Advanced Stats: Cowboys, NFC East teams gear up for Week 5 tests after successful Week 4

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Week 4 of the 2021 NFL Season is in the rearview mirror with the NFC East compiling a 3-1 record against outside opponents. The Dallas Cowboys handed the Carolina Panthers their first loss of the season as both teams moved to 3-1 on the year. The Washington Football Team faced a winless Atlanta Falcons club and were able take the lead on a J.D. McKissic go-ahead touchdown reception with less than a minute left in the game to get back to .500. The New York Giants took down the New Orleans Saints in overtime with a nine-play, 80-yard drive capped off by a Saquon Barkley touchdown run as they picked up their first win of the season. Philadelphia battled the Kansas City Chiefs in a contest of 1-2 teams with the Eagles landing on the wrong side of things for the third consecutive week.

Let’s peel back the cover and see what the advanced statistics show for the NFC East to see what each team can continue to succeed at or will need to improve upon. We will be using EPA (Expected Points Added) as we take a deeper dive into Week 4.

EPA is a formula that takes historical data and applies it to every play to determine if the play increases or decreases your expected points given the outcome of that play. Every down and distance has a level of expected points; the likelihood a team will score on that particular drive based on that situation. Therefore EPA measures the shift in expected points as a result of a specific play.

For example, gaining two yards on 2nd-and-20 from your own nine-yard line may be positive yardage, but negative EPA because the loss of down outweighs the gain of minimal yardage.

The EPA calculations in this article come from (nflfastr), (rbsdm.com) and (PFF.com).

Ground and Pound

The Carolina Panthers No. 1 run defense met its match in the formidable duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. After allowing just 45 rushing yards per game through the first 3 games, the Panthers had no answers as the Cowboys racked up 245 yards on 34 rushing attempts. For the season, Elliott ranks sixth in carries, eighth in yards-per-carry, 15th in yards-per-touch and all with an average of 6.7 defenders in the box.

Pollard ranks 37th in carries, first in yards-per-carry, fourth in yards-per-touch and has drawn 6.4 men in the box on average.

The Cowboys face off with the New York Giants this week here’s a look at how their top runner has fared thus far. Saquon Barkley is top 15 in carries but has only managed 3.6 YPC so far. He’s running against stacked boxes (8+ in the box) on just under 20% of his carries.

Running Back

Carries

Rank

Yards Per Carry YPC

Rank

Yards Per Touch YPT

Rank

Avg Men in Box

Rank

Stacked Box %

Rank

E.Elliott

64

6

5.3

8

5.6

15

6.7

20

21.90%

16

T.Pollard

37

36

6.8

1

7

4

6.4

32

16.20%

26

S.Barkley

52

14

3.6

55

4.8

34

6.8

17

19.20%

22

M.Sanders

37

36

4.6

22

5.7

12

6

52

5.40%

45

A.Gibson

59

7

4.3

29

5.4

17

6.3

42

1.70%

54

Airing it Out

Dak Prescott is back and better than ever. He’s thrown 10 touchdowns with 2 interceptions for the season, his current pace would be 42.5 TD’s and 8.5 INT’s. He’s 11th in total EPA with .203 points added per passing attempt and ranks in the top 10 in: success rate (No. 2), completion percentage (No. 3), completion percentage over expected, or CPOE, (No. 6).

Giants QB Daniel Jones is ahead of Prescott in EPA with .218 per pass which ranks eighth in the NFL. The Washington Football Team’s signal caller, Taylor Heinicke, is seventh in EPA at .219 and also ranks in the top 10 in completion percentage (No. 9) and CPOE (No. 7).

The Eagles’ Jalen Hurts is presently 20th in EPA at .155.

