Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

13 Oct 2008

Any Given Sunday: Cardinals over Cowboys

by Ned Macey

The linked article focuses primarily on the relative pass offense and defense of Arizona and Dallas. The running games for both teams were non-factors on Sunday. Still, in delving into the numbers, the Cardinals' rushing offense is decidedly weird.

Edgerrin James and rookie Tim Hightower have a combined 144 carries for 493 yards, a paltry 3.4 yards per carry. Nonetheless, the Cardinals have basically a league-average rushing attack.

This strange result has four causes. First, both backs are extremely successful on third down, where they rank sixth in the league in DVOA. Second, they rarely get stopped for negative gains, fourth fewest in the NFL. Third, they NEVER break long runs. The Cardinals longest run on the season is 17 yards. Fourth, they only have one fumble between them.

In some offenses, this sort of attack would be problematic even if technically league-average. Time will tell if the Cardinals will be able to grind out wins, but in terms of their normal offense, the running game is a nice complement. The Cardinals have so many big-play opportunities from receivers that they do not need to get big plays in the running game. They also run a nice screen game, with the two backs combining for 24 catches. Finally, the lack of negative plays protects Warner. The jittery one gets nervous against the all-out blitz, but even when the run is stuffed, he usually faces second-and-8 or third-and-6 and not second- or third-and-12.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 13 Oct 2008

19 comments, Last at 17 Oct 2008, 8:05am by Jimmy


by underthebus (not verified) :: Tue, 10/14/2008 - 2:57pm

How is this game a bigger upset than Washington losing to St Louis?

by thestar5 (not verified) :: Tue, 10/14/2008 - 3:10pm

Its not, they just hate the Cowboys and want to write about it.

by KyleW :: Wed, 10/15/2008 - 2:17pm

I agree totally.

I figured it would be the STL WAS game since by DVOA it was a huge upset.

Especially if after there was very little mention of how St Louis played in either Audibles or Quick Reads.

I can see an argument for the MNF game too, but I was kinda hoping to hear what my team did well for the first time this season.

by Dimaggio (not verified) :: Wed, 10/15/2008 - 3:25pm

Did you bother to read the article? It doesn't say anything about upset.

by underthebus (not verified) :: Wed, 10/15/2008 - 8:19pm

Did you read the title and subtitle?
Any Given Sunday
The weekend's biggest upset goes under the Football Outsiders lens.

by Temo :: Tue, 10/14/2008 - 3:02pm

Or even the MNF game (though I don't know if you do monday night games).

by thestar5 (not verified) :: Tue, 10/14/2008 - 3:07pm

I don't think the Cowboys pass defense lost them the game, the special teams did. They gave up 14 points on the kickoff return for a td and the punt block for a td, one kickoff went out of bounds, and they missed a field goal, otherwise they handily outplayed Arizona. But I know you guys love to hate the cowboys.

The pass defense picked off Warner and cause 1-2 fumbles (can't remember which). Not only that, but they hit Warner about 20 times, which according to FO is predictive of sacks. Up until that fluky 3rd and 17 conversion on the tipped screen, the pass defense dominated. The Cardinals had like 75 yards in he first half! After that, they were mysteriously worse, but a lot of that seemed to be Warner taking quicker drops and getting rid of the ball. But I agree Arizona looked pretty good.

However, I must disagree that the Cardinals are better. Sure, the 'Boys are playing bad right now but they do this every year (unfortunately the last 2 years it was at the end of the year). Once Romo is back I fully expect them to right the ship and I think they will show they are one of the top couple teams in football. We'll see, but there's a reason the don't play the Superbowl after 6 weeks, and the Cowboys are too good to be playing like they have the past 3 weeks.

by Temo :: Tue, 10/14/2008 - 3:20pm

I think he was right in one aspect: The pass rush yesterday masked a lot of problems with pass coverage.

And really, I think it just comes down to coaching at this point. It's not like there's no talent back there-- but the technique has been spotty (even for veterans who should know better). And the number of plays where guys look unsure and uncertain of what they should be doing back there is just inexcusable.

