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11/24/16 || 109 Washington Redskins Over 49
This is a battle of two offenses which rank top 4 in my custom analytic Early Down Success Rate (EDSR) and two defenses which actually rank bottom 4, coming in at 29th and 30th. At the bottom of this write-up is an EDSR trend chart similar to what I shared last year in the last third of the season. They are more helpful as the season progresses, so expect to see more of them through the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs. What this shows is that the defenses (red line) for both teams are poor (high on the chart) and the offenses (blue) are also high and trending well.
The Redskins defense was aided last night by facing a struggling Packers offense in a slight wind. The only reason why it looks (on the graph) as if the offensive EDSR for the Redskins struggled slightly against the Packers and the offensive EDSR for the Cowboys struggled slightly against the Steelers was because both offenses were extremely explosive in those games. And while it will bypass 3rd down in many cases (if the explosive play came on 1st or 2nd down), those plays are scoring points quickly, leaving fewer opportunities to bypass more 3rd downs up the field.
Against the Steelers, the Cowboys had 5 plays of 20+ yards, and 3 of them were for TD (83 yds, 50 yds and 32 yds). Against the Packers last night, the Redskins had 6 plays of 20+ yards, and 2 went for TDs (70 yds and 44 yds).
The Redskins have not faced an offense of the caliber of Dallas since early in the season, when they gave up 38 to the Steelers and 27 to the Cowboys in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott’s first road start in week 2. In fact, the Redskins defense has played the 6th easiest schedule of opposing offenses since week 3 of the season. But even the “best” offenses they faced during this span have significant, substantial issues, including the 13th rated Packers offense, the 12th rated Lions offense and the 10th rated Bengals offense. These are all incomplete offenses, to be kind. Most of them cannot run the ball at all. And the Bengals cannot pass protect. In other words, all 3 have major issues with the offensive line, in either pass protection or run blocking.
Truth be told, this run game of the Cowboys will be (a phrase I’ve been using to describe situations like this) a major “shock to the system” of the Redskins run defense. And when that run defense starts to bleed efficiency, it does not clot easily.
The Cowboys have the best offensive line in the NFL. They don’t have those issues at all. This Dallas offense is not only highly efficient on the ground, it is also extremely underrated through the air. Especially now that Dez Bryant is incorporated. Dallas actually gains the 2nd most average yards per pass of any team. They are the 3rd most efficient passing offense in the NFL. A whopping 55% of their passes grade as successful, 2nd best in the NFL. Combined with the 2nd most efficient rushing attack in the NFL, Dallas has the 2nd best success rate of any team on offense.
But that is not all they are. They are also extremely explosive. It’s not hard to argue that over the last 5 weeks, Dallas has faced the most difficult schedule of defenses. They have played the #1 rated Eagles, the #2 rated Ravens, the #12 rated Packers on the road, as well as the Steelers on the road and (of course the lowly) Browns on the road. Yet against that stretch of defenses, Dallas ranks #2 in explosive run rate and #6 in explosive pass rate by my metrics over at Sharp Football Stats.com This offense right now is the POLAR opposite of the Packers offense which the Redskins just shut down: They are highly efficient via run or pass, they are highly balanced in play calls, and they are extremely explosive offensively.
And if those explosive plays don’t result in TDs themselves, the Cowboys should have a big edge in the red zone. The Redskins red zone defense is allowing 64% conversions to teams who average just 56% on the season. Their conversion rate is 27th, but the last 3 weeks they are allowing 80% conversions.
Speaking of the red zone, this next set of numbers is absolutely shocking: The last 4 weeks, the Redskins defense has allowed 72% of plays run in their red zone to grade as successful! 72%! The NFL average is 45% success rate. It is a staggering number, and one which should allow Dallas to have a lot of success with on offense.
Here is the other edge the Cowboys offense will have: They will face a very tired Redskins defense. And it’s not something that sits well with Redskins HC Jay Gruden. The Redskins played the late game on Sunday night. Meaning they likely were not resting with their feet up until 1am or later. Then they have to travel to Dallas to play an early game, which kicks off at 4:30pm ET, much earlier than the standard Thursday night games would kick off. This defense likely could be more tired than usual.
