Cowboys lapping NFC East rivals in record, advanced statistical measures

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Week 7 is in the books and the NFC East finished with a 1-2 record as the Dallas Cowboys were enjoying their bye week. The New York Giants picked up the lone win for the group as they handed the Carolina Panthers their third loss of the year to the division with an impressive, 25-3 victory. The Philadelphia Eagles faced off with the Las Vegas Raiders but fell 33-22. The Washington Football Team traveled to Lambeau Field to square off with the Green Bay Packers but were unable to generate many points in a 24-10 loss.

Through seven weeks the division has a combined record of 11-16. The Cowboys currently have a 3.5-game lead with a 5-1 record. The Giants, Eagles and WFT are all 2-5, with Washington having a slight edge with a 1-0 division record. The Cowboys have almost equaled the combined win total of the other three foes. Beyond the records, are these teams any closer to competing with Dallas?

At CowboysWire, each week the division performances are reviewed using advanced analytics. In this study advanced stats such as Expected Points Added, Completion Percentage over Expected, Success Rate and more to determine how the Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and Washington stack up against each other and the rest of the league. It will examine the whos, whats and whys to uncover the hidden science that determine the most important statistic of all, wins and losses.

EPA Definition

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One such metric is EPA, a formula that takes historical data and applies it to every play to determine if it increases or decreases a teamâ€™s 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

Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys terrific running back duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are on an incredible pace for over 2,500 yards combined and 17 TDs. Elliott, the Cowboys lead back, ranks in the top 10 in carries, rushing yards, touchdowns and yards per carry while facing an average of 6.9 men in the box and stacked boxes on 25.5% of his carries, top 7 in each of those categories. Elliottâ€™s partner in crime, Tony Pollard, is on pace for his first 1,000 yard season and ranks in the top 10 in ypc, stacked box % and sits No. 2 in Expected Points Added (EPA).

The Washington Football Teamâ€™s lead RB, Antonio Gibson, ranks fifth in carries and 12th in rushing yards. Interestingly, the advanced stats show that he is facing just 6.0 men in the box on average and stacked boxes on 1.9% of his carries, 56th overall. His EPA of -5.2 ranks 92nd overall.

Philadelphia Eagles running back, Miles Sanders, finished 13th in ypc but 33rd in carries. Sanders has averaged just nine carries per game this season which has limited his opportunities for big plays. His EPA of -17.5 ranks 121st overall. With Sanders facing 6.1 men in the box, 49th overall, there may be opportunities for Philadelphia to capitalize with favorable numbers in the box.

New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley missed action once again with an ankle sprain. Barkleyâ€™s YPC of 3.6 ranks 43rd overall, but he has an EPA of 2.8 which is 24th. Barkley has faced 6.8 Men in the box, 15th most in the league and stack boxes on 18.5% of his snaps, 21st most. If the Giants offense can force defenses to spread out more, that could benefit Barkley and the run game with less men in the box to run against.

The current pace for the NFC East RBs for the year shows there may only be two backs who surpass 1,000 yards rushing, and they both call Dallas home.

Elliott: 289 carries, 1,476 yards and 14 TDs
Pollard: 173 carries, 1,037 yards and 3 TDs
Gibson: 250 carries, 991 yards and 7 TDs
Barkley: 184 carries, 663 yards and 7 TDs
Sanders: 153 carries, 729 yards and 0 TDs

CPOE Explained

Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Completion Percentage above Expectation, or CPOE, measures a quarterbackâ€™s performance relative to the difficulty of their throws. Itâ€™s another metric that attempts to qualify volume stats of the passing game.

A screen pass to a speedy wide receiver that ends up going for 50 yards notches 50 yards on a QBâ€™s ledger, even though the pass isnâ€™t that difficult of a completion. A 30-yard bomb that zips between double coverage is more telling of the throwerâ€™s skill set, even though it goes for 20 less yards.

Completion Probability assigns difficulty to each throw, based not only on down, distance, field position like EPA does, but on other in-game factors calculated by Next Gen Stats. Expected Completion percentage is an average completion probability. The more difficult a QBâ€™s throws, the lower his expected completion percentage and therefore CPOE is how much better a QB is performing than whatâ€™s expected based on the throws he is attempting.

