statistically, it was a putrid game for Tony Romo. Coming off of his record-breaking 506-yard, five-touchdown performance against the Denver Broncos, Romo was able to compile just 170 yards against Washington. He did it on 30 attempts, good for just 5.7 yards per attempt. That’s the sort of efficiency we saw from him when the ‘Boys were losing early in the season.

In his defense, Romo threw just one pick on a tipped pass and had really poor protection all day. The Cowboys couldn’t give him time to throw, even when he wasn’t looking downfield.

Actually, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan did a good job of moving to five-wide and other spread sets once 1) running back DeMarco Murray was injured and 2) he realized the offensive line couldn’t give Romo time to throw. By spreading the field, Callahan made Romo his own blocker, giving him the option to throw hot at times. It wasn’t overly successful, but it ironically allowed him to avoid sacks.

Ultimately, the Cowboys got the win. But we can’t grade Romo, or any quarterback, solely on team wins. A good question to ask is this: “If he plays like this again, will the Cowboys win?” Against the Broncos, the answer was a resounding “yes.” Not so much this week.

Grade: D+

And at NBC, I posted a few other random thoughts:

- Rookie running back Joseph Randle had 11 carries for 17 yards and a touchdown. His efficiency will inevitably increase, but by how much? Probably not a lot considering he’s a light back with poor speed. I didn’t like Randle before the draft, I didn’t like him after it, and I don’t think he’ll offer the Cowboys much long-term value. It was smart for Dallas to wait on a back in the draft, but not one with a horrific weight/speed combination.

- Prior to the season, I argued that Barry Church will have a big 2013 season. Still, I projected him at only 80 tackles in the preseason and 98 tackles after Week 1. He’s currently on pace for 125, which is remarkable. Church still needs to improve in coverage, but he’s playing some good football.

- Orlando Scandrick has undoubtedly been the Cowboys’ best defensive player in 2013. He’s been a lockdown player inside, and he was rewarded with an interception on Sunday night. Who could have seen this sort of play coming from Scandrick? Me, when I graded him as the top player on the team last season. He’s also the most underappreciated.

By Jonathan Bales

My Cowboys-Broncos Analysis: Tony Romo, Big Plays & Position Grades

At ABC, I broke down Tony Romo’s interception and explained why he’s still a clutch quarterback:

Tony Romo: Clutch Quarterback?

There are a few problems with the popular opinion of Romo being a “choke artist.” First, it’s based on anecdotal evidence. Romo has had some really big fourth quarter and late-season mistakes, for sure, but outside of team wins—a horribly ineffective way to judge a quarterback—there’s not really much to support the “Romo chokes” theory other than “well, he had this one bad throw in this big game, and then he had this other poor throw in another game, so clearly he sucks when the chips are down.”

Second, “choke artist” isn’t exactly an objective term. If you’re of the opinion that Romo collapses in high-pressure situations, you need to provide some sort of guidelines through which we can test the theory. That’s kind of how stats (and science) work and why they’re pragmatic; instead of arguing in support or against a player or team with vague, potentially meaningless concepts such as “lots of heart,” “a strong identity,” “savvy play,” and other untestable qualities, we can acquire a deeper, more meaningful understanding of football and its players through stat analysis.

If Romo’s interception in Sunday’s loss is to be used against him, then we also need to include other performances in similar situations. So let’s do that.

Since 2000, no quarterback in the NFL has a higher fourth quarter (and overtime) passer rating than Romo. Aaron Rodgers is second, but he’s still nearly five points behind Romo.

And it’s not like Romo’s rating is inflated by some fluky touchdowns, because he’s also averaged 8.5 YPA. That’s 0.7 yards more than Rodgers and a full yard more than the third quarterback on the list, Peyton Manning. Romo’s 60-to-23 fourth quarter touchdown-to-interception ratio is a whole lot better than Manning’s 90-to-42 ratio, too.

But it’s pretty clear that Romo racks up stats in meaningless situations, such as when the team is down by 21 points, right?

Uh, no. Romo’s fourth quarter passer rating in one-score games is a few points lower at 100.1, but his YPA (more strongly correlated with team wins) is slightly higher at 8.7. He has 31 touchdowns and 13 picks in such situations.

So this is really where we are—a juncture at which we can either blindly accept the notion of Romo folding under pressure or analyze the stats to understand that our memories are clouded from a few highly covered and oft-discussed plays. It’s faith versus science, and I’m on the side of the argument that can actually be both tested and falsified.

