Dallas Cowboys After Seven Games: A Statistical Comparison Of 2011 And 2012

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

The Cowboys are 3-4, have allowed 162 points and allowed 169 rush attempts this year - the exact same numbers they had after seven games in 2011. Meaningful coincidence or just random data points? We look at what the 2011 data tells us about 2012.

With the Cowboys sitting at a rather disappointing 3-4, I couldn't help but notice that they were also sitting at 3-4 after seven games last season. And last year, the Cowboys went on a four-game winning streak after Week 8 that put them back into the middle of the playoff race. Can they do it again this year?

Next up on the schedule are the Atlanta Falcons, and winning in Atlanta would be no small feat, but that game is followed by a game in Philadelphia and two home games against the Browns and Redskins, a stretch that now looks a lot more manageable than it did at the start of the season.

With that in mind, how much different are the 2012 Cowboys compared to last year's team, or are they basically the same team as least year? One way of looking at how the two teams compare is to look at where the two teams stood after seven games in a number of key statistical categories.

The first thing that popped out to me is that in addition to having the same record as last year, the Cowboys have allowed 162 points this year, the exact same number as last year. But that's already where the similarities end. Because while they scored 156 points last year, their total this year is "only" 137 points for an unflattering scoring differential of -25 as the table below illustrates.

Stats after 7 games
'11 Cowboys '12 Cowboys
Points allowed 162 162
Points scored 156 137
Points Differential -6 -25
TO ratio -2 -11
Penalties 47 55
Penalty yards 338 383

The key difference between the two teams is obviously in the turnover differential. Last year, the Cowboys were ranked 19th in the league with a -2 differential, this year they are ranked 31st with a -11 differential. Those numbers are also a key driver for the scoring differential, but before you assign blame to one particular unit, consider that while the offense has turned over the ball five more times than last year, the defense has also recorded four fewer takeaways than last year. Strange how these things go, no?

Overall though, this paints a bleak picture of the 2012 Cowboys, as the topline stats above show. Perhaps a separate look at selected offensive and defensive stats will allow us to paint some more cells green. Here is how the 2012 offense compares to the 2011 version:

OFFENSE after 7 games
'11 Cowboys '12 Cowboys
Rush yards per game 115 86
Yards per rush 4.8 3.6
Passing yards per game 292 309
Passing yards /Attempt 7.8 7.4
TDs 12 10
Interceptions 9 13
Sacks 15 13
Sack /Attempt 5.7% 4.4%
Passer Rating 87.7 81.2
Third Down Efficiency 34.1% 44.0%
Red Zone TD % 39.1% 47.8%
Punt returns 8.2 5.5
Kickoff returns 21.8 21.8

The one stat that has received the most press are Tony Romo's interceptions. 13 INTs in seven games is simply terrible, and there is no way to spin this in a positive way.

But the table above suggests a causal narrative that begins with the Cowboys' inability to gain yards on the ground. In another stat that is eerily similar across both years, the Cowboys have rushed exactly 169 times over the first seven games in both seasons. Yet the efficiency of those rushes has declined sharply. The Cowboys in 2011 had the seventh ranked ground game, averaging 4.8 yards a rush with only one game in which they rushed for less than 50 yards. This year, they've had four games in which they've run for less than 50 yards. As a result, their rushing average has dropped to 3.6 yards a pop, which ranks the Cowboys 31st in the league.

The inability to get anything going on the ground has led to more pressure on the passing game to deliver. The Cowboys are throwing more (293 to 262 attempts) and more accurately (66.6 to 62.6) but for less yards as the opponents take away the deep pass and force the Cowboys to dink and dunk their way up the field. And the opponents can do this comfortable in the knowledge that the Cowboys won't make any big gains on the ground and will eventually self-destruct. Either due to penalties, or because the QB is pressing, or because someone will fumble, or because of any number of boneheaded mistakes.

The lack of an efficient ground game is all the more infuriating because the Cowboys have made significant improvements in third down efficiency (ranked 6th in the league) and red zone TD efficiency (20th) versus last season.

At the end of the day, the Cowboys need the run to set up the pass. Simple as that.

The Cowboys defense has received a lot of praise this season, most of which is deserved. But the numbers are not as unequivocally positive as you may have been led to expect:

DEFENSE after 7 games
'11 Cowboys '12 Cowboys
Rush yards per game 93.9 104.7
Yards per rush 4.0 4.0
Passing yards per game 234 188
Passing yards /Attempt 7.1 7.2
TDs 11 7
Interceptions 7 3
Sacks 21 13
Sack /Attempt 8.4% 6.6%
Passer Rating 83.4 87.3
Third Down Efficiency 44.1% 34.1%
Red Zone TD % 57.1% 50%
Punt returns 7.7 3.2
Kickoff returns 22.5 25.2

The 2012 defense is significantly off the 2011 pace in two key defensive stats: sacks and interceptions. As a result, the passer rating allowed as well as the passing yards/attempt are up.

But what the 2012 Cowboys lack in defensive splash plays, they make up for by getting the opposing offense off the field on third downs: The Cowboys were ranked 27th after seven games last year with a 44.1 third down percentage allowed. This year, that's down to 34.1%, the seventh best rate in the league.

The Cowboys already have a pretty solid defense. If they can improve their number of takeaways, they could be a great defense. Oh, and a couple more sacks wouldn't hurt either.

So what's your take, are the 2012 Cowboys last year's team in disguise or will they get rolling once they get the turnover situation under control?

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