We spent a lot of value back there (in money and draft picks) for them to perform like this. And our best corner so far this year will be out 4 weeks at least.

by thestar5 (not verified) :: Tue, 10/14/2008 - 10:46pm

Yeah, I guess you're right. The pass coverage wasn't very good. However, the pass RUSH was, and when he said pass defense I assumed he meant that too. Maybe just a simple misunderstanding, but I think they're pass defense this year has been okay. Now, with Newman and Pacman out, it probably won't be. Hopefully Jenkins and Scandrick can step up.

by Tim R :: Tue, 10/14/2008 - 3:16pm

Not sure they handily outplayed the Cardinals. I thought it was a failry even game and the Cowboys managed to recover 5 out of 6 fumbles which is fairly lucky.

While this isn't necessarily a bigger upset than the Rams-Redskins game I think the while the Rams played competitive football for the first time this season, perhaps thats an upset, the statistics probably show that the Redskins outplayed the Rams and were quite unlucky to lose. The Cardinals game probably seemed a more interesting game to look at. As for the Browns game as it was a Monday night game I don't think they have enough time to process the statistics and write an article on it in time for today's release.

by Temo :: Tue, 10/14/2008 - 3:39pm

I understand your points. However, it is perhaps also worthwhile to note that Dallas was 7th in DVOA heading into the game-- Arizona was 8th. It was 5th/12th in DAVE.

With home field, I suspect Arizona was a favorite by DVOA and probably a 3 point underdog or so by DAVE.

Not that I mind or anything, I like reading about my team (win or lose). It was just an intriguing choice of game. Especially since it's not like Arizona beat Dallas doing anything unusual-- like Ned said, they just looked better yesterday.

by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 10/14/2008 - 4:22pm

Remember that this article is written for a DVOA un-educated audience. No other power rankings had Dallas 7th and Arizona 8th heading into the game. In retrospect, this game's outcome makes DVOA look really smart, but to anyone else, Dallas looked like a huge favorite.

by Josh B. (not verified) :: Tue, 10/14/2008 - 4:36pm

It's not that FO hates the Cowboys or anything, it's that the Cowboys are a marquee franchise with a truly national fanbase.

Also, I for one was not convinced that the Cardinals were that good. This game showed me something, and I think a lot of other people are saying the same thing.

by thestar5 (not verified) :: Tue, 10/14/2008 - 10:57pm

True. But my team is kinda dying right now, so I gotta vent. ;-)

by Tom Gower :: Tue, 10/14/2008 - 6:58pm

MNF is too late to be an AGS choice. I think the best AGS's are not a true "Any Given Sunday" moment, where a bad team has a good game, gets a break, and manages to beat a good team, but instead an upset that allows for incisive commentary on two teams worth talking about. From that perspective, this game was a much better choice than STL-WAS. Plus, it's not like this game wasn't an actual upset-DAL was favored by 5 on the road.

by ArizonaCardinalsFan (not verified) :: Wed, 10/15/2008 - 10:45am

There is an elephant in the room here, and that is the suspect officiating of this game. If the official doesn't blow the fumble call, DAL does not get the chance to throw a TD to Marion Barber. If the tuck rule was not so liberally applied to Romo, that would have been a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. And I think it was clear that if Warner has fumbling issues, Romo is in need of clinical help to hold on to the ball under pressure. The Cardinals dealt with 4-1 Dallas, a crowd that was 35% Cowboy fans, dubious officiating, and came away with the victory. Judging by the injuries DAL suffered, it's clear that Dallas lost more than a game.

by Good Grief! (not verified) :: Thu, 10/16/2008 - 1:41pm

Time for the tuck rule to go. Maybe its like the electoral college -- there was once a need for this bizarre method.. but its time has gone. The tuck rule is probably the worse thing I have seen. QB gets hit and drops the ball in the end zone and he can claim tuck rule ?

by Jimmy :: Fri, 10/17/2008 - 8:05am

I agree with about the tuck rule, it is a deformed dinosaur of a rule that needs euthenising. As for the e.c. commentary, this Britisher isn't touching that one with a twenty foot pole.

by Good Grief! (not verified) :: Thu, 10/16/2008 - 1:42pm

Time for the tuck rule to go. Maybe its like the electoral college -- there was once a need for this bizarre method.. but its time has gone. The tuck rule is probably the worse thing I have seen. QB gets hit and drops the ball in the end zone and he can claim tuck rule ?