Stat Preview: Cowboys’ dominance over Colts will need to translate off paper

The Dallas Cowboys (8-3) are coming off a long rest after playing three games in 12 days, culminating with a tough divisional win on Thanksgiving. They are one-third of the way through their three-game homestand and have the 4-7-1 Indianapolis Colts coming into town for a Sunday Night Football showdown.

The Cowboys have won four of their last five games and are currently on a two-game winning streak with wins against the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants. They have the seventh-best scoring offense, averaging 25.4 points per game, and have allowed the second-fewest points with just 17 ppg allowed. The Cowboys defense leads the league in sacks with 45.

The Colts have lost four of their last five games and are on a two-game losing streak. They are led by veteran QB Matt Ryan and recently brought in Jeff Saturday as interim head coach. The offense is 30th in scoring 15.8 PPG and the defense ranks 11th, allowing 20.3 PPG. The Colts lead the league in sacks allowed with 43.

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’ Demarcus Lawrence (90) in action during the second half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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

Offensive DVOA favors the Cowboys with a clean sweep in the three metrics.

  • The Cowboys have a massive advantage in passing DVOA , ranking 15 spots higher with a DVOA of 13.2% while the Colts rank 31st with a DVOA of -24.5%.

  • Cowboys QB Dak Prescott ranks 4th in DVOA at 16.9%. Colts QB Matt Ryan ranks 28th with a DVOA of -19%.

  • The Cowboys have an even larger edge at rushing DVOA, ranking 26 spots higher with a DVOA of 7.1%, the 6th best total in the league. The Colts rank last with a -23.6% DVOA.

  • The Cowboys dynamic duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard both rank in the top 10 in rushing DVOA. Elliott ranks 8th (10.3%) and Pollard ranks 10th (7.1%). Colts lead back Jonathan Taylor ranks 23rd (-5.5%).

  • The Cowboys rank 15th in overall offensive DVOA with a 4.2% while the Colts rank 31st with a DVOA of -27.2%.

Offensive Advantage: Cowboys

DVOA Defense

Reminder, while looking for positive DVOAs on offense, a negative DVOA is better on defense.

  • The Cowboys have a significant edge in defensive-passing DVOA, boasting the league’s top unit with a -21.7% DVOA. The Colts rank 13th with a 2.4% DVOA.

  • Defensive-rush DVOA is extremely close the Cowboys advantage being just .1% better. Neither team has a big advantage in defensive rushing DVOA.

  • The advantage in defensive DVOA also goes to the Cowboys who rank first overall, holding opposing offenses to a DVOA of -17.8%. The Colts rank 13th, holding opponents to a -5% DVOA.

Defensive Advantage: Cowboys

Overall Advantage: Cowboys

Expected Points Added and Success Rate

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – DECEMBER 16: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball as Darius Leonard #53 of the Indianapolis Colts tries to make the stop from behind at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 16, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

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

After sweeping in DVOA, the Cowboys take all four offensive EPA metrics as well.

  • The Cowboys have the edge in offensive EPA per play ranking 12th adding .046 points over expection per play. The Colts rank 31st with a -.125 EPA.

  • The edge in EPA per dropback also goes to the Cowboys who are adding .082 points per attempt while the Colts are at -.080 (29th)

  • A surprising trend for the Colts is how much they have struggled to run the ball this season.  Their offense ranks 31st in EPA/play, producing -.210 EPA per handoff. The Cowboys offense ranks seventh with an EPA of .004 added per handoff.

  • Neither team ranks highly in success rate. The Cowboys rank 15th with a 45.2% success rate and the Colts rank 27th  with a success rate of 41%.

Offensive Advantage: Cowboys

EPA: Defense

While the analytics have heavily favored the Cowboys in DVOA and offensive EPA, the margin narrows when comparing the two defenses.

