49ers enjoy slim statistical edge over Cowboys, but it can be overcome

Oscar Wilde once said “Life imitates art” and for this season’s Dallas Cowboys it couldn’t be more true.  In many ways, this season has mirrored last season. The Cowboys finished both campaigns with a 12-5 record and as destiny would have it, they faced off with the San Francisco 49ers in the postseason.  However, unlike last season, the Cowboys are the wild-card team and the 49ers are the team that is the favorite and hosting the game.

The Cowboys kicked off their postseason run with an impressive 31-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Entering the game the team faced questions about playing on natural grass, the drought between road playoff wins and even the record against Tom Brady. When the final seconds dripped off the clock, all of those were answered with resounding confirmation this team is resilient and unafraid of a challenge.

Enter the San Francisco 49ers, and boy are they a challenge. They have a formidable defense, one of the top scoring offenses in the league and a bevy of weapons they can attack a defense with. Taking a step back from the physical talent, they are a well coached team led by Kyle Shanahan, one of the best offensive minds in the game, and by one of the most revered defensive minds in the league in coordinator Demeco Ryans.

Each week we open up the Advanced Stat Notebook to analyze how each team ranks in EPA, DVOA, ANY/A and Toxic Differential. These four key metrics have a high correlation to win probability.

Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) - Football Outsiders

Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) sprints past San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw (57) and Fred Warner, rear, on his way to the end zone for a touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

DVOA is a metric 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.

DVOA Offense

  • The 49ers rank third overall with a DVOA of 35.7%. The Cowboys offense ranks 13th with a DVOA of 12.8%.

  • Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott ranks 11th with a DVOA of 8.3%, 49ers QB Brock Purdy hasn’t attempted enough passes to rank in Football Outsiders but has a DVOA of 21.5% in his seven games.

  • While the Cowboys ranked 13th in passing DVOA, the 49ers rank 13th in rushing DVOA at -5%. The Cowboys rank 10th with a DVOA of 1.2%.

  • The 49ers have the overall advantage in offensive DVOA with a DVOA of 13.2%, the sixth best score in the league. The Cowboys rank nine spots lower.

Offensive Advantage: 49ers (2 of 3)

DVOA Defense

  • The Cowboys defense holds an edge in passing DVOA allowed, ranking third with a -11.3% DVOA. The 49ers rank two spots behind with a -8% DVOA.

  • Both teams rank in the top-5 in rushing DVOA allowed with the Cowboys ranking fifth at -15.7% and the 49ers ranking second at -23.6%.

  • Overall defensive DVOA has the Cowboys and 49ers finishing first and second overall with the 49ers having the slightest of edges with less than one percent separating these two teams.

Defensive Advantage: 49ers (2 of 3)

Overall Advantage: 49ers (4 of 6)

Expected Points Added and Success Rate

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (88) catches a pass in front of San Francisco 49ers safety Tarvarius Moore (33) in the first half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

EPA measures the impact a play has on the likelihood of scoring. With EPA, yardage, field position, and 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.

Success rate is a measure of how often teams get 40% of the needed yards on 1st down, 60% on 2nd down and 100% on third down or fourth down.

EPA figures gathered by rbsdm.

EPA: Offense

  • Continuing the trend we tracked in DVOA, these two teams are remarkably close in EPA as well.  Both teams rank in the top-10 in EPA/play but the 49ers have the lead, ranking fourth, with a difference of .053/play separating them.

  • The 49ers rank fourth in passing EPA with an EPA of .171 per dropback. The Cowboys rank ninth at .082 EPA per dropback.

  • The 49ers have the slightest of edges in rushing EPA/play with the two teams finishing 11th and 12th with a difference of .01 per carry difference.

  • Rounding out a clean sweep for the 49ers, they also lead in success rate at 46.2%, one percent higher than the Cowboys.

Offensive Advantage: 49ers

EPA: Defense

The two teams were remarkably close in offensive EPA and the gap becomes even more narrow defensively.

  • The Cowboys defense holds opponents to a negative .087 EPA per play, second best in the league behind the 49ers -.112 EPA/play.

  • The 49ers have a small advantage in passing EPA/play, ranking second at -.081 EPA per dropback.  The Cowboys aren’t far behind with an EPA of -.059/play, the fourth highest in the league.

  • The rankings are identical in rushing defense as well with the 49ers ranking second holding opposing offenses to -.174 EPA per carry. The Cowboys rank fourth at -.126 EPA per carry.

  • This likely won’t be a surprise at this point but the teams also finished fourth and second in success rate allowed again with the 49ers having the advantage by 1.5%.

Defensive Advantage: 49ers

Overall Advantage: 49ers ( 8 of 8 EPA categories)

Toxic Differential:Toxicity

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Toxic differential (also referred to as Toxicity) adds the number of explosive plays an offense generates and subtracts the number of explosive plays a defense allows, then adds the turnover margin.

Under Brian Billick’s formula, explosive plays are defined as passing plays over 20 yards and rushing plays over 10 yards.

Toxic Differential: Offense

  • The 49ers offense generated 58 explosive passing plays, an average of 3.2 completions of 20+ yards in the regular season and postseason combined. The Cowboys generated two less explosive passes.

  • The Cowboys lead in explosive runs with 66 runs of 10+ yards, an average of 3.6 per game. The 49ers have one less explosive run.

  • After seeing how incredibly close the two teams were in EPA, it is no surprise that they were separated by a total of just explosive play in 18 games. The biggest difference between the two clubs is the giveaways category. The Cowboys turned the ball over five more times than the 49ers.

Cowboys: 56 explosive passes+  66 explosive runs=  122 explosive plays.
122 explosive plays – 23 turnovers= Offensive Toxicity score of 99.

49ers:  58 explosive passes+  65 explosive runs= 123 explosive plays.
123 explosive plays – 17 turnovers= Offensive Toxicity score of 106.

Offensive Advantage: 49ers

Toxic Differential: Defense

  • The Cowboys passing defense has allowed 45 explosive passing plays, six fewer than the 49ers, an average of 2.5 completions of 20+ yards per game.

  • The difference in explosive runs allowed is staggering. The 49ers have allowed 43 fewer big runs this season. The Cowboys defense has allowed 3.7 runs of 10+ yards per game compared to 1.3 per game for the 49ers.

  • The Cowboys lead the league in takeaways for the second consecutive season and the 49ers rank No.2 overall.

Cowboys: 45 explosive passes+  68 explosive runs= 113 explosive plays.
113 explosive plays – 33 takeaways= Defensive Toxicity score of 80.

49ers: 51 explosive passes+  25 explosive runs= 76 explosive plays.
76 explosive plays – 30 takeaways= Defensive Toxicity score of 46.

Defensive Advantage: 49ers

Overall Toxicity is determined by subtracting the defensive total from the offensive total.

Cowboys Toxicity: 99 Offense  – Defense 80  = Overall Toxicity +19
49ers Toxicity: 106 Offense  – Defense 46 =  Overall Toxicity +60

Overall Advantage: 49ers

ANY/A

Jan 16, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) runs for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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.

  • ANY/A for favors the 49ers by almost 1.48 per attempt. This is a significant advantage.

  • ANY/A Against is an even tie. Both defenses have allowed 5.2 adjusted net yards per attempt.

  • Due to the difference in ANY/A for, the 49ers lead in differential with 2.26 yards per attempt in their advantage.

Advantage: 49ers

 

Overall Recap

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 04: Deebo Samuel #19 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates with Christian McCaffrey #23 of the San Francisco 49ers after McCaffrey’s touchdown during the second quarter at Levi’s Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

 

Toxicity: 49ers ( 5 out of 8)

DVOA: 49ers (2 out of 6)

EPA: 49ers (8 out of 8)

ANY/A: 49ers (2 out of 3)

Overall: 49ers (lead 19 of 25 metrics)

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire