The Dallas Cowboys (4-1) have headed to Foxborough, MA to take on the 2-3 New England Patriots. The Cowboys boarded the plane carrying a four-game winning streak with quarterback Dak Prescott playing captain. The Patriots are fresh off of a comeback win against the Houston Texans with quarterback Mac Jones leading all rookies in passing yards.
Cowboys Head Coach Mike McCarthy has a 1-2 overall record against the Bill Belichick-led Patriots. The Cowboys have lost six straight games to the Patriots, with their last win back in December of the 1996 season. What advantages do they hold in this matchup to reverse their fortunes?
Here’s a review a some key advanced statistics to see if DVOA, ANY/A, Toxicity and EPA give the Cowboys reasons to feel confident about picking up win No. 5 on the season.
DVOA- Football Outsiders
DVOA is a metric created by Football Outsiders which measures the success of each play as compared to league average using percentage points above or below average. The metric measures down, distance, field location, quarter and quality of opponent.
With DVOA, teams are looking for a higher percentage offensively and a lower percentage defensively. On offense and special teams, the objective is to perform above league average while defenses are looking to force their opponents to perform below league average.
Information via Football Outsiders.
Offensively, the Cowboys hold a significant edge in Overall DVOA, ranking in the top 5 in all 3 categories. The Patriots land 24th overall.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott ranks No. 3 among all QB’s with a DVOA of 26.8%.
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones ranks No. 25 among qualified QB’s with a DVOA of -13.1%.
The gap defensively is much closer with both teams finishing in the top 10 in overall DVOA. As a reminder, teams are targeting a positive number for offense and a negative number defensively. The teams rank back-to-back in passing DVOA, with Dallas having a narrow edge there. Run DVOA sides heavily in the Cowboys favor with Dallas landing 8th while New England ranks 22nd. Dallas has the edge in overall DVOA sitting at No. 6.
With the Cowboys sitting ahead in both offensive and defensive DVOA and having a combined team DVOA of 33.9% (No.2 overall) to the Patriots -6.1% (No. 20 overall), Dallas wins this statistic.
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Adjusted Net Yards Per Pass Attempt, or ANY/A, is a formula which incorporates passing yardage, touchdowns, sacks and interceptions into a per-throw average. ANY/A has a direct correlation to scoring points and as such ranks third in win predictability.
The Cowboys have a sizable advantage in this category with a +2.42 ANY/A differential. The Patriots are in the negative through 5 weeks. Taking a look at the quarterbacks for each team shows a large gap between Prescott and Jones. Prescott ranks 3rd overall in ANY/A with an average of 8.34. Jones ranks 27th in ANY/A at 5.12.
Toxic Differential (Big Plays)
Toxic differential is a statistic created by then Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick. Billick realized that adding the number of explosive plays an offense generates and subtracting the number of explosive plays a defense allows, then adding the turnover margin, was a key barometer of team success.
Under Billick’s formula, explosive plays are defined as passing plays over 20 yards and rushing plays over 10 yards. These figures were gathered by Sharp Football Stats.
Dallas has 18 explosive pass plays and 26 explosive runs for a total of 44 combined explosive plays. Their 5 turnovers (3 interceptions and 2 fumbles) leaves Dallas’ offense with a toxicity score of 39.
New England has 17 explosive pass plays and 10 explosive runs for a total of 27 combined explosive plays. After subtracting their 9 turnovers (5 interceptions and 4 fumbles) the Patriots overall toxicity score is 18 offensively.
Dallas has allowed 23 explosive passing plays through the air and 8 runs for a combined total of 31 explosive plays allowed. The Cowboys have generated 12 takeaways, via 10 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries. Subtracting the takeaways from their explosive plays puts Dallas at a Toxicity score of 19 defensively.
New England has allowed 15 explosive passing plays and 14 big runs for a combined total of 29 explosive plays allowed. The Patriots have generated 6 takeaways, via 5 interceptions and 1 fumble recovery.
Using the formula listed above, we will subtract the 6 takeaways from the 29 explosive plays allowed to get a Toxicity score of 23 for the Patriots defense.
To get the overall Toxicity Score for each team, we will subtract the defensive Toxicity score from the Offensive score to get the overall Toxic differential. The goal here is to create more explosive plays than you allow and more takeaways than giveaways. A + or positive score is the target.
Cowboys offensive score: 39 – Cowboys defensive score: 19 = Total Team Toxicity Score of + 20
Patriots offensive score: 18 – Patriots defensive score: 23 = Total Team Toxicity Score of -5
Expected Points Added-EPA
EPA measures the impact that a play has on scoring. With EPA yardage, field position, down and distance all weigh in on what the expected net points would be for the situation. As an example, a first and goal at the one-yard line would represent a higher EP-Expected Points than a third and 10 on your own 20 yard line.
EPA is the difference between the Expected Points (EP) at the beginning of the play compared to the end of the play. It measures the plays impact on the score of the game.
EPA figures gathered by rbsdm.
The Cowboys offense dominates in all 4 categories in EPA. The Cowboys boast the 5th highest overall EPA per play and finish in the top 5 in both Passing and Rushing EPA per play. They also have the second highest success rate in the league at 54.4%. Success rate measures how often a team picks up the remaining needed yardage taking down and distance into account.
The Patriots are 29th in overall EPA per play, ranking 27th in passing EPA/play and 28th in rushing EPA/play. Their success rate of 45% places them No.22 in that category.
Offensive edge goes to the Cowboys.
On the defensive side of the ball the objective is to have a negative EPA. This means that each snap would reduce the total expected points for your opponent.
The gap narrows drastically when comparing the two defenses. The Cowboys rank 6th in EPA/play overall with the Patriots not too far away at No. 11. The Cowboys are 7th in passing EPA/play allowed at -.016 and 17th in rushing EPA/play. Their success rate of 45.2% ranks 12th in that category.
The Patriots .048 passing EPA/play is the 8th best in the league while their rushing EPA/play is 21st. They do take the edge in success rate with an 9th ranked success rate of 44%.
Dallas wins the defensive edge in EPA taking 3 of the 4 categories.