We assess whether the Dallas Cowboys improvement on defense is the real deal…
For the Dallas Cowboys defense, there was nowhere to go but up. After starting the season as a historically bad unit, all the defense had to do was show the slightest bit of competency, and they’d be on the incline.
Which is where we find ourselves today. The Dallas Cowboys, currently on a three-game winning streak, credited their improvement on defense as one of the reasons they’re suddenly back in this thing.
The team that was last in the NFL in points scored against, has only given up 19 points per game during the winning streak. At 30 points per game for the season, the Dallas Cowboys have moved all the way up to third worst in the league (hey, we take what we can get, right?)
So is this improvement something to build on or is it Fool’s Gold and nothing but false hope?
When diving into the specifics and applying some context to the situation, you’ll find other factors are at play and the previously cited statistical improvements have more to do with outside factors than it does actual improvement.
Over the past three wins, the Dallas Cowboys faced the Bengals, 49ers, and Eagles (teams that have a combined 11 wins between them). Additionally, none of the three opponents have offenses ranked above 20th in the league, so it’s not like we’re talking about successfully holding good, or even average, offenses here.
Another outside factor working in the Cowboys favor was the quality of passers they were playing against. All three QBs were midseason replacements, far from considered franchise-caliber QBs. Despite that, the Dallas Cowboys defense actually regressed in yards against, giving up 414.7 yards/game (worse than their season average of 389.8 yards/game).
So why the sudden turnaround in points?
Turnovers play a significant role in this. Dallas, clinically allergic to getting turnovers the first 2/3 of the season, have been swimming in turnovers during the streak. The most recent 10 turnovers collected, push the Cowboys to 6th in forced fumbles and 26th in interceptions.
While nice to see, turnovers are considered one of the most unstable stats week-to-week and season-to-season. To think the Dallas Cowboys suddenly got good at turnovers is to believe my grandma when she says she’s good at slot machines – it underplays outside factors like timing and luck and overplays technique and skills.
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That said, some players are more prone to getting turnovers than others, and increased playing time for Donovan Wilson and Randy Gregory are directly related to these big plays. As such, the players and scheme get some credit but we need to be careful not to forget luck and the quality of opponent faced.
The good news is the Dallas Cowboys have improved in yards against per carry and opponent’s red zone scoring percentage. If the Dallas Cowboys hope to advance to the postseason and offer any resistance against a winning team, they’re going to need everything working in their favor to keep the game competitive.
Let’s keep the urgency alive this offseason and recognize the Dallas Cowboys still have one of the very worst defenses in the NFL. The resurgence being seen is nice but it’s mostly Fool’s Gold and Dallas needs to devote nearly all of their attention this offseason into fixing it.