The Dallas Cowboys Are Here to Stay

After clipping the Seahawks' wings, the Cowboys are proving to be a contender.

Coming into the 2014 season, the Cowboys were slotted to be the third-best team in their own division with little hope of a playoff berth. After six weeks and a convincing win on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions, Dallas is the third-best team in the entire league.

Thanks to the big win in Seattle, the Cowboys made the jump from 15th in our power rankings to 3rd. But just how did the Cowboys do it? Let's pull out some numbers using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. I'll be referring to our team rankings a lot, so as a reminder, all of the NEP team metrics have been adjusted for strength of schedule.

Remarkable Efficiency

Coming into Week 6, the Seahawks were the ninth-best team defensively according to our defensive ranks. However, that was due to their ability to stop the run, as they ranked third in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP.

The pass defense could look better, as the "Legion of Boom" was looking more like "Legion of Bend, Don't Break", ranking 24th. The thought before the matchup with Dallas was to stop the train of DeMarco Murray and force Tony Romo into his usual mistakes under pressure.

But the opposite happened.

Last week, I discussed how Scott Linehan had been improving the offense of the Cowboys just like he had in the first year of each team he's coached in his career. This improvement continued in Week 6 against the Seahawks, much to everyone's surprise.

NEP per PlayPassing NEP per PlayRushing NEP per Play
Week 60.140.30-0.01
Week 50.120.25-0.01

I mentioned Murray's big game and streak earlier this week, but according to our Rushing NEP metric, Murray was mostly just a solid back this week without adjusting for strength of opponent.

The Cowboys have already seen a remarkable improvement from last year as an efficient offense, and Week 6 was just another step along the way. The offense overall showed a slight uptick in efficiency from Week 5, and a lot of credit goes to the passing offense as they improved another 0.05 Passing NEP per play in Week 6.

Defense Deserves Credit Too

Dallas' defense has been average - at best - since the beginning of the season, but they played a big role in shutting down the Seahawks according to our NEP data. When looking at the table below, remember a negative number is good for our defensive metrics, indicating how many points a defense saved for their team versus expectation.

Defensive NEPPass Defense NEPRush Defense NEP
Week 69.36.419.33
Week 520.7818.647.38

The run defense wasn't fantastic, but only allowing two points to one of the more dangerous backfields in the league is still solid. The pass defense is where Dallas really made their mark, as a replacement-level unit would have allowed roughly 12 more points against Seattle than Dallas did. Thanks to the big game by the Cowboys' defense, the Cowboys jumped to the eighth-best defense in the league according to our metrics.

The Cowboys are one of the few teams that have yet to face a divisional opponent, but that will end in Week 7 against the Giants. Their division record will be very important though, as that will be the difference between a bye in the first round of the playoffs or starting on the road as a wildcard team. The Cowboys are virtually guaranteed a playoff spot with an 82.4% chance to make it (second-best to only the Broncos and up 22.5% from last week), but with the Eagles still nipping at their heels, anything is possible. But right now, it's not hard to imagine the NFC playoffs going through Big D.