(Editor's Note: DallasCowboys.com senior writer and pro wrestling aficionado Rob Phillips' new column, "Figure 4," identifies four key statistics each week that impact the Cowboys' on-field performance.)
FRISCO, Texas – The general consensus, perhaps outside of L.A., seems to be the Cowboys should have beaten the Rams at home this past Sunday.
They racked up 440 yards of total offense. They led at halftime. When either of those things happened last year, they won. Every time.
But a closer look shows where the game got away from Dallas – and where they must improve this Sunday with Aaron Rodgers and the 3-1 Packers coming to town:
1. Second-Half Stalls
Last Sunday the Cowboys looked well on their way to a 14th straight victory when leading at halftime, an undefeated streak dating back to last season.
Then the offense froze: 3 straight punts for the first time in 2017 and only the third time since 2016. L.A. capitalized with 16 straight points to take the lead for good.
What changed? Well, first-down offense, for one.
Ezekiel Elliott did rip off a 16-yard run on second down on the opening drive of the third quarter. But overall, the Cowboys put themselves in bad down and distance on those first three drives. Dak Prescott threw an incompletion on the first play of the quarter, and 4 subsequent carries by Elliott and Ryan Switzer on first down went for a grand total of 4 yards.
In the first half, the Cowboys were much more effective running on first and second down: 16 carries for 130 yards, including Alfred Morris' 70-yard run. Prescott was 6-of-11 passing for 66 yards, too. The result: 24 points on their first four possessions.
That momentum didn't carry into the third quarter, and it proved costly.
2. Five-Minute Drives
On the second drive against L.A., we saw the best example of the Cowboys' offensive identity this season:
15 plays; 81 yards; 8:02 time of possession; 5 Elliott runs; 10 Prescott passes, including a 10-yard touchdown to his All-Pro running back.
First and foremost, the Cowboys want to score. All day long they'll take a 70-yard Morris run that leads to a touchdown in less than two minutes.
But based on last season, there's no question they also want to control clock, keep their defense fresh, and score points in the process.
Last year, the Cowboys led the league with 35 drives of five-or-more minutes. 30 went for scores, 17 went for touchdowns.
This year,the offense is on pace for only 16 drives of five-plus minutes.They have four in four games, including an outstanding five-minute, 53-second possession in the fourth quarter against the Giants that extended the lead to 19-3 with only 1:55 left.
In the first month, opposing offenses have had success using the same formula. Denver kept the Dallas offense off the field. So did Arizona. And last Sunday, the Rams ran the clock inside two minutes with a 12-play, 68-yard drive that forced the Cowboys to drive, unsuccessfully, for a touchdown with no timeouts remaining.
3. Sean Lee's Impact
How much did the Cowboys miss their All-Pro linebacker against the Rams?
First, give credit to the Rams' offensive line for winning up front, moving well in space and making blocks at the second level. Give credit to Todd Gurley for being an elite running back.
But there's no question Lee helps the Cowboys' run defense when healthy. According to Pro Football Focus, Lee has the highest run stopping percentage (minimum 50 plays) of any NFL linebacker.
Gurley's 53-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the third quarter was a devastating play. But the Cowboys also gave up 8 explosive runs (10 or more yards) to the Rams, including 7 in the second half, and 3 on L.A.'s final drive that drained the clock.
The Cowboys had only allowed 4 runs of at least 10 yards in the first three games. They allowed 38 last year; now they're on pace for 48 this year.
Lee's return from a hamstring injury should help, either this week or after the bye.
4. Rodgers In The Red Zone
If there's a silver lining to the Rams' 35-point outburst, it's that it wasn't any worse. L.A. scored on nine of 11 true possessions, but the Cowboys did hold them to field goals seven times.
Aaron Rodgers hasn't been so generous.
In last Thursday's 35-14 win over Chicago, the Green Bay offense was a perfect 5-for-5 in the red zone. Rodgers threw touchdown passes to three different receivers (Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson) and Aaron Jones had a 2-yard touchdown run.
The Packers' offense leads the NFL in red zone efficiency (11-of-14; 78.6 percent).
Yet, here's another silver lining for Dallas: After a slow start inside the 20, the Cowboys' offense is now 7-of-8 scoring red-zone touchdowns over the last two games. They must cash in Sunday to match a quarterback of Rodgers' caliber.