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It’s so good when the Dallas Cowboys win a game that almost everyone expects them to lose. Even those of us who thought we had a chance against the Minnesota Vikings weren’t overly confident. Still, they’ve won and not only have their grip on the NFC East tightened, they’re squarely on the hunt for the NFC’s number one seed.

The big story was, of course, Cooper Rush’s 325-yard, two-touchdown performance. However, a closer look at the stats reveals just how difficult this victory was. There are also some very interesting numbers on how much this team has changed. We will take a look.

Minus two turnover margin

It is one of the most consistent predictors of success in the league over time. If you lose the battle for revenue, you almost always lose the game. Dallas came into that game after feasting on takeout, but against Minnesota they found themselves dry, while losing an interception and fumble to the Vikings. Even being less one leads to victory 78% of the time (based on the most recent study I could find) and being down two just makes it worse.

That’s why the Cowboys needed all of Rush’s stellar debut as a starter, plus a few lucky shots along the way, like Amari Cooper’s juggling take of a rebound off Bashaud Breeland. . It was a deep hole they dug for themselves, and rock climbing is just one of the many obstacles they faced.

The Cowboys had to overcome a terrible field position

Going back to a favorite statistic, the “hidden yards” represented by where the team was due to start training were the ones Dallas was behind – badly. This is linked to this turnover statistic. They had feasted on the many take out they had before the bye, but as has been observed on several occasions, it is almost impossible to maintain. The law of averages finally caught up with them. As a result, the average starting position on the field for them was their own 21. Helped by their own takeaways, the Vikings were nine yards better, with their own 30 yard line their average starting point. The Cowboys’ best starting point was their own 32, and only one was better than the 25-yard line you get after a touchback on a kickoff. Two possessions started inside their own 10, and three more were within 20 or closer.

In contrast, Minnesota had four practices that started between its own 33- and 48-yard lines. Not only did Dallas have to run the full length of the pitch for all of their scores, but their defense had to stifle the Vikings after they repeatedly had a good position on the pitch. Short fields generally help teams win. It’s something it took both on offense and defense to overcome.

Penalties

Once again, Dallas had a penalty issue. They were reported eleven times for a total of 96 yards against seven for 57 for their opponent. Normally there is some frustration over silly mistakes, but even the game’s announcers pointed out how fragile some flags were against the Cowboys, especially in the fourth quarter where Minnesota took the lead with a field goal. Three questionable calls, one on Tarell Basham and two on Randy Gregory, kept this record alive and brought the Vikings to close range.

Even if you don’t blame the bad umpires, that was just another downside the Cowboys had to grapple with. It should be noted that the Zebras ended up helping Dallas at the most crucial moment when they stopped the clock in the second consecutive illegal time-out between games called by Mike Zimmer. If they had simply ignored the second attempt to call a time out, as is correct, the Cowboys would have faced the third and 16 rather than the third and 11 they had before the winning touchdown. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that Ezekiel Elliott got exactly 16 yards in the next game, so that maybe didn’t matter in the end.

Allow only 1 for 13 on the third downs

Now we come to one of the ways Dallas overcame all of those negative factors with this incredibly positive one. In their first practice for a touchdown, the Vikes converted a third and two that included a declined defensive detention penalty against Jayron Kearse. And apart from the other penalties, that was it. Twelve more times, Minnesota were trying to pick up a third, and with no laundry on the field, they were utterly powerless.

The general consensus has been that Dan Quinn has indeed made significant changes to the defense. They always give up big plays at inconvenient times, but they’ve gotten some crucial saves as well. Sunday night, it went like clockwork. Before the game against the Cowboys, the Vikings were converting their third downs at a 40% rate, just around the NFL median. So it was not just a question of hitting the bottom of the offensive with a barrel. It was a remarkable self-defense performance.

There may be no more important measure of defensive effectiveness than the allowed conversion rate per third drop. It grabs the ball for your offense, making it almost as punchy as a takeout while also being much more durable. It’s really a turnaround from the 2020 mess. How did they do it? Well, here’s a contributing factor.

Keeping the offense warm

Rush’s first start in the NFL was a major personal accomplishment and vital to securing the most important victory. But he also helped set an important team record.

If you didn’t know, 400 yards of offense is a bit of a benchmark for exceptional performance. Some of the things mentioned earlier are part of the reason why it didn’t lead to more points, but given that the goal of a good backup quarterback is to be able to come in and get a win or two in the absence. starter, this only adds to the level of comfort we should have with Rush fulfilling this role. From a broader perspective, many teams that hit the 400-yard mark do so with so-called “cooldown” stats, or rack up yards against a soft or preemptive defense in a game that is out of reach. . The Cowboys didn’t get a single yard that way in 2021. Most of it was done when they were leading. Talking about that…

They don’t fall much behind

As Bobby Belt informed us:

Even against Tom Brady and the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they were always there. And even when they’re falling behind (which isn’t much), this defense keeps things close while showing how far we’ve come.

A strong, consistent offense plus a stubborn, equally consistent defense is a pretty good combination to have.

The win over Minnesota was more than a good story about a fellow backup quarterback having his day. It was an illustration of the quality and resilience of this Dallas team. Winning football games in the NFL is tough, even when you have what turns out to be an easy schedule like the Cowboys did. They have the second longest winning streak behind the Green Bay Packers who have played one more game than Dallas since losing the season opener. The Packers, as well as the The Los Angeles Rams, the Arizona Cardinals, and the Buccaneers, are now competing in the fight for the NFC bye. No matter who you are, you should stick to what the America’s Team does.

Yes, they are ice skating in Hades.

And one more funny thing

Some records are important. Others just make great anecdotes.

Both against Minny and the two thrown by redheads. Go figure it out.


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