Welcome back, defensive adjustments. We miss you.
Every year in Week 4, Football Outsiders' stats change from "VOA" to "DVOA." That 'D' stands for 'defense-adjusted', and it's a notion spread across all of FO's stats now - the scores and grades they have on teams and players now account for the quality of opponent they are facing. So if a team is facing the Jacksonville Jaguars, their DVOA will take a bit of a hit, to compensate for Jacksonville's weak defense. Alternately, if they are facing a defense such as the stout Kansas City Chiefs, those numbers will get a bit of a boost, to compensate for those challenges. There's still a lot we don't know about teams through only four weeks of the season, so these defensive compensations have a pretty low input in FO's algorithms right now; as the weeks progress, so will that correlation.
The Broncos took a little bit of a hit in their DVOA with the defensive adjustment, as should be expected, but the Seattle Seahawks took a bigger one (their struggles overall in Week 4 playing a large part), moving the Broncos into the top spot as most efficient team in the NFL by a wide margin. Their Week 5 opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, are a middle-of-the-pack team as far as regular stats go; that's consistent with their ratings in Football Outsiders. Let's dig in.
6.0% - 10th - The Cowboys have one of the top-graded offensive linemen in the NFL in right tackle Doug Free (according to another "smarter stats" site, Pro Football Focus), but they're not using his talent to full effect. The Cowboys like to run off left tackle and end far more than the average NFL team - 42% of their runs are in this direction, significantly higher than the league mean of 24%. That might explain why RB DeMarco Murray, who has the third-most rushing yards in the league through four weeks, is only ranked 13th in DYAR (running back overall efficiency) by Football Outsiders - the Cowboys just aren't calling their running plays right.
In the passing game, QB Tony Romo and WR Dez Bryant each remain among the NFL's best. They are ranked 5th and 8th respectively in their position groups. TE Jason Witten has not had as productive a year thus far and is ranked as the 29th tight end in the NFL.
4.3% - 20th - The Cowboys are ranked right alongside the Broncos defensively, although the breakdown by run defense and pass defense varies for the two teams. While the Broncos excel in run defense, the Cowboys are better in their passing defense, being the 13th ranked team against enemy pass protection schemes. Against the run, they're a (you guessed it) middle-of-the-pack 16th.
Against the pass overall though, just consider what the Cowboys have surrendered to date, and what they are susceptible to surrendering against Peyton Freakin Manning.
The #Cowboys have surrendered 401 passing yards to Philip Rivers and 450 to Eli Manning this season. Peyton will go for 7 billion.— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) October 3, 2013
Cowboys Special Teams
0.6% - 16th - Again, the Cowboys sit in the middle of the NFL pack. Can you get more vanilla than the 2013 Dallas Cowboys?
It's important to note that this is the toughest team the Broncos have faced so far this season. The data from Football Outsiders tells the tale. The Cowboys are the 16th-ranked team in the NFL, where through four weeks the other teams the Broncos have faced in their remarkable 4-0 run are each in the bottom 10 of the league (Baltimore 23rd, New York Giants 31st, Oakland 29th, Philadelphia 26th). You can argue some of those low rankings of Denver's previous opponents are the results of causation, since they faced the mighty Denver offense in 1/4 of their games. But you have to remember, defensive adjustments have begun to take place.
From the Outsiders' Perspective, the Dallas Cowboys will be the Broncos' toughest challenge to date.