The Dallas Cowboys have had the hardest time winning the games that everyone else wins.
Over the past three seasons, the winning percentage of NFL teams that scored 30 or more points in a game was .865, or roughly the equivalent of a 13-2 record. On average, teams could expect to win around six games for every one they lost when putting up 30 or more on the scoreboard. That’s as close to a lock as you can get in the NFL.
The Cowboys during that time lost more games when they scored 30+ points than any team in the league. The Cowboys scored 30 or more 16 times between 2011 and 2013, the sixth-best mark league-wide. Unfortunately at just 9-7 in those games, the Cowboys had the league’s second-worst winning percentage (.563).
I wrote about this in the offseason:
"“If the defense over the past three seasons was just stout enough to be average in this category, and the team was 13-3 instead of 9-7 in games they scored 30 or more, a franchise that has missed the playoffs by one win three straight years could very well be entering the 2014 season as the defending three-time NFC East champions.”"
One of the reasons the Cowboys are 10-4 in 2014 and playing for a division title and a first-round bye is that they’re winning games when they score 30+ points. They’re winning the games they’re supposed to win – the games that everyone else wins. In these games, the 2014 Cowboys are 8-0, including 2-0 in December.
Last December, the Cowboys started 0-2 with losses at Chicago and to Green Bay at home. The Dallas defense did not force a second-half punt in either of those games: nine total drives, seven touchdowns, two field goals. This year in 13 second-half possessions, the defense has given up 5 touchdowns and one field goal to go with four turnovers and three punts.
They’re a far cry from the 2009 unit that posted back-to-back shutouts in the final two weeks of the season, but this 2014 defense will get its share of stops and allow the offense to put the game away. Never was this more apparent than in last week’s win against Philadelphia when both units did their part late in the third quarter.
Dallas was up 21-17 when quarterback Tony Romo fumbled in his own red zone. It took only two plays for the Eagles to go 14 yards to paydirt and take a 24-21 lead.
Dallas got the ball back and responded with a tight, well-executed, 8-play, 78-yard touchdown drive to retake the lead. Romo was 3-for-3 for 55 yards, and running back DeMarco Murray ran five times for 23 yards, including the score. The Cowboys did it all on first and second down, never having to convert a third.
Here’s the difference between this year and last year: Three plays into the Eagles’ ensuing drive, on third-and-7, safety J.J. Wilcox intercepted an errant Mark Sanchez pass, giving the offense the ball back on the Eagles’ 42-yard line. Four plays later the Cowboys had scored again and were up 35-24.
Romo was lauded as the hero, and no doubt he played terrific, but football teams win football games. Dallas plays another must-win game Sunday against the AFC South division champion Indianapolis Colts. Ultra-productive quarterback Andrew Luck will likely put up some points, but one senses this Dallas defense will get its share of stops. If Romo and the offense can put up 30 against the Colts, there’s no reason to think this defense won’t do its part to get the win.