If there is one thing Gunther Cunningham will preach to his defense this week, it will be to capitalize on forcing Tony Romo and the Cowboys' offense into third-down situations.
Romo ranks high in every statistical category, boasting a 101.6 overall passer rating (4th overall) and 15 touchdowns (T-2nd). Compare that to Detroit's Matthew Stafford, who has a 95.3 overall passer rating (6th overall) and also has 15 touchdowns (T-2nd). San Diego's Phillip Rivers is the other quarterback tied for second with 15 touchdowns.
(What should come as no surprise to anyone, Denver's Peyton Manning leads all quarterbacks with 25 touchdowns and a 123.3 overall passer rating.)
In fact, Romo and Stafford are almost mirror images when it comes to statistics, with Romo taking the edge in most. There is, however, one stat that shows a glaring difference between the two: third-down passing.
Stafford has 79 attempts on third down so far this season, completing 58.2-percent of them for 641 yards and six touchdowns (second only to Manning, who has eight) with a 109.7 passer rating (4th overall). All three of Stafford's touchdowns against Cincinnati on Sunday came on third down.
Romo has 61 attempts on third down, completing 55.7-percent of them for 423 yards and just two touchdowns. He ranks 23rd with a 67.9 passer rating, throwing three interceptions compared to zero for Stafford.
This trend by Romo is great news for the Lions, who rank second-overall in third-down efficiency (29.9 percent), second only to the 7-0 Kansas City Chiefs (25.3 percent).
While Detroit has that statistical edge over Dallas, the Cowboys hold the advantage in others:
- Probably the most glaring advantage the Cowboys hold is on special teams. Third-year returner Dwayne Harris has had an outstanding start to the season, second in both kick return yards with 351 (Minnesota's Corradelle Patterson leads with 475) and punt return yards with 212 and a touchdown (Baltimore's Tandon Doss leads with 267).
- Where the Lions do hold an advantage is in the punting game.
Sam Martinis fourth with a net average of 42.9 while Cowboys punter Chris Jones is 23rd with a 39.3 net average. Martin's punts have resulted in 56 return yards by opponents while Jones' have resulted in 120.
- Both of these teams have misleading rankings when it comes to defense. Detroit has given up an average of 397.1 yards per game (31st) while Dallas has given up an average of 393.9 (29th). By the same token, both teams are strong in generating turnovers and coming away with favorable points differential.
- The Lions rank seventh in interception percentage and 12th in points per game differential; the Cowboys rank 13th in interception percentage and eighth in points per game differential. Both teams are 4-3.
- After starting the season 2-3, defensive turnovers have helped the Cowboys ice back-to-back victories. Against Washington and at Philadelphia, the Dallas defense has forced five combined turnovers in the fourth quarter (four INTs, one sack-fumble).