  • EPA/play favors the Cowboys’ defense with a difference of .042 per play. The Cowboys rank second (-.083/play) and the Colts rank eighth (-.041/play)

  • Passing EPA per play also favors the Cowboys who rank third overall, holding opposing offenses to -.107 EPA per dropback. The Colts rank 10th with an EPA/play of .015.

  • Rushing EPA/play favors the Colts. They rank seventh overall and have held offenses to -.113 EPA/play. The Cowboys defense ranks 20th with an EPA of -.047 per carry.

  • The edge in success rate goes to the Cowboys, holding opponents to 41%. The Colts have allowed a success rate of 44.2%, the 16th highest.

Defensive Advantage: Cowboys

Overall Advantage: Cowboys ( Cowboys win 7 of 8 EPA categories)

Toxic Differential:Toxicity

Sep 26, 2022; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs (7) celebrates with teammates after making an interception during the fourth quarter against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-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

Nov 24, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (88) warms up before the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

  • The Colts offense has a slight edge in explosive passing plays but have played one extra game. They are averaging 2.75 explosive  passing plays per game.  The Cowboys average 2.91 explosive passing plays. CeeDee Lamb has produced 16 this season.

  • The Cowboys have generated 42 runs of 10+ yards this season. 13 more than the Colts.

  • The Cowboys have done a much better job of limiting turnovers than the Colts this season. This is one of the biggest differentiators between the two team’s trajectory this season. They have allowed 10 less turnovers than the Colts.

Cowboys: 32 explosive passes+ 42 explosive runs=  74 explosive plays.
74 explosive plays – 11 turnovers= Offensive Toxicity score of 63.

Giants: 33 explosive passes+ 29 explosive runs= 62 explosive plays.
62 explosive plays – 21 turnovers= Offensive Toxicity score of 41.

Offensive Advantage: Cowboys

Toxic Differential: Defense

Aug 26, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (11) warms up before the game against the Seattle Seahawks at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

  • The Cowboys passing defense has been among the leagues best all season long. They have allowed just 20 explosive passing plays this season. The Colts have also done a nice job of limiting big passing plays with 31.

  • The advantage in explosive rushes allowed favors the Colts by a large margin. While the Cowboys defense has been elite this season, they have been succeptible to giving up big runs. They’ve allowed 46 runs of 10+ yards this season.  The Colts have allowed 15 less.

  • Takeaways favors the Cowboys who have generated 16 this season. Five more than the Colts who have played one more game.

Cowboys: 20 explosive passes+ 46 explosive runs= 66 explosive plays.
66 explosive plays – 16 takeaways= Defensive Toxicity score of 50.

Giants: 31 explosive passes+ 31 explosive runs= 62 explosive plays.
62 explosive plays – 11 takeaways= Defensive Toxicity score of 50.

Defensive Advantage: PUSH

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

Cowboys Toxicity: Offense 63 – Defense 50 = Overall Toxicity +13
Giants Toxicity: Offense 41 – Defense 50=  Overall Toxicity -9

Overall Advantage: Cowboys



ARLINGTON, TEXAS – NOVEMBER 24: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys reacts after a first down during the first half in the game against the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium on November 24, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

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 Cowboys by 1.46 yards per attempt. Dak Prescott’s ANY/A is 6.70.

  • ANY/A against also favors the Cowboys who have allowed 1.3 yards fewer per attempt.

  • ANY/a differential also favors the Cowboys who are +1.5 yards per attemptwhile the Colts are at a deficit of 1.26 per attempt.

Advantage: Cowboys


Overall Recap

Nov 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Malik Davis (left) and running back Tony Pollard (20) and wide receiver Jalen Tolbert (right) gather before the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Toxicity: Cowboys (5 out of 8 with one tie)

DVOA: Cowboys (6 out of 6)

EPA: Cowboys (7 out of 8)

ANY/A: Cowboys (3 out of 3)

Overall: Cowboys (lead 21 of 25 metrics)

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire