It is great to see this team taking the ball away from the other team at a rate, at least so far this pre-season, that is higher than we have seen in recent seasons. And let’s hope that carries on through the regular season. However, when you give the ball back to the other team more than you take it from them, it rarely results in a win. There is a direct correlation between turnovers and wins, or lack thereof.
At all levels of football, turning the ball over must be controlled. It was something we had to stress a lot even when I coached Peewee Football. So why do athletes, still playing a game they grew up playing, have a problem hanging on to it? The primary reason I will cite is that the players on the other side of the ball are also bigger, stronger and faster than the opponents faced in lower levels of the game. But that should never be used as an excuse, because securing the ball is fundamental to the game and rather than continuing to fight for yardage, the ball carrier should realize when he has been stopped and go down, prepared to fight another play.
For the Cowboys to achieve their goals this season, this must be corrected. As far as last Saturday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals is concerned, there were several issues that were the cause of this seemingly careless attitude towards hanging on to the ball. Dwayne Harris, under pressure to show more after Terrance Williams was drafted as the heir apparent at third receiver, appeared to be trying too hard to make a play when the ball got knocked loose on a punt return.
Lance Dunbar, whom I believe has shown enough to be named the primary backup to DeMarco Murray, turned a stellar play into just another missed opportunity by taking the ball 43 yards to the Cardinals seven yard line and giving it back to them. This one seems to be a case of carelessness, as Dunbar was more concerned with keeping his balance than the ball. Dez Bryant was having great success on the next drive, with several catches leading up to a 27 yard gain that ended with Dez fumbling the ball. Dez just didn’t seem to be holding onto the ball tightly enough, allowing it to be pried away.
Kyle Orton, playing like he just realized he needs to hurry back to the Dallas area to return some overdue library books, was careless (not reading coverage correctly) and inaccurate, as he threw two interceptions. Quarterback Alex Tanney threw the last pick on an end of game drive that would have provided the win with a successful touchdown. This situation, by nature, leads one to take more chances with the ball, allowing for the possibility of interception instead of TD. So, I’m not putting much blame on Tanney for this one and I think it’s a great testament to the Cowboys defense that they even had a chance to win the game late.
So, while we take solace in the fact that the Cowboys seemed to move the ball with ease against the Cardinals defense (in the air anyway), the game comes down to points scored, not yardage gained. And, if the Cowboys once again find themselves without a consistent running game, there will be more chances taken in the passing game, which could result in a higher interception rate, like we saw last year. More easily fixed are the issues with carelessness and fighting too hard to gain yardage. More difficult to fix is the issue with having to pass when the opponent knows you have to, because the running game is going nowhere.
The bottom line is that this defense appears to be ready to take the ball from the other team each and every week and I believe they will do so in significant numbers. When that happens the offense needs to be prepared to capitalize on the other team’s mistakes, not give the ball back to them due to mistakes of their own.