At NBC, I broke down some of the game’s biggest plays:

Tony Romo’s INT
Romo’s interception was obviously costly, but here’s how much; prior to the play, the Cowboys owned a 67 percent to win the game. After it, the odds dwindled to just 16 percent. And in reality, it was probably worse than that because generic win probability numbers don’t account for specific game situations. Neither the Broncos nor Cowboys could consistently stop one another, so the game was bound to be a whoever-has-the-ball-last-wins sort of contest.

Allowing a Touchdown
Should the Cowboys have allowed a touchdown on purpose when the Broncos faced third-and-inches at the Cowboys’ two-yard line? I don’t think so. It’s a close call, but there was still hope that the defense could make a stop in the backfield and hold Denver to a field goal try.

In my opinion, the coaches should have told the defense to try to make a tackle for a loss, but if you don’t immediately get a push into the backfield, let the running back score. Allowing a first down but not a touchdown was the worst possible outcome for Dallas, although I don’t think the coaches made a horrible decision in telling the defense to play it straight up.

And at Bleacher Report, I handed out position grades:

Romo set a career high with 506 passing yards and five touchdowns. He also through a crucial fourth-quarter interception that led to Denver’s game-winning score, but it’s difficult to get on Romo about it since the Cowboys wouldn’t have been in that position without him.

In terms of pure stats, Romo outplayed Manning in every way. He had nearly 100 more yards on six fewer attempts, averaging 14.1 YPA, compared to 9.9 YPA for Manning. They scored the same number of touchdowns with Manning tossing four and running one in.

If your inclination is to say this is “the same old Romo,” in regards to his fourth-quarter interception, you’re just wrong. Romo actually has the highest fourth-quarter passer rating ever. It’s unfortunate his lone pick came so late in the game—and it was clearly a poor decision—but this was still one of the best games of Romo’s career.

Grade: A

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Chargers Analysis: The Tony Romo Illusion

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about Tony Romo and the Cowboys’ lack of aggressiveness today. In addition to a post that will be up at DallasCowboys.com later, I discussed the Tony Romo illusion over at NBC:

Tony Romo is gaming the system right now. With his 105.0 passer rating and 8:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, Romo has made it appear that he’s playing great football. He’s made it appear that he’s leading the Cowboys’ offense and that factors outside of his control are killing the team’s chances. He’s made it appear like he’s an improved decision-maker.

But playing quarterback isn’t all about minimizing turnovers. Yes, Romo has cut down on his picks. That’s awesome and, given interceptions or no interceptions, there’s obviously no choice.

But that’s not the real dichotomy, here. The real decision is between an aggressive, high-variance style of play that leads to interceptions at times but also creates big plays to lead the offense, or an ultra-conservative style of play that typically results in another form of a turnover—a punt.

On Sunday, Romo was again acting as Houdini in San Diego. A 73.0 percent completion rate. Two touchdowns and no interceptions. A magnificent 108.4 passer rating.

But here’s the dark side of his illusion: 6.60 YPA. No individual stat best predicts team success like YPA. Romo’s 6.68 YPA in 2013 is the lowest he’s ever posted. And it’s not even close.

Turnover minimization should be one of the Cowboys’ goals. It should be an important goal, too. But it shouldn’t be the only goal. The offense can’t continue to minimize turnovers at all costs, regardless of whether or not they move the ball. Open up the offense, let Romo get the ball downfield, and stop playing for another 8-8 record.

At ABC, I broke down a few of Romo’s throws:

Dez Bryant 34-Yard Touchdown

It’s not like Romo is never taking his chances, of course, but just that they’re very limited. He threw a beautiful ball into a tight window in the second quarter—a play that changed the outlook of the game at that point.

On a second-and-four at San Diego’s 40-yard line, the Cowboys used a heavy three-tight end package and lined up in a “Jumbo Ace” look. Bryant was isolated to the field.

Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan called for a play-action look—something that’s still way too underutilized. Romo came into the week with a 110.2 passer rating on play-action passes, yet the Cowboys ranked near the bottom in the league in play-action pass rate. We saw the same thing last year when Romo had a similar play-action passer rating, yet Dallas ranked last in the league in play-action attempts.

This play was particularly deceptive because it was used in a running situation with run-heavy personnel. Romo was given plenty of time to throw and even had Lance Dunbar open underneath.

He rightfully decided to bypass the sure thing to Dunbar in favor of looking downfield for Bryant. The window of opportunity was a small one, but the aggressive throw paid off. Bryant caught the ball in traffic and took it all the way in for the score.

And at Bleacher Report, I handed out position grades:

Tony Romo

You’re going to hear all week that quarterback Tony Romo “took what the defense gave him.” That was the case in both Week 1 and Week 2 as well when Romo, despite a high completion percentage, was quite inefficient in terms of yards per attempt.

