The Dallas Cowboys got back to their thieving ways last week against the Saints. In New Orleans the Dallas defense stole four passes including the legendary “THICK-6” late in the fourth quarter. The windfall of turnovers was sight for sore eyes.
After leading the NFL in turnovers early in the season, the Dallas Cowboys defense started regressing to the mean. But last week’s explosion reignited the flame and is making some wonder if it was an aberration or a sign of things to come.
Can the Dallas Cowboys bank on turnovers being part of their defensive identify?
Early in the NFL season, we discussed the fickle nature of turnovers and how unstable they tend to be week to week. A defense that relies on turnovers is setting itself up for disappointment since turnovers involve a heft portion of luck and opportunity.
Josh Hermsmeyer at fivethirtyeight wrote about this very topic last Friday. In it he broke down how luck plays such a big part in the turnover game (particularly with fumbles). Teams with good coverage and/or good pass-rush tend to get more interceptions than those without, but it’s not exactly stable week to week.
Yards-against can be misleading but it also tends to be one of the more stable stats week to week. And while points-against and turnovers-attained are more indicative of success, they experience larger fluctuations each week.
Turnovers are an offensive stat
Nothing drives interceptions more than the quarterback and game situation. It should be no surprise, good QBs who play conservatively tend to throw fewer interceptions than their less-skilled gun-slinging counterparts. Just like QBs who are playing with a lead tend to throw fewer interceptions than QBs who are trying to catch up.
playing with a lead and the quality of opposing QB play a bigger part in turnovers than the actual players who are getting the turnovers.
These two factors play a much bigger part in a defense getting interceptions than an opportunistic ball-hawking defense does. So it really makes defensive turnovers an offensive stat since playing with a lead (your own offense) and the quality of opposing QB (the enemy offense) play a bigger part in turnovers than the actual players getting the turnovers.
This somewhat explains the stretch from mid-October to early December where the Cowboys only gathered five total turnovers. Dallas has been struggling offensively and the opportunities have diminished. Dallas still had their same ball-hawking opportunistic defense, they just weren’t playing under the same advantageous circumstances.
Last week that changed. Despite playing against Taysom Hill (who surprisingly performs well in regard to turnover worthy plays above expectation) the Dallas Cowboys secondary feasted.
So the question is: Can the Cowboys defense continue their turnover ways?
The answer is yes. Based on their collective ball-skills, the presumed strong pass rush, and the quality of QBs they’re facing (this isn’t exactly a gauntlet of talent ahead), there’s no reason to think a fairly unstable thing like defensive turnovers won’t continue to befall them.
Will the Dallas Cowboys offense get back on track? If you think yes, then chances are so will the windfall of defensive turnovers.