One of the most noticeable themes surrounding the Dallas Cowboys training camp this year has been an emphasis on creating turnovers. Multiple commentators have weighed in to express this fact. Jason Garrett made a point of highlighting this goal during his training camp speech, saying “We had sixteen takeaways last year. Sixteen. One a game. Chicago Bears: forty-four. Forty-four takeaways. Twenty-eight more. Twenty-eight more scoring opportunities the Bears had than the Dallas Cowboys. You think it makes a difference? I think it does.”
As you can see, Garrett is tuned in to the numbers. As he should be. Looking at the stats, turnovers are a great predictor of who will win a football game. It is a simple idea: in a game based around which team controls a ball better than another team, you should want your team to control that ball more. Unfortunately the importance of this idea has been lost to the Cowboys for quite some time. It wasn’t just a problem during last year’s injury-plagued season. Since their Super Bowl victory in the ’95 season, the team has ranked among the top-10 in turnovers only three times. That is simply unacceptable.
Thankfully, Garrett and the new defensive coaching staff have emphasized that they want turnovers to be part of the “identity” of their football team. That is why we, as fans, should take heart in the Cowboys’ four turnovers so far in this young preseason. The fact that what is being preached in practice is showing up on the field is a testament not only to the skill of the players, but also to the skill of the coaches.
When Miami fumbled the ball on their first offensive play of the year the Cowboys were being handed a gift, but Dallas still needed someone to step up and get that fumble. That man was Nick Hayden, a player who was out of football last year and brought in to shore up a thin defensive line. When the ball hit the ground he was ready to jump on it and secure the turnover. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but these are the little things that win football games. This also exemplifies what Garrett has preached since becoming coach; when presented with an opportunity, go and take it.
The second Cowboys turnover was much more electric and goes down as the first “big play” of the 2013 NFL season. This time it was 6th round pick DeVonte Holloman creating his own opportunity with a beautiful fingertip interception and then capitalizing on it by sprinting 75 yards down the field for a touchdown. Turnovers on their own are great, turnovers returned for touchdowns are outstanding. After the game Holloman gave credit to the turnover-focused coaching saying: “They scream it during the play, before the play, before we go out there for a series…when you get one, it’s a big deal.”
Dallas continued their quest for the ball the following week in Oakland. On my personal favorite play of the young season Sean Lee came unblocked on a blitz to light up Matt Flynn, helping to create a fumble that would be recovered by Jason Hatcher. Once again we saw a member of the D-line getting the ball when the opportunity was presented. I would say that this has more than a little to do with Rob Marinelli’s (formerly of the 44-turnover Bears) presence at Valley Ranch. His “Marinelli Madness” video series seems to be working.
(Writer’s Note: For those that don’t get the reference, check out DeMarcus Ware on the Grantland Trenches Podcast. It’s my recommended watch of the week.)
Another rookie came up big to secure the preseason’s fourth turnover. This time it was Safety J.J. Wilcox capping off a drive that already saw him contribute more tackles than the rest of the defense combined with an interception of Terrelle Pryor in the end zone. Pryor made a huge mistake by rolling right and throwing back across his body, but we should be happy with the fact that Wilcox was able to capitalize on this mistake, possibly saving a touchdown in the process. When he was asked in an interview on July 30th what new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin wanted out of his players Wilcox said “Effort, it’s run to the ball, that don’t take any telling at all. So I take pride in that and just hustling to the ball.” The ball, the ball. You’ve gotta love it.
There is another side to turnovers, and that has to do with the offense. While Dallas walked away from the Miami game without giving the ball away, they did commit two costly turnovers in Oakland, finishing the game with an even turnover ratio and a loss. This just goes to support the coaches’ message: turnovers win and lose football games. It’s all about the ball. While the season is very young and two games offers nothing concrete in terms of statistical analysis that can be extrapolated across a 16 game schedule…I’m going to do it anyways. I predict a 25+ turnover season for the Cowboys defense based off the new playing approach that is being preached in Dallas. These coaches have talked the talk and so far their players are backing them up. I expect it to continue.