On Sunday, Romo again padded his completion percentage, connecting on 27 of his 37 attempts (73.0 percent). Completions aren’t valuable in and of themselves, of course, and Romo managed only 244 yards on those passes (6.59 YPA). Let me save you the suspense—if that’s the sort of efficiency we can expect from Romo all year, the Cowboys will be lucky to go 8-8.

Romo is an outstanding quarterback and more than capable of leading the Cowboys as far as they want to go, but not like this. If the Cowboys don’t start throwing the ball downfield, there’s very little reason for fans to be optimistic. Yes, he protected the ball again, but eventually, the team will need to realize that the same style of play that can lead to interceptions is also what makes Romo a great quarterback.

The ‘Boys seem content to employ a low-variance strategy, through which Romo does everything in his power to not throw interceptions, even if it means not moving the offense.

Grade: D

By Jonathan Bales

3 Numbers to Know for Cowboys vs. Chargers

At NBC, I posted three numbers to know for Dallas this week. Here’s one:

45: Percentage of Chargers’ runs that have increased their chances of scoring on a drive

This stat is also known as “run success rate,” and the Chargers actually rank fifth in the NFL. That’s notable because San Diego has run for only 3.9 YPC, ranking them 18th in the league. Thus, while traditional numbers suggest the Chargers have been pour on the ground, the truth is that they’ve been rather efficient.

YPC is influenced so heavily by game situations that it’s really a useless stat. Teams that run when they should run, especially in short-yardage and goal line situations, typically have low YPC. We shouldn’t penalize a team for gaining two yards on third-and-one, and that’s exactly what YPC does. Run success rate captures true efficiency, rewarding teams for run that increases their probability of scoring.

The fact that San Diego ranks high in run success rate but low in YPC is actually a good thing; it means they’ve used the run in a lot of low-upside situations, such as near the goal line, which is fine. That’s also undoubtedly helped their passing efficiency—one of the “hidden” benefits of using the run as a complementary piece of the offense instead of the core.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys-Rams Week 3 Analysis: Game Notes, Position Report Card & More

At Dallas News, I posted a breakdown of the Cowboys-Rams win probability graph:

One of the coolest (and most useful) things we can do with stats is predict each team’s probability of winning a game in real time. The win probability graphs over at Advanced NFL Stats use historic game data to display the chances of each team winning a game as the game is happening. Here’s the Cowboys-Rams win probability graph from Sunday afternoon:

This is one of the most boring win probability graphs you’ll see all season, and that’s a great thing for Dallas. The ‘Boys dominated this game throughout; within nine minutes, the Rams’ chances of winning were under 25 percent, and they never improved. By halftime, the Cowboys had a 93 percentchance to win, and again, it never got worse for Dallas from there on out.

At NBC, I posted a few of my notes from the game:

- All of the cornerbacks played outstanding football, but we really need to tip our hats to Orlando Scandrick. He held rookie speedster Tavon Austin to just 30 yards on six receptions. When you can corral a player like Austin before he gets going, his value is limited because he doesn’t run many downfield routes and he can’t score in the red zone. Scandrick also had a sack and a quarterback hit.

- Based on the halftime score of 17-0, the Cowboys had a 93 percent chance to win the game after two quarters. That assumes the teams were evenly matched, so the Cowboys’ win probability was probably closer to 95 percent or better.

- Bill Callahan did a really nice job of calling plays, especially on the first drive. The Cowboys opened up the game with the same “Pistol” look that we saw in Week 1. We also saw the old “kill” audible system, meaning Romo was actually given less freedom at the line in this game, and way more play-action passes.

And at Bleacher Report, I posted grades for each position:

1. DeMarco Murray

2. Lance Dunbar

3. Phillip Tanner

Running backs Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner combined for eight carries, so this was really the Murray show all day. Murray ran for 175 yards on 26 carries. Even if you take out his longest run of 41 yards, Murray still totaled 134 yards on 25 carries—5.36 YPC.

Murray also added three receptions for 28 yards, giving him 16 receptions on the year. If he keeps up his current pace, Murray will total 85 catches this year. It’s unlikely he’ll reach that mark, but 65 receptions isn’t out of the question just because, with defenses playing wide receiver Dez Bryant the way they are, the underneath stuff will be open for Murray out of the backfield.