QB

EPA

Rank

Success Rate

Rank

Comp %

Rank

Expected %

CPOE

Rank

D.Prescott

0.203

11

57.00%

2

76.30%

3

68.80%

7.50%

6

D.Jones

0.218

8

49.20%

20

69.10%

16

66.70%

2.40%

14

J.Hurts

0.155

20

50.00%

16

70.10%

13

66.70%

3.30%

12

T.Heinicke

0.219

7

49.30%

19

71.30%

9

66.30%

5.00%

7

Total Team Offense

Now that the quarterbacks and running backs have been documented, here’s a peak at how the division offenses have been performing in totality.

Dallas has been able to move the ball efficiently with their running and passing attacks both ranking top 5 in EPA (fifth in passing, fourth in running)
The Giants and Washington Football Team have both had success with their run/pass units as they rank in the top 15 as well. (NYG 14/12, Washington 15/14)

Philadelphia is ranked 15th in overall EPA (.059) and boasting a strong overall success rate of 48.6% (seventh overall and second in the division).

NFC EAST

EPA

Rank

Success Rate

Rank

Dropback EPA

Rank

Rush EPA

Rank

Cowboys

0.145

4

56.00%

1

0.228

5

0.03

4

Giants

0.097

9

45.00%

20

0.16

14

-0.045

12

Eagles

0.059

15

48.60%

7

0.106

20

-0.153

22

Washington

0.042

18

45.50%

18

0.151

15

-0.062

14

But can they stop anyone?

Scoring points is great but can a team’s defense carry the load? Here’s what the numbers say up through four weeks. As a reminder, the goal on defense is to have a negative EPA as the lower the metric the better a team is at keeping the offense from having positive plays.

The Cowboys defense under Dan Quinn have held their own with a defensive EPA/play of -.016, good for ninth in the NFL and fourth overall in the NFC.

Philadelphia is second in the division, 23rd overall, at .087 EPA/play with NYG and Washington landing at 27th and 29th respectively. Success rate is also calculated the opposite of the way offense is measured with the lower percentage being better for the defensive unit. Dallas leads the division allowing just a 46.4% success rate (18th) with Philadelphia ranking last in division at 49.8% (27th overall).

The Cowboys pass defense is the only unit ranking in the top 10 defensively for EPA per dropback, coming in at seventh.

NFC EAST

EPA

Rank

Success Rate

Rank

Dropback EPA

Rank

Rush EPA

Rank

Cowboys

-0.016

9

46.40%

18

-0.012

7

-0.027

23

Giants

0.131

27

46.60%

19

0.227

25

-0.015

25

Eagles

0.087

23

49.80%

27

0.177

23

-0.02

24

Washington

0.181

29

47.50%

20

0.317

30

-0.066

18

Week 5 Previews

Eagles (1-3) @ Panthers (3-1)

The Eagles will look to end their losing streak as they face the Carolina Panthers. This game features two teams that rank top 15 in both total offense and total defense.

Hurts and Sam Darnold both rank in the top 10 in combined passing/rushing yards this season. Carolina made a splash this week with a trade for CB Stephon Gilmore from the New England Patriots, however he will be out this game as he has to remain on the PUP list for the next two weeks.

Saints (2-2) @ Football Team (2-2)

Washington and New Orleans both enter the game with .500 records as they look to get on the plus side of the win column. The Football Team entered the season expecting their defense to repeat their strong 2020 season but have not been able to meet expectations as they rank 30th in the league in points allowed at 30.5 ppg and 29th overall in defense. New Orleans boasts the 31st-ranked passing offense but No. 7-ranked rushing attack.

Giants (1-3) @ Cowboys (3-1)

Dallas will host their divisional rivals at 3:25 p.m. Central. The Cowboys have won 3 straight games after a Week 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs and have won 7 of the last 8 games against the Giants. This is a game where Prescott may be a bit anxious after suffering a season-ending leg injury last year against New York almost a calendar year to the date of this game. Cowboys Cornerback Trevon Diggs has 5 interceptions in 4 games and will look to become the first defender in team history to record one in 5 consecutive contests.

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