As we begin focusing on the Eagles, there's a common theme that keeps popping up when the talk turns to the Eagles: their big-play offense.
Apparently, the Eagles have one, and apparently, the Cowboys don't.
But we wouldn't be doing our due diligence if we didn't take a tiny little peek at the numbers before sounding off about how how no defense can stop a given offense. It's undisputed that big plays, gains of 20 yards or more, can lead to game-changing moments: In a league where a handful of plays make a difference each week, where a few inches can decide victory or defeat, the ability to create - and prevent - big plays can be a real difference maker.
After the break, we look at big plays across the league, and find a welcome surprise for Cowboys fans.
For this analysis, I've defined big plays as any play of 20 yards or more. Of course there are other big plays like turnovers, defensive scores, long kick- and punt returns or even missed field goals and many more, but for now, I'll stick with the 20-yard play.
Leading the league in big plays, much to my surprise, are the Panthers with 41 and the Raiders with 37. Of course, both those teams, as well as the third-ranked Texans (35), have played seven games. The Eagles and Patriots, who've both only played six games are tied for third with 35 big plays. So despite their 2-4 record, the Eagles lead the league in big plays per game on offense.
And the Cowboys, playing with a beat-up quarterback and gimpy receivers against the toughest starting schedule of any team? They rank right behind the Eagles and the Tom Brady-led Patriots with 34 big plays in six games.
Be honest. Did you expect that? The Cowboys were mocked for being unable to break a long run in the first couple of games, and everybody knows that Romo simply cannot throw the deep ball. But right up there with the Eagles and the Patriots? Holy Mackerel, Batman!
But wait, there's more. The Cowboys have also done a pretty good job defensively this year at preventing big plays. The Cowboys have allowed only 19 plays of 20 yards or more so far this year, tied for the fifth-lowest total. That's a nice number for a defense that was consistently ranked at the bottom of the league last year. You'll find the full numbers for all NFL teams at the bottom of this post.
In Monday's press conference, Garrett explained just how important it is to prevent big plays going against the Philly offense:
It’s a really important thing. There’s an age-old thing in defensive football where you say:
"Boy, we held that guy to 28 yards – if he didn’t have that 98-yard run and that 47-yard run. Boy, we really kept those guys under wraps – if they didn’t have that 77-yard post and that 68-yard bomb."
Big plays are a part of the game. One of the big things that you have to do on defense is prevent big plays, and our defense has done an outstanding job of that, both defending the run and defending the pass.
The challenge this week is a big one, because when you talk about the Eagles, they have a ton of playmakers. Starting with the quarterback, the receivers, the runners, they’ve got them all over their football team.
So it’s really important we play good, sound , fundamental defense throughout the game, and then we don’t have those handful of plays that can sometimes get you beat. Hopefully we can continue that trend.
But perhaps even more important than the ability to create and prevent big plays is the ability to do it at the same time. The Cowboys have a 'Big Play Differential' (offensive big plays minus defensive big plays) of 15, better than any other team in the league.
Offensively, the Cowboys and Eagles have shown the same big play ability so far this year. Defensively, the Cowboys have the edge. Let's hope it's enough of an edge for Sunday.
Big Plays of 20 yards or more through week 7, 2011 (click column header to sort)
|Team||Games played||Offensive Big Plays||Defensive Big Plays||Big Play Differential