Grade: A

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Chiefs: Matchups to Watch for Dallas

I posted a couple articles on some matchups I’ll be watching this week, one at NBC and the other at Bleacher Report. Here’s one matchup from each article. At NBC:

CB Brandon Carr vs WR Dwayne Bowe
Who on the Chiefs’ offense can repeatedly beat the Cowboys? It isn’t going to be Donnie Avery or Anthony Fasano, and Dexter McCluster shouldn’t scare you unless they start giving points for catches behind the line-of-scrimmage and yards run horizontally across the field. The two Chiefs who can beat Dallas are running back Jamaal Charles and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.

Luckily, I don’t think the Cowboys need to bring an extra safety into the box to stop Charles; he thrives on long runs, so you actually want to keep defenders back. That could help Carr and Morris Claiborne in the event that they can’t handle Bowe alone. Either way, Carr on Bowe is a matchup I’m excited to watch.

And at Bleacher Report:

Cowboys RT Doug Free vs. Chiefs OLB Justin Houston

I’ve talked about this matchup on numerous occasions this week, but that’s because I think it’s the most important one for Dallas.

They’ve absolutely got to figure out how they’re going to stop Justin Houston. He’s a truly dominant pass-rusher with age (24), explosiveness (10’5″ broad jump), arm length (34.5 inches), and production (three sacks last week and 10 in 2012) on his side.

Houston rushed from the right side of the Chiefs’ defense on just 6.3 percent of snaps last season, so he’s usually going to be lined up over Free. I think Houston can give Free trouble because he can use his long arms to control Free and his athleticism to beat him around the edge.

So what are the Cowboys to do? One option is to just double-team Houston with a tight end. That can be effective, but Dallas will probably need to use “12” personnel—one running back, two tight ends, and two receivers—since they’ll want Jason Witten to be a big part of the passing game.

Another option—the one I suggested last week against the Giants—is to spread the field so Romo can throw quickly, getting the ball out before Houston can be a factor. Dallas did indeed employ that tactic last week, as No. 3 receiver Terrance Williams played 37 snaps and Romo got the ball out in an average of 2.49 seconds—a number that would have been the second-lowest in the NFL last year.

However, the Chiefs aren’t the Giants. With Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith, and Dunta Robinson, Kansas City is much stronger than New York is at the cornerback position. Whereas the net effect was positive when Dallas brought Williams on the field against the Giants, I’m not sure that will be the case this week. Therefore, I think using two-tight sets to double Houston is probably the way to go for Dallas.

By Jonathan Bales

Barry Church is getting good, guys

I feel like I’ve been driving the Barry Church bandwagon for two years, and the only people on it have been me and Mrs. Church. Barry was on it, but he fell off and he’s questionable to return. Anyway, here’s why I like Church and think he’s in for a huge year:

I was extremely high on safety Barry Church heading into the 2012 season. I wrote this:

It’s looking more and more like Barry Church will be the Cowboys’ starting safety opposite Gerald Sensabaugh on opening night. The move—letting a veteran player walk in favor of a young, albeit unproven commodity—has become typical for Jason Garrett during his short reign as head coach. It’s an extremely difficult decision to start a safety with zero career interceptions, but it’s the right one.

In 2011, I tracked Church as racking up 18 solo tackles. Playing 172 snaps, Church’s tackle rate of 10.5 percent was by far the best on the team. As a point of comparison, linebacker Sean Lee was second on the team with a 9.3 percent tackle rate.

In his rookie season of 2010, we saw similar production from Church. He totaled 10 solo tackles in 120 snaps, good for an 8.3 percent tackle rate. Again, that was one of the best marks on the defense.

I talk a lot about 40-yard dash times and weight/speed stats, but the most important factor when we’re projecting players in the future is a history of past production. Church’s on-field experience isn’t vast, but he’s been very productive.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys-Giants: Defensive Notes and a Look at the Win Probability Graph

At NBC, I posted my notes on the Cowboys’ defense:

- I thought Barry Church was the MVP for the Cowboys’ defense. He had eight tackles, a forced fumble, and of course the big fumble recovery for a touchdown. He has the potential to be really productive in Monte Kiffin’s defense.

- Opposite Church, Will Allen had a rough game. He had an interception, although that had more to do with Manning than anything else. Allen was targeted four times on the night, allowing three catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns. It’s really a shame that Matt Johnson is down for the year. The Cowboys need to find a way to cover up their weakness there.

At DallasCowboys.com, I broke down the win probability graph from AdvancedNFLStats.com:

Despite an 8-8 record in 2012, the Cowboys held a lead just 22 percent of the time. That’s really an astounding statistic and probably the biggest negative the team had heading into 2013. For at least one game, though, the Cowboys’ luck shifted.

