As of this writing, the Dallas Cowboys defense has 25 take-aways on the year (13 INT, 12 FUM). This is a stark improvement over their season total of 16 from last year. It’s also good for the #2 spot in the NFL behind only Seattle (26).
I wrote during the preseason that I expected the Cowboys to have 25+ turnovers this season and I’m glad that they were able to obtain that number. My argument for the prediction was based on the emphasis the coaches put on turnovers during training camp and the fact that the team had already produced four in three preseason games. As we head into December, it’s safe to say that trend continued.
Creating turnovers has certainly helped Dallas this year. It’s well documented that interceptions and fumble recoveries are some of the best ways to increase a team’s probability of winning. That’s the reason Jason Garrett made it his team’s mission to produce more of them.
However, accomplishing that has come at a price.
With a zone defense that allows play makers to read the quarterback and make plays on the ball comes holes in coverage. Good quarterbacks know how to take advantage of those windows. Hence, we have seen historically bad pass defense from the Cowboys this year against competent Quarterbacks.
Furthermore, when you tell your players to concentrate on stripping the ball you would expect that sometimes they forget that getting the carrier down is an important objective as well. So we’ve also seen many a tackle broken for greater gains down the field.
This all results in a Cowboys defense that is currently ranked 32nd. Hey, at least Philly is 31st!
Now, I personally don’t care for the NFL’s Total Defense ranking which is simply determined by yards-per-game allowed. But a more analytical analysis doesn’t produce much better results for Dallas. Pro Football Outsiders’ Defensive Efficiency Rankings have the Cowboys sitting at #25. Better ranking…but not what many would call “championship caliber”.
So what are we as Cowboys fans to make of this? Should we be happy for takeaways? Or has the price in yards and points been too high?
Personally, I’m happy with where we are. I am embarrassed to be a fan of a team that has given up 40 first downs in a game, but I think it’s a worthwhile side-effect in the process of changing the Cowboys’ culture.
Dallas has ranked in the top ten in turnovers only three times since their last Super Bowl in ’95. Only three times in seventeen years they have cracked the top third of the league in one of the most important defensive categories in football. That’s a recipe for mediocrity.
As I have said before, I’m a long-term supporter of Jason Garrett. I try to look past the occasional game management mistake and focus on the importance of a Head Coach that has a system, believes in it, and (most importantly) gets his players to follow it. That’s what we have seen happen with turnovers. Garrett saw a systemic problem with the Cowboys organization and told his players they were going to fix it. And they did.
If a few embarrassing games is what it takes to make this a team that consistently produces turnovers year after year (think Chicago Bears) I’m all in.
But there’s still the issue of this season. Turnovers or not, the defense is still a below average unit. If the Cowboys do make the playoffs they are going to see some good Quarterbacks. They have yet to win against one this year. Can a defense that has given up an NFL record four 600-yd passing games be expected to hold Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, or Matt Stafford in check?
Not at all. Pass coverage is Dallas’ weakness and they should expect it to be exploited.
That’s a problem I think we all would be happy to have though. Goal number one is getting to the playoffs and thankfully the Cowboys’ destiny is in their own hands.
Lowly defensive rankings or not, creating turnovers helped give them this opportunity.