The Dallas Cowboys are clear favorites on Sunday, but the New York Jets will look to exploit their weaknesses to secure the upset.
Throughout the season, I’ll be previewing the New York Jets‘ opponent each week with a look at their greatest strengths and weaknesses from a statistical standpoint.
Let’s dive into some key numbers on the Dallas Cowboys heading into this Sunday’s season-opening AFC East clash.
Strength: Offensive line
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line is yet again putting up some amazing numbers. Sacked only six times over 171 pass attempts, Dak Prescott has taken a career-low sack rate of just 3.4%, which is tied for the third-lowest mark among qualified quarterbacks (behind the injured Mason Rudolph and Eli Manning). That level of protection has helped Prescott average a blistering 8.81 net yards per pass attempt, best in football.
The Cowboys’ run game has been dominant. They are third in both rushing offense DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) and EPA (estimated points added), while placing sixth in rushing yards per game (140.8). They also rank seventh in yards per carry at 5.1.
Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards per carry is a metric that re-assigns rushing yards based on offensive line responsibility. Dallas is ranked fourth in the metric, placing top-ten for the seventh consecutive season.
In addition, Pro Football Focus has the Cowboys graded as the league’s fourth-best offense in both pass blocking and run blocking.
Travis Frederick’s return has given the group an added boost. Tackles Tyron Smith (left) and La’el Collins (right) have been excellent, while Zack Martin has been his usual self at right guard. The only question mark is left guard Connor Williams, who has been rocky over his two-year career in Dallas.
The Cowboys gave the football away only two times during their 3-0 start.
Over their two losses to the Saints and Packers, they’ve turned the ball over a whopping six times, with three giveaways in each game.
Fumbles were the problem against the Saints. Jason Witten, who has averaged one fumble per 27 games over the course of his career, lost one, while Ezekiel Elliott lost another. The third turnover was a Hail Mary attempt by Dak Prescott that was picked off.
Then, interceptions became a real issue for Prescott against Green Bay. He tossed three, tying his career-high. One more was called back due to a penalty. Two came in the first half, and another came in the fourth quarter with Dallas attempting to cut Green Bay’s lead to one score.
Prescott is tied for fifth in the league with six interceptions, while his career-high interception rate of 3.5% ranks fourth among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts.
His chemistry with Randall Cobb is an issue, as four of Prescott’s six picks have come on targets to Cobb.
Strength: Clutch play
Dallas’ defense comes through when it matters most. They are ranked second in third-down defense, allowing only a 26.2% conversion rate on third downs. The Cowboys have also been excellent in the red zone, allowing a touchdown on just 47.4% of defensive red zone drives (seventh-best).
Rod Marinelli’s pass defense does a particularly good job in the red zone. The Cowboys’ total of three passing touchdowns allowed in the red zone is tied for the third-fewest. Their 27.3% conversion rate allowed on red-zone passing plays is the ninth-lowest mark.
While the Cowboys defense has come through with stops in clutch situations, they have not done a good job taking the football away. With just four takeaways, the Cowboys have forced a turnover on 7.7% of defensive drives, which ranks 27th in the league.
Things have been worse recently. Two of the Cowboys’ four takeaways came in the season opener against the Giants. They have forced only two turnovers over their past four games, having two contests with zero takeaways (against the Redskins and Packers).
The lack of playmaking from the defense has made things tough on the offense. The average starting field position for the Cowboys offense has been its own 23.2-yard line, 31st in the league (better than only the Jets).
Special Teams tidbit: Maher has gone cold
Brett Maher has hit a rough patch, now having missed three of his six field-goal attempts over the past three weeks. Two of those misses came against Green Bay last week, including a 54-yarder near the end of the first half and a 33-yarder in the fourth quarter that would have cut Green Bay’s lead to seven.
Maher also missed a 55-yard attempt against Miami in Week 3. Kickers have converted on 54-55-yard attempts about 57% of the time since 2014, so Maher does deserve blame for missing those kicks despite the distance. In today’s NFL, kickers should be expected to make more of those than they miss. His struggles now have the Cowboys ranked 29th in placekicking DVOA (-4.9%).