Looking at data on win probability, we can visualize the ebb and flow of the Cowboys’ big opening night victory over the Giants. Using historic game data as a foundation, Advanced NFL Stats publishes visualizations that update in real time to display a team’s probability of winning a game at any point. Down 10-3 and facing a third-and-10 at the opponent’s 25-yard line with 3:20 to play in the second quarter? The win probability graphs can give you an indication of how likely you are to win, and an accurate one at that. I highly recommend monitoring them on game day.

The Cowboys’ win probability graph from Sunday night’s victory paints a picture we rarely saw last season, one with the ’Boys controlling the direction of the contest.

Due to a relatively fast pace from the Cowboys and a lack of rushing from both squads, there were an abundance of plays from scrimmage in this contest. And of those 133 plays, Dallas found themselves as an underdog on just five of them. That’s a sharp contrast from a year ago.

You can see the Cowboys were the favorites to win from about two-thirds of the way through the first quarter until the final second of the game. At its worst point, Dallas still owned a 40 percent chance of winning.

And at Bleacher Report, I took a look at some things to know going into Week 2:

By Jonathan Bales

All of my Cowboys-Giants analysis in one place: Dez Bryant, Position Grades, & More

So what’s up? Anything new going on with you guys? Not sure if you knew, but the Cowboys played last night. Won, too. Here’s some analysis.

I recently joined WFAA.com (ABC Dallas), and my first article takes a look at how the Giants really stifled the Cowboys’ offense.

A Look at Cover 2 Man-Under

Over the past few seasons, the Giants have played Cover 2 and Cover 2 Man-Under on nearly every snap against Dallas. Most are familiar with Cover 2—a true zone coverage—especially now that Monte Kiffin is in town. In Cover 2, the safeties play the deep halves and are responsible for the deepest receiver in their area. The cornerbacks play what’s known as “curl to flat”—a fancy way of saying the underneath zone near the sideline.

In 2 Man-Under, though, everyone other than the safeties is in man coverage. That means when a receiver goes deep, he’s effectively double-teamed. No wonder the Cowboys couldn’t secure any big plays on the night; the Giants made sure they kept everything in front of them, particularly when it came to Mr. Bryant.

One of the interesting tricks the Giants employed was mixing up their looks with the cornerbacks. Even though they played a lot of Cover 2 Man-Under, the Giants didn’t always place their cornerbacks in a press position. Instead, they often played off even when in man coverage, as you can see below.

Bryant, isolated at the top of the screen opposite the Cowboys’ “Trips” formation, was able to get a clean release because the cornerback was playing off. But there were advantages for the Giants in playing with off technique, too.

I’ll be doing a bunch of cool stuff at ABC this year, so definitely check it out.

At NBC, I posted some initial thoughts on the offense:

- I absolutely love that we saw the Pistol from Dallas on Sunday night. Not only that, but we saw it multiple times. The Pistol can allow for Tony Romo to be in Shotgun while also giving the Cowboys the freedom to run any play. DeMarco Murray doesn’t need to delay before taking a handoff, so the Cowboys can have the best of both worlds.

- I need to break down the film, but it was obvious that Dallas didn’t have much play-action success. It was still good to see them using it, though. Last year, Romo compiled a 109.1 passer rating on play-action. It can really be an effective tool in their offensive arsenal, whether the running game is working or not. They’re starting to realize that.



At Bleacher Report, I gave grades for each position:

DeMarco Murray handled 20 of the Cowboys’ 21 carries by running backs, and that’s a great sight to see. At nearly 220 pounds with 4.41 speed and past NFL efficiency, Murray is so much better than Phillip Tanner and Joseph Randle that it’s not even funny.

Murray averaged 4.3 YPC, thanks to a few nice runs in the fourth quarter. He also caught eight passes, showing he’ll be a staple in Bill Callahan’s short passing game.

Grade: C

And at Dallas News, I explained why I think Monte Kiffin’s defense wasn’t that good:

We can and should give the defense some credit for being in the right place at the right time, but we also can’t expect them to force more than a couple of turnovers in each game. And when those disappear, where does that leave this team? Had the Cowboys not gotten some fortuitous bounces against the Giants, this game could have been a blowout.

Again, I’m a fan of Kiffin and I even predicted the Cowboys’ takeaways to increase substantially just before the Giants game. But the ability to force turnovers is about one part skill for every three parts luck. I’ve heard people argue that it doesn’t matter because the Cowboys won the game, and in some ways that’s true, but it does matter if we’re looking to the future. And I don’t know about you, but I’m more concerned with the next 15 games than this single victory.