The Dallas Cowboys: Equilibrium of Mediocrity


A win is a win, or so they say – I have a hard time disagreeing with this cliché most of the time, but in the case of the Cowboys re-attaining .500 after a win against the Eagles, the 2012 Mayan apocalypse would have begun early in Dallas had they not won that game.

Aug 23, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Green Bay Packers defensive back Tramon Williams (38) breaks up a fade pattern to Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver AJ Green (18) during the pre-season game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

Did the way they won it convince you that this team is anything more than the .500 team they have been all year?  The Cowboys tied their season high 38 points (also the two highest point totals allowed by the Eagles) against the Eagles, which is a positive step for the offensive unit.  But how much does it mean to run up the score against a team that is clearly packing things up and assessing the players for the next regime?

And about that running up the score… The Cowboys allowed 33 points to the Vick and Shady McCoy-less Eagles.  I do think that Bryce Brown is a talented back and has a future in this league – but boy, the Cowboys sure made Nick Foles look pretty good for the first time this season.

The story of the2012 Cowboys is one of the Equilibrium of Mediocrity.  You take one step forward, you take one step back.  At the beginning of the season (sans the thumping of the Giants in Week 1), the Cowboys offense struggled, but the defense did its part to keep them in games.  Every week I do analysis of how the Cowboys fair against their opponents in relation to that team’s “average opponent”.

For example, for the season-to-date, the average Cowboys opponent scores 23.2 points and allows 21.8 points against.  The Cowboys season averages are 22.0 points scored vs. 24.6 allowed – so they score 1.5 more points than their opponents normally allow and yield 1.4 more points than their opposing offense normally scores.  So they basically break even.

As recently as 4 games ago, the Cowboys offense generally scored what their opponents allowed (0.1 points more) and yielded 1.8 points less than the opposing offenses score on average.  Not breathtaking defensive stats, but they had a positive, albeit minimal impact on the game.

Let’s look at the past 4 games:

In the past 4 games, the Cowboys offense has scored 7.4 more points (Thanks Eagles!) than their opponents normally allow – But they also give up 8.2 more points than opposing offenses score.  The Cowboys offense improved – and their defense simultaneously declined.  The Equilibrium of Mediocrity.

Would this be unfolding differently if Sean Lee and Bruce Carter weren’t lost for the season?  It surely hasn’t helped.  The interior of this defense has struggled against the run – yielding 140 or more yards on the past two weeks, 120 or more in the past 3 weeks, over 100 yards in 6 of the past 7 weeks.

Let’s look at it from another perspective – the Bengals have gained 128 or more yards rushing in the past 3 weeks – including 189 and 221 yard days against the Chiefs and Raiders respectively.  Do the Chiefs and Raiders have great run defenses?  Absolutely not – but neither do the Cowboys.

2012 Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are a streaky, talented young team.  When they get on a roll, positively or negatively, they seem to stay on a roll.  They have 3 and 4 game win streaks and a 3 game losing streak in this season alone.  This is a team that likes to run the ball so they can throw play action passes to physical specimens A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham – a very dangerous prospect for the Cowboys.  In games that the Bengals rush for over 100 yards, they are 4-1.  They have 3 games in a row (as mentioned above) with over 100 yards rushing.  They are also currently on a 4 game winning streak.  Let’s look at those 4 games.

Without looking at the numbers, I would have suspected that the recent surge had more to do with improved offensive prowess over those 4 games, but it turns out that their defense has come alive as of late, albeit against fairly weak teams (sans the inconsistent Giants).

Over the whole season, the offense has been good for 2 extra points over average and the defense breaks exactly even.  Over the course of the previous four games the offense is scoring 3.3 more points than an opposing defense normally yields – and more impressively, the defense is yielding 10.4 points less than opposing offenses normally score.

It would be easy to say these stats are padded by easy opponents in the Chiefs, Raiders, and Chargers – but the biggest statistical lift came against the Giants, in which they scored 10.8 points more than the Giants defensive average, and ceded 13.8 less points than the Giants normally score.

The Bengals are clearly on a hot streak – but is this a streak that is here to stay, or will this young and talented team see their hot streak sputter to an end?

