Reassessing The Cowboys Opponents So Far: Were They Better Than What We Expected?

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The Cowboys are 2-1, yet most fans are disappointed with the start of the season. Part of the reason for that disappointment may be that the assessment of the Cowboys opponents is based on their 2011 record, not their actual 2012 performance.

During the course of a season, most football fans construct a mental map of the NFL teams. After last season for example, most football fans would have agreed that the Packers, Patriots and Saints were three of the elite teams in the NFL, notwithstanding the fact that the lowly Giants went on a four-game winning streak at the end of the year that got them the Super Bowl.

Yet this year, the Packers and Patriots are 1-2 while the Saints are 0-3. In their place, the Falcons, Texans and Cardinals are suddenly the hot teams after starting the season 3-0.

It's still early in the season, and the teams off to a slow start can still rebound, while the teams off to a strong start could still hit a slump. But like every season, the NFL landscape is changing, and with it we fans have to readjust our mental map of NFL teams.

The Cowboys are 2-1, yet most fans are disappointed with the start of the season. And part of that disappointment is based on the fact that most of us are still working with the mental map of last year: The Seahawks were a 7-9 team last year, and while not everybody was expecting a win in week two, nobody expected the Cowboys to get a 27-7 beatdown from a 7-9 team. Similarly, many fans were expecting a statement game against the Buccaneers at home - after all, the Bucs were a 4-12 team last year. As a result, there was widespread disappointment when the Cowboys only eked out a 16-10 win.

And part of the reason for that disappointment may be that our mental NFL maps have not yet adjusted to the reality of the 2012 NFL landscape.

Take the Cowboys' running game, which has been disappointing so far this season. The Cowboys are ranked 29th in the league with an average of 76.7 rushing yard per game. But were you aware that the Cowboys have played some of the top run defenses in the league so far this season?

Here are the top ten run defenses as measured by rushing yards allowed per game after three weeks:

Top Ten Run Defenses, week 3 2012
Rank Team Games Yards/Game allowed
1 Tampa Bay 3 47.3
2 Seattle 3 58.7
3 Miami 3 64.7
4 San Diego 3 67.3
5 Houston 3 67.7
6 Chicago 3 76.0
7 New England 3 82.0
8 San Francisco 3 91.0
9 Washington 3 92.0
10 New York Giants 3 94.0

The Buccaneers and Seahawks are the top-ranked run defenses in the league, the Giants are tenth and Monday night's opponent, the Bears, are ranked sixth.

When I informed my fellow BTB writers about this, I received a snickering reply (as much as an email can "snicker") pointing out that the teams were probably ranked so high because they had played against the Cowboys' "stuttering running game". So I deducted the Cowboys' running game numbers from those teams, and the rankings above changed as follows:

Tampa Bay remains number one (52.0 Y/G), Seattle stays in the number two spot (63.5 Y/G) and the Giants move up to number six (69.5) where they displace the Bears.

Effectively, the Cowboys have played three of the top six run defenses in the league so far this year and will play the seventh-ranked team on Monday night. No surprise then that the Cowboys haven't been able to rip off three 100+ yard rushing games in a row.

Of course, it's still early in the season. And these rankings are sure to change as the season progresses. But the point here is that, at least in my mind, I didn't have any of the first three Cowboys opponents marked down as particularly good against the run. And the reason for that is that none of the three teams stood out against the run last year: the Seahawks ranked 15th, the Giants 19th and the Buccaneers were dead last against the run in the league in 2011.

But it's a new season, and with the new season come significant shifts in the NFL landscape. And while recognizing these shifts this early in the season is a challenge, once recognized, they provide for a much better perspective on the reality of the 2012 NFL landscape.

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