While all of those reasons sound bleek for the Redskins, that is not the case. There is just a lot to like about the Dallas offense in this game.
First and foremost, the Redskins offense is #4 in EDSR, #4 in pass protection efficiency, #4 in 3rd down efficiency, #4 in yds/pass, #8 in overall pass efficiency and #9 in overall rush efficiency. And that hasn’t come against an easy schedule of defenses.
The Redskins have faced 4 defenses which rank top 8 in their last 8 games (PHI, BAL, MIN, NYG). They did get a few easy defenses mixed in (CLE, DET) but the schedule has been tough. Now, they get a test against a mediocre Cowboys defense but there is a HUGE edge for the Redskins which can’t be underestimated: their matchups in the pass game.
In their last game, Dallas’ CB Mo Claiborne tore his groin off his pelvis and is out for multiple weeks. You read that right. His groin muscle tore off his pelvis. The Cowboys are already without several starters in the secondary. DB Barry Church broke his forearm and currently is targeting week 13 to return. So it is likely he is not playing in this game either.
These are substantial losses. Last week, the Cowboys played the 29th rated pass offense of the Ravens. The week before, they played a relatively strong Steelers pass offense, but it was with a beat up Ben Roethlisberger just getting back into form from his surgery, and likely playing with pain injections in his knee. The prior two weeks, the Cowboys defense played the anemic pass offense of the Eagles (which relies on short passing) and the pathetic pass offense of the Browns (which relies on terrible quarterback play).
Much like the Cowboys run game will be a shock to the system of the Redskins, this Redskins pass offense will be a shock to the system of the Cowboys pass defense. As we saw Sunday night, Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins are playing extremely aggressively with their play calls. They are going on 4th down in their own territory in 1 score games. They are attacking deep into tight windows repeatedly. But most of all, they are a healthy receiving corps.
While they’ve had injuries to DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed this year, last week was the first week that both were in the lineup since week 5. And they dropped 42 points on the Packers in challenging elements using an extremely diverse passing attack. This passing attack featured high efficiency coupled with deep shots, something extremely difficult to execute. Just look at the numbers: 6/7 to Garcon, 5/6 to Reed, 4/6 to Jackson and 3/3 to Crowder. Each player averaged 13 yards per attempt at the minimum. Kirk Cousins posted a 145.8 rating in the game. Those 4 receivers, when healthy, are matchup nightmares for any defense. They can be so diverse and multiple, and each has a unique skill set. Trying to get the Dallas secondary to matchup on them given their injury history is a problem.
But that is not all the Redskins have. As I mentioned in my write-up for the Redskins over vs the Packers, they are the 5th best team in early down rushing plays which grade as successful.
In their game against the Ravens last week, one of the absolute worst offenses the NFL has to share with us, the Ravens actually gained 6.3 yards per rush, and a remarkable 69% of their rushes graded as successful. So this was not a single 100 yard run followed by 20 runs which totaled 32 yards. This was a dominant performance. It allowed the Ravens to actually outgain the Cowboys on a per-play basis, 7.1 ypp to 6.2 ypp. The Redskins rushing attack is superior to that of the Ravens. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan has done a tremendous job. And in addition to the run attack being superior, the Redskins also have that lethal pass attack I spoke of above. So between both outlets, coupled with their edges in the secondary, the Redskins should be quite productive.
At the end of the day, this wager is made for two reasons:
1) I see value in the current number and believe, while an OK opener and not an egregious mistake, it does not account for the current form of both teams.
2) The matchups here are both extremely pro-offense. The health of the Redskins passing offense comes at the worst time for an injured Dallas secondary. And the incorporation of Dez Bryant following his injury along with the increased confidence in Dak Prescott has allowed Dallas to be more aggressive offensively. Jason Garrett no longer has this offense plodding around to gain 4 yards at a time and convert on 3rd down to kill the clock some more. This is an explosive offense and will get a minimally tested Redskins defense.
See the trend chart for the weekly EDSR results for each team as well as their current trend.