Things I Fear About the Bengals

  • A.J. Green.  In case you’ve been under a rock this season, A.J. Green has quickly become one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL this year, having his name mentioned with the likes of Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.  He is currently on pace to finish the season with 101 catches, 1476 yards, and 13 touchdowns.  I sure hope Coach Ryan has a sound and simple game plan for this guy, because he can really turn a game for you.  With weakness at the safety position, the Cowboys corners have a very serious challenge on their hands.
  • BenJarvus Green-Ellis.  I feel sort of silly even writing this, considering the rocky season this guy has had, but he’s come on strong lately, and the Cowboys haven’t exactly defended the run very well.  He is on pace for 1180 yards and 7 touchdowns, which isn’t exactly jaw dropping, but he serves as an appetizer to the A.J. Green main course.  If they’re able to run effectively, expect them to do damage with the playaction – particularly in down-the-field throws to Green.  See stats above about 100 yard rushing days. 
  • Mike Zimmer.  It’s probably been overstated by the media in the past week, but Mike Zimmer knows a little something about the Dallas Cowboys.  From 1994-2006, Coach Zimmer served various functions on the defensive coaching staff and served the Cowboys well, even through the difficult times of the early 2000’s and survived a variety of Head Coaching changes.  I think he’s a very capable coach and from what I can tell has done a pretty good job with this Bengals team.  There aren’t a ton of similarities to the Cowboys teams he coached before, but I have no doubt that he will bring heaps of pressure on Romo, trying to cut the head off of the snake.  Oh yeah, and the Bengals lead the NFL in sacks.
  • Geno Atkins.  Speaking of pressure on Romo, the Bengals have themselves a 24 year old powerhouse in Geno Atkins.  Atkins is currently on pace for 13 sacks on the season, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he made some serious progress on that this weekend.  The Cowboys have a weak interior line and this guy could cause some serious problems.  Hopefully he feels sorry for former teammate Nate Livings and goes easy on him.  Maybe I should have put him higher on the list.

Things I feel good about 

  • Dez Bryant.  Romo said that Dez had turned a corner a few weeks ago and he wasn’t kidding.  Even though Dez started the season fairly inconsistently, he is still on pace to have 95 catches, 1300 yards and 11 TD’s.  This guy has been an absolute world beater the past few weeks.  If I can get an early Christmas gift, I would like that gift to be Dez bowling over or perhaps leaping over our old friend Terence Newman.


  • DeMarco Murray.  Last week I wrote that we should probably keep our expectations for Murray’s return in perspective, which I still believe, but he looked pretty good, despite an obvious hitch in his running motion.  DeMarco Murray is the best running back the Cowboys have and the offense is ridiculously better when they’re able to have balance in their attack.  The Bengals have given up seven 100 yard rushing days, and it would go a long way toward a Cowboys victory if they could make that happen.


  • Tony Romo.  I know he’s a polarizing figure in this town, but can we please all just get over it?  The Cowboys will go as far as Romo takes them.  They do not win without Romo taking the reins of this offense.  The defense is battered and they’re probably not going to stop many teams – particularly not teams as offensively talented as the Bengals – and certainly aren’t going to win, if Romo doesn’t show up.  He is going to be pressured and there are going to be times that you want to pull your hair out.  There will be also times when you just can’t believe the play you just watched him make.


  • Jason Witten.  Noticing a theme?  No defensive players on this list.  If the Cowboys are going to do anything with the last quarter of the season, it’s going to be done by the offense.  That’s going to lead to some 27-24 games which make you want to scream, but it should also be pretty fun.  Oh, and Jason Witten is going to be a big part.  He is currently on pace for 117 catches, 1091 yards and 1 TD.  The Cowboys have got to find a way to use him (and Dez) in the red zone more.  There are far too many well executed drives, particularly in the first half, which stall because of penalties and poor execution – ending in field goals.


For full disclosure, my picks for the season are listed above.  I’ve had decent success picking the outcome, good success at picking the point margin of the game, and not so great success at picking the actual score.  In summary, I can tell you with moderate accuracy who will win, very accurately predict how close it will be, but cannot tell you the final score whatsoever.  To that end…

The Dallas Cowboys are at a point in their season where they need 3 wins to keep their hopes alive for the playoffs.  Their defense has been destroyed with injury and their offensive line has been poor at best.  The Cowboys go to Cincinnati to face a team on a 4 game winning streak with an explosive offense and an attacking defense.  I don’t feel good about this at all, but I think the Bengals will be too much for the Cowboys to handle this week.

Cowboys 24, Bengals 31