Much has been made about the resurgence of the Dallas Cowboys in 2016. Both Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have received MVP consideration, and despite losing to the New York Giants on Sunday night, they still have the best record in the NFC. Why have the Cowboys experienced so much success? Maybe it’s their dynamic duo of rookies, or maybe, it’s something else. Maybe it’s because the Dallas Cowboys have dominated time of possession this season.
The Significance of Time of Possession in the NFL
Prescott and Elliott are the names all fans know, but perhaps they aren’t the keys to the success of the Cowboys. The average Pro Football Focus grade of all five starting Cowboy offensive linemen is 83.3, the highest for any line in the National Football League. The offensive line of the Oakland Raiders ranks second in the league, and their total grade doesn’t even break 80.
The crew of Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, Ronald Leary, and Doug Free give the Cowboys the best offensive line in pro football, and America’s team uses it well. Last year, they were able to get a 1,000 yard season out of draft bust, Darren McFadden. The year before that, DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing yards as a member of the Cowboys.
In 2016, Dallas’ line has helped to just about ensure Ezekiel Elliott earns the rushing title, the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and perhaps even the Offensive Player of the Year award. The former Ohio State Buckeye is on pace for over 1,700 rushing yards, as well as 15 touchdowns. That’s a monster season for anyone, let alone a rookie. But Elliott’s fantasy stats aside, there’s another number that is important.
Time of Possession
The Dallas Cowboys are second in the NFL in time of possession. They’re averaging a little over 30 minutes of possession per game this season, and it’s shown in their record. It’s really simple, if the Cowboys have the ball, the other team can’t score. That seems like an oversimplification, but that gameplan has essentially delivered the Cowboys the NFC East championship.
But, it’s easy to control the clock when you have a great offensive line. It’s easy to protect a young quarterback, and give a great young rusher plenty of opportunities. One team can be the exception without proving the rule. So there’s another side that proves the argument that time of possession is an underrated stat.
Ridiculous Raider Defense
If a fan looks at the defense of the Oakland Raiders, they will not be impressed. Oakland is giving up 25 points and over 380 yards per game this season. They’ve only registered 22 sacks, and 11 of them belong to Khalil Mack. They’re a trainwreck on defense, and the reason the Raiders have played as many close games as they have this season.
Or are they? After all, despite having a pretty decent time of possession, the Oakland Raiders are one of the worst teams in the NFL when it comes to three and outs. The Raiders have gone three and out on 21% of their drives this year. With short, empty drives, the Raiders are putting an exhausted defense right back on the field.
What happens when an exhausted defense goes back on the field? They give up huge plays. And that’s what’s happens to the Raiders defense. When the Raiders played the Kansas City Chiefs both big plays to Tyreek Hill happened against tired defenders, and that put the Raiders in an awkward position.
A while back, Chip Kelly tried to have the fastest offense in the NFL, and it failed miserably. Obviously, teams have to score touchdowns in order to consistently win, but it helps to wear teams down with long, punishing drives, and reap the rewards, particularly a rested defense.