Cowboys demise: Play-calling, Romo or D?

Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys have made it a habbit of losing games in which they held a late lead.The Dallas Cowboys lost another game that they controlled almost entirely until the end Sunday.

Their average win probability across all plays in the game was 81.6 percent. That is the fifth-highest average win probability in a loss since 2006 (as far back as our win probability data goes) and the highest since the Philadelphia Eagles used a DeSean Jackson punt-return touchdown on the final play of the game to complete a comeback against the New York Giants in 2010.

Over the last couple years, the Cowboys have made it a routine of “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” – losing games in which winning appeared nearly certain.

So what is the cause of this problem? Is it the play-calling? The quarterback? Or the defense?

The play-calling

We start with Jason Garrett’s post-game press conference Sunday, where he said “The idea was to run the ball and use clock…it was a run call though, that [Tony Romo] threw the ball on.”

But that was just one play of 15 the team ran in the fourth quarter Sunday. They dropped back 12 times and ran it three times. It’s the third time this season in which a team ran at least 10 plays with the lead in the fourth quarter and dropped back to pass 80 percent of the time. Those teams lost all three times.

Most Losses with Maximum Win Probability Above 95%-Since 2011

How rare is it for teams to pass the ball in the situation the Cowboys were in?

Entering this week’s action, teams since 2001 have rushed the ball 94.7 percent of the time (3,061 rushes on 3,234 snaps) on first or second down when leading by 7 or fewer in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter.

The league average play call when leading this season is 53 percent pass, 47 percent rush. The Cowboys entered Sunday with the second-lowest rush percentage when ahead (37 percent).

The quarterback

Most Int When Tied Or Up By 1 Poss.
4th Qtr/OT In Losses Since 2006

Sam Shields' interception was Romo’s seventh of his career that came in the fourth quarter or overtime with his team tied or leading by one possession, two more than any other quarterback since he joined the league.

Maligned rookie Geno Smith is the only other quarterback to throw multiple fourth-quarter interceptions in the same game when the score is within five points this season.

The defense

One week after the Chicago Bears did not punt a single time against the Cowboys, the Cowboys defense allowed the Green Bay Packers to score on all five of their drives in the second half Sunday, excluding the kneel at the end of the game.

In the last two weeks, the Cowboys defense has been on the field for 20 drives where the opponent didn’t have game-ending kneels. It’s allowed 10 touchdowns and four field goals while forcing just four punts.

The Cowboys are 1-2 this season in games in which they score at least 35 points. The rest of the NFL is a combined 51-2.

-Micah Adams, Alok Pattani and John Carr contributed to this post.