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Is adding a defensive lineman and a ball hawking defender the key to winning a Super Bowl?

An argument could be made that the Cowboys need to upgrade the talent at many positions before becoming true Super Bowl contenders. Dallas could draft David DeCastro to fill a talent void at offensive guard, or select Peter Konz in April to significantly improve the position of center.

With Anthony Spencer only accumulating 6.0 sacks in 2011, acquiring a pass rusher opposite DeMarcus Ware would seem a priority. But recent history suggests that teams that reach and win the Super Bowl do so for two main reasons:

  1. The teams that reach the Super Bowl since the 2007 regular season have significantly improved their run defense during the playoffs.
  2. The teams that win the Super Bowl since the 2007 regular season have a significant increase in positive turnover margin from the regular season to the post season.

In other words, teams that string together wins in the post season and win their respective conference championship games, consistently play better run defense in the playoffs. Every team that has participated in the last five Super Bowls, with the exception of last season's New England Patriots, has decreased the amount of rushing yardage permitted per game in the post season.

There is an average reduction of almost 21 yards per game rushing from the regular season to the post season for teams that reach the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl teams rank as follows in reducing the total rushing yards permitted in the regular season to the post season:

Rank

Year

Team

Regular season rush yards yielded per game

Post season rush yards yielded per game

Difference between regular and post season

1

2009

Indianapolis Colts

126.5

74.7

51.8

2

2008

Pittsburgh Steelers

80.3

40.3

40.0

3

2008

Arizona Cardinals

110.3

72.5

37.8

4

2010

Green Bay Packers

114.9

83.8

31.1

5

2007

New England Patriots

98.3

74

24.3

6

2010

Pittsburgh Steelers

62.8

51.7

11.1

7

2011

New York Giants

121.3

111.0

10.3

8

2007

New York Giants

97.7

91.7

6.0

9

2009

New Orleans Saints

122.2

121.7

0.5

10

2011

New England Patriots

117.1

124.7

-7.6

During the 2008 regular season, the Arizona Cardinals boasted one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. Once the playoffs began, however, the Cardinals defense became stout against the run. The 2009 Indianapolis Colts mirrored the Cardinals' defensive transformation to a greater degree.

Despite playing better teams in the playoffs, the teams that make it to the Super Bowl play better run defense in the playoffs. What differentiates the Super Bowl champion from the loser of the championship game is turnover margin.

The 2007 New York Giants were the only team that went to a Super Bowl with a negative turnover differential in the regular season. Every team that won the Super Bowl gathered almost one turnover or more than its opposition during each playoff game. Here is how the teams rank in terms of that increase in turnover margin:

Rank

Year

Team

Regular season turnover ratio per game

Post season turnover ratio per game

Difference between regular and post season

1

2009

New Orleans Saints

0.69

3.33

2.64

2

2007

New York Giants

-0.56

1.25

1.81

3

2008

Arizona Cardinals

0.00

1.75

1.75

4

2010

Green Bay Packers

0.63

2.25

1.62

5

2008

Pittsburgh Steelers

0.25

1.33

1.08

6

2011

New York Giants

0.44

1.25

0.81

7

2009

Indianapolis Colts

0.12

0.33

0.21

8

2007

New England Patriots

1.00

0.67

-0.33

t-9

2010

Pittsburgh Steelers

1.06

-0.67

-1.73

t-9

2011

New England Patriots

1.06

-0.67

-1.73

Notice how 5 of the top 6 (with the only exception being Arizona) won the Super Bowl. Despite having a positive turnover differential throughout the playoffs, the Indianapolis Colts lost the Super Bowl in 2009 to a red hot New Orleans Saints team that was forcing over 3 more turnovers than the team was committing during the playoffs.

So which positions should the Dallas Cowboys target to maximize the possibility of shutting down the run in the playoffs and improving the turnover margin in the post season?

The Steelers had the two best run defenses that played in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh has outside linebackers comparable to the Cowboys, but boast a much better defensive line.

Improving the defensive end position could not only lead to a better pass rush, but could also lead to a stouter run defense. A young defensive end that could consistently set the edge on running plays and improve as the season progresses could help the Cowboys run defense peak in the playoffs. A stalwart nose tackle that does not fatigue as the season progresses, but rather reaches the pinnacle of his play in the post season would also maximize the team's chance to stuff the run in the post season.

But stopping the run just gets the Cowboys to the Super Bowl. In Dallas, reaching the Super Bowl is nice, but winning the Super Bowl is the goal. In order to win the NFL championship, a team needs to get turnovers.

The defenses that won the Super Bowl collected more interceptions than fumbles. Ball-hawking safeties and sure-handed cornerbacks litter the rosters of the teams with rings.

Conversely, the Cowboys have had nobody that makes plays on the ball in the secondary since the departure of Darren Woodson. Had Terence Newman held on to the interception Eli Manning gifted him in Dallas, the resultant touchdown would have led to a 12-point turnaround (the Giants punted to pin the Cowboys deep, which resulted in a safety and consequently a field goal against: while the pick-six would have added 7 points).

For those suffering from selective amnesia, the Cowboys lost that game by 12 points.

As long as Dallas continues to be undermanned along the defensive line and in the secondary, the chances of making a deep run in the playoffs are negligible. With winning the Super Bowl in mind, perhaps this would be the season to invest in a playmaking cornerback, a ball-hawking safety, and/or at least one defensive lineman that can produce pressure against the run and the pass.

What do you think?

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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