FanPost

On Paper: Lions vs. Cowboys

Sunday's game features two teams with some similarities, yet couldn't be more different.  Both teams sit at a disappointing 2-7, with a record of 0-3 against the NFC North.  Both teams will be sporting their backup quarterback for much of the foreseeable future.  However, both teams are currently heading in different trajectories.  The Cowboys are riding high after a dominant performance by their new head coach against an impressive Giants squad.  The Lions suffered an embarrassing loss to the previously winless Bills after dropping a heartbreaker to the Jets in overtime the previous week.  Because of the latest trends, most are predicting a fairly easy Cowboys win, but is that what the stats predict?  Take a look, it's in a book..er..blog.

Lions Pass Offense (7th) vs. Cowboys Pass Defense (21st)

(Teams in bold were the home team)

Opponent

Opponent's

Passing YPG

Passing Yards vs. Cowboys

Opponent's

Season QB Rating

QB Rating vs. Cowboys

Redskins

235.2

171

75.2

63.4

Bears

202.3

277

74.9

136.7

Texans

242.6

241

91.5

77.7

Titans

180.6

173

89.6

97.6

Vikings

219.6

118

73.6

106.9

Giants

262.9

306

92.1

100.4

Jaguars

197.4

260

91.9

157.8

Packers

243.1

289

90.1

131.5

Giants

262.9

373

92.1

88.3

The chart tells us two things:

  • 1) In the last four games, offenses have been torching the Dallas secondary, well above their season averages.
  • 2) Many times in which the Cowboys have held their opponents below average in yardage, their opponent still had an effective day based on their QB rating.

The first conclusion is probably the result of Dallas' banged-up secondary. The second conclusion is likely because of lack of talent and the opposing team getting out to an early lead and coasting with the run game for the last half of the game. 

Looking deeper into the stats tells us what we already assumed.  The Cowboys are 30th in opposing QB rating (105.5), 30th in opposing completion percentage (67.8), 27th in allowing plays of 20 or longer and 30th in yards per pass allowed (8.0).

Despite having one of the most feared defensive ends/outside linebackers in the game in DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys have not been very disruptive this year.  They've only forced 17 sacks (21st in the league, Ware has 8 of them) and have only intercepted seven passes all year (23rd). 

The gameplan is simple for the Lions: Contain Ware and the rest should fall into place.  There is a little doubt in the Lions passing attack after Shaun Hill looked pretty shaky in his return, but he should be healthier and better prepared this week. Lions +2.

Lions Run Offense (30th) vs. Cowboys Run Defense (23rd)

Opponent

Opponent's

Rushing YPG

Rushing Yards vs. Cowboys

Opponent's Season Avg YPC

YPC vs. Cowboys

Redskins

95.8

89

4.3

3.9

Bears

95.0

38

3.8

2.0

Texans

130.3

124

5.0

5.6

Titans

124.3

158

4.3

5.9

Vikings

121.3

95

4.5

3.4

Giants

146.9

200

4.6

5.4

Jaguars

134.2

149

4.3

4.4

Packers

101.6

138

4.2

3.9

Giants

146.9

107

4.6

3.8

The Cowboys look pretty average here.  For both yards per carry and total yards, they've allowed four of nine opponents to outperform season averages.  This is actually somewhat impressive considering six of their nine games have been against a top 10 run offense. 

It's possible these numbers are somewhat skewed because the Cowboys have fallen behind in many of their games, and opponents may have decided to shut down their passing game in favor of running the clock.  The numbers support this theory, as Dallas has faced the 27th most passing attempts and 7th most rushing attempts. 

Still, the numbers aren't great for the Cowboys.  Their yards per carry allowed is 21st in the league at 4.3 a carry, and they've allowed 10 plays of 20 or longer on the ground (3rd most, but this is somewhat excusable considering the high amount of rushing attempts).  I would consider the Cowboys run defense to be right around average in the league.

However, the state of the Lions rushing attack is dire.  After getting shut down by the worst run defense in the league last week, the Lions got more bad news as Kevin Smith had surgery on his thumb, forcing him to sit for at least a couple of weeks.  It's hard to imagine Detroit turning things around this week against a team that has only allowed one rushing play of 40 or longer.  I expect the Detroit offense to, once again, be one-dimensional.  Dallas +2.5.

Cowboys Pass Offense (4th) vs. Lions Pass Defense (17th)

Opponent

Opponent's Passing YPG Allowed

Passing Yards Allowed vs. Cowboys

Opponent's Season QB Rating Against

QB Rating Allowed vs. Cowboys

Redskins

286.6

282

91.7

89.1

Bears

219.6

374

66.7

78.4

Texans

301.3

284

110.2

127.6

Titans

247.7

406

78.0

89.6

Vikings

210.8

220

85.8

98.4

Giants

186.9

226*

78.1

94.4*

Jaguars

272.3

379

105.7

64.9

Packers

211.8

183

68.3

63.6

Giants

186.9

327

78.1

124.1

*Kitna + Romo

The Cowboys don't get sacked too often (18th most), but they have the second most interceptions in the league, with 14.

