Ask any Dallas Cowboys’ fan or analyst what went wrong in 2020, and the answer is likely to point toward key injuries on the team. Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5, and by then the Cowboys’ starting tackles were out for the season. And even though those three injuries were the ones that probably hurt the team the most, there were plenty more.

Blake Jarwin was out for the year after Week 1, Zack Martin missed six games, Joe Looney and Tyler Biadasz suffered injuries at different points of the season. Even on defense, the Cowboys saw key players like Leighton Vander Esch and Trevon Diggs miss playing time.

No one is going to argue that injuries derailed the 2020 Dallas Cowboys. But it’s not easy to answer exactly how many wins did these injuries cost the team. Well, Tej Seth and Ben Brown from Pro Football Focus looked for the answer. And the results really make a good job of putting in perspective the impact injuries made on the Cowboys.

As you might know, Wins Above Replacement has become one of PFF’s most important stats. As the name implies, its objective is to determine how many wins any given player represents over a replacement-level player. A quarterback represents more WAR than a running back, for instance.

But the PFF study introduces a stat called “WAIL,” which stands for WAR-adjusted injuries lost. Here’s the author’s definition: “WAIL takes each player’s projected Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for each game of the season and calculates the WAR lost due to injury based on a player’s status on the injury report.”

The following graph helps put things in perspective. The x-axis represents how many Wins Above Replacement were lost from injuries. And the y-axis represents how many wins did the team had over or under its preseason win total projection.

As you can see, the Cowboys and the 49ers are in their own league.

PFF's WAIL stat in a graph
WAR-Adjusted Injuries Lost (PFF) 

One could interpret PFF’s study and say that injuries cost the Cowboys 2.44 wins in 2020. In a hypothetical and mathematical world, that would mean the Dallas Cowboys could’ve finished the season 8-8 and taken the NFC East.

To give you an idea of how high the 2.44 number is, PFF noted that it was the second-highest for any team since 2012.

However, one could argue that losing Dak Prescott’s intangible skills cost more than that. Prescott is renowned as one of the best leaders in the NFL. Losing his presence in the locker room was definitely costly and something tough to represent in numbers. Plus, losing your starting QB in Week 5 is likely to make players and coaches feel like the season is over because most of the time… well, it is.

Fortunately for the Dallas Cowboys, among PFF’s findings is that “WAIL” is not stable from year to year. With a little bit less “bad luck,” the Cowboys should be right back at it in 2021.

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