October Rayne

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has emerged as the front-runner in the Comeback Player of the Year award and is in the thick of the MVP race through seven weeks. Prescottâ€™s numbers overall align well with the advanced analytics as well. He ranks in ninth in EPA/play, third in completion percentage, fifth in completion percentage over expected and has the second-highest success rate in the league at 55.7%.

Success rate is determined by a down-distance-to-go formula; gaining 40% of necessary yards on first down, 60% on second down, 100% on third or fourth down.

Looking into the play of Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts reveals a mixed bag. His overall season stats put him on pace for a 4,000-yard passing season while the advanced numbers have him ranked in the low 20s in most categories.

His EPA/play of .082 is 22nd overall and his completion % of 65.5% ranks 27th. His Success rate of 46.6% is the 24th most in the league. Itâ€™s worth mentioning that Hurts efforts on the ground have collectively generated and additional five touchdowns for the Eagles.

Giants QB Daniel Jones got off to a strong start but has slipped in the rankings the past few weeks with his dearth of healthy targets. He had an impressive reception last week and continues to show his athleticism when the play breaks down but still has room to grow as a passer. His EPA/play is 23rd overall and his success rate of 45.6% is 27th. Heâ€™ll need to be more efficient in order for the Giants offense to improve.

Finishing up the NFC East quarterbacks is Washingtonâ€™s Taylor Heinicke. Stepping in for veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick Week 1, Heinicke has thrown 33 passes a game and averaged 237 yards per game. Heinicke ranks 21st in success rate and 28th in completion percentage.

Team Offense

Using overall EPA/play, pass and rush EPA and success rate as 4 key indicators of offensive success, we are able to get a good understanding of how each team stacks up within the division.

Kellen Mooreâ€™s Cowboys offense is booming early in the season. The overall EPA/play of .15 ranks in the top 5 as does the overall success rate and passing EPA/play. They finished in the top 10 in all four categories and have a substantial edge over the rest of the division in EPA/play with the next closest finishing 21st overall, 17 spots lower than the Cowboys.

The aforementioned 21st-ranked EPA/play belongs to the Philadelphia Eagles. They have reasons to feel confident in their offensive abilities with top 13 rankings in success rate as well as rushing EPA/play. As mentioned above, Hurts has helped in that regard. Their passing EPA/play ranks third in the division and No. 23 overall. Thatâ€™s an area that Hurts will need to improve on as he develops.

The Giants finish third in the division and 23rd overall in EPA/play at .024. An area of concern is the success rate which stands at 42.1%, 28th overall. The passing and rush EPA/play rank 22nd and 27th respectively. The offense is admittedly short-handed with several key players suffering injuries early on.

Finally, Washington sits in fourth place in the division and 25th overall in EPA/play. They have reasons for confidence with a 14th overall success rate but will need to improve their rushing and passing EPA/play in order to make up for a struggling defense.

Team Defense

With defense, the same four metrics for success are used but negative or lower numbers are the goal. In other words, defenses want to prevent the opponent from reaching their expected points total and success rate.

The Cowboys rank eighth in total EPA/play allowed and sixth in passing EPA/play. Their rushing EPA/play allowed has taken a hit after a poor performance against the New England Patriots in Week 6, finishing 22nd currently. Finally, their success rate of 45.5% ranks 15th overall.

The Philadelphia Eagles rank 22nd overall with an EPA/play allowed of .07. They did not rank inside the top 20 in any other category and have a success rate of 49.7%, which is 28th overall. This is an area of concern as it indicates the Eagles are allowing yardage towards first downs at a high rate. Their 20th ranked passing EPA/play allowed ranks second in the division but their rushing EPA/play allowed ranks last.

The Giants have a mixed bag of results defensively. Theyâ€™ve done relatively well in success rate finishing right behind Dallas at 16th overall with 45.6%. Their overall EPA/play is 23rd, right behind the Eagles. They finished third in the division in rushing and passing EPA/play allowed.

WFT ranks last in the division in overall EPA/play allowed and 30th in the league with .156 per play. They rank 22nd in success rate and 30th in passing EPA/play but have a strong rushing EPA/play of -.142 allowed, good for seventh in the league and first in the division.

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