The Cowboys have a myriad of threats at the wide receiver position, which is reflected by some of their offensive stats.  They're 6th in the league in plays of 40 or longer (7 total), 4th in plays of 20 or longer (37), 6th in yards per pass play (7.7) and 2nd in completion percentage (66.1%).  Without question, when the Cowboys are playing without making big mistakes, their passing game can be explosive. 

The good news is the Cowboys are prone to making big mistakes.  Despite all of those impressive stats, the Cowboys are a mere 16th in QB rating.  Detroit has been fairly successful at capitalizing on mistakes, forcing the 4th most turnovers in the league (more on that later).  Also, Detroit's pass defense has gotten to a point where it's actually pretty respectable  Still, I think the Cowboys have too many weapons and Jon Kitna isn't as bad as most people like to claim.  Cowboys +1.5.

Cowboys Run Offense (31st) vs. Lions Run Defense (26th)

Opponent

Opponent's Rushing YPG Allowed

Rushing Yards Allowed vs.

Cowboys

Opponent's Avg YPC Allowed

YPC Allowed vs. Cowboys

Redskins

128.8

103

5.0

4.7

Bears

82.3

36

3.5

1.8

Texans

108.3

101

4.1

3.7

Titans

103.1

141

3.9

6.1

Vikings

100.0

94

3.7

3.4

Giants

83.3

41

3.5

3.2

Jaguars

114.9

50

4.3

2.3

Packers

114.2

39

4.5

2.8

Giants

83.3

103

3.5

3.8

The Cowboys' running game has to be the biggest disappoint for the team. Though some of the stats are deflated because of falling behind quickly (they've attempted the 2nd least amount of rushes), overall this unit has been, at best, below average.  Yardage puts the Cowboys running attack at 31st, but they aren't much better at yards per carry (28th).  They've only had two rushes of over 20 yards (30th) and zero of over 40 (32nd).

The Lions run defense has not been great, but it hasn't killed the team.  Dallas has talent at the running back position, but the Lions can tell you that the running game is a lot more complicated than having a talented back.  I expect the Cowboys to perform above their averages, but not well enough to change the outlook of the game.  Lions +0.5.

Turnovers

Detroit gives it away 1.9 times a game (22nd) to Dallas' 2.2 (26th)

Detroit forces 2.2 turnovers per game (4th) while Dallas only forces 1.4 (21st)

That leaves Detroit 12th overall in turnover margin, while Dallas sits at 27th. 

Much of the reason that the Cowboys sit at 2-7 is how poorly they are taking care of the ball.  In a game that I expect to be close, once again, the team that wins the turnover battle has a much better chance of pulling off the "W".  Lions +1.

Special Teams

Detroit has the highest kick return average, while Dallas is 24th (longest a mere 41 yards).  Dallas has the 2nd highest punt return average, with two touchdowns and Detroit is 3rd in average.

In terms of coverage, the Lions are 6th in kick return average and 18th in punt return average.  Meanwhile the Cowboys are 31st in kickoffs and 2nd in punt returns. 

What does this all mean?  Well, Detroit's kickoff team has a very good chance of pulling off a major kick return.  However, don't ignore Dallas' punt return abilities.  Detroit has been very shaky on special teams as of late because of injuries.  Both teams have big threats and both teams are vulnerable in coverage.  I wouldn't be surprised to see multiple big plays in special teams, but luck will pretty much determine who has the advantage. Push.

Penalties

Two undisciplined teams, as Dallas is 26th in penalties, while Detroit is 31st.  Both teams are bound to make numerous drive-killing and drive-extending penalties.  Push.

Overall

I surprised myself a little with the final conclusion. The Cowboys have just a +0.5 advantage.  Morale is as low as it's been for Lions fans, but there's really no reason for it.  Sure the Lions laid an egg last week, but the core of this team remains solid enough where they can compete with any opponent in this league.  Shaun Hill had a poor week last week, but his stats weren't even that bad in the end.  We've seen him play at his full potential, and while he might not be there this week, he should certainly be better, especially with better weather conditions inside Cowboys Stadium (so he'll have no excuse for throwing it out of the MOTHER FLIPPING ENDZONE).

As for the Cowboys, one win and a new coach does not suddenly make this team the team we thought they were at the beginning of the season.  They are still a team who is struggling in the secondary, has trouble getting the run game going, and a team who is relying on their backup quarterback.  It's actually strikingly similar to where the Lions are right now.  They've got plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball, but have yet to really put it all together.  Their passing game, too, can be explosive, but their running game is utterly disappointing. 

This is the NFL and anything can happen week to week, but I would hardly call it an upset if the Lions pull it off on Sunday.  The Lions have played much more consistently this year (last week excluded), but the Cowboys were undeniably impressive last week against the Giants.  It's hard to predict which Cowboys team you'll see this week, but they've undoubtedly gained a new sense of confidence after last week.  I have to take the Cowboys because of the numbers and because they are at home, but I have to at least take the Lions to beat the spread.  Dallas 27 Lions 24.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Pride Of Detroit or its writers.

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