For starters, these are definitely not the 2009 Dallas Cowboys who were the last ones to taste post-season success. Exactly seven players remain from that team: Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, Doug Free, Demarcus Ware, Orlando Scandrick, and LP Ladouceur.
To me, the story of this season is being written by two groups of new guys: the no-names and rookies. For the second game in a row, both of these groups shined and played critical roles in the victory. Who would have thought that George Selvie would have more sacks than Demarcus Ware after 7 games? Or that Terrance Williams would have 3 times the amount of yards of Miles Austin? (Williams got the starting nod today BTW).
Overall, the Cowboys are a young, hungry team, willing to fight for each win. A team where every starter knows that cap room and draft status are not enough to secure their spot. It’s also a team where backups play critical roles every week. Whether it is PR for a touchdown, a goal line carry, or just keeping the D-line fresh, the coaches find a way to get them to contribute.
At 4-3 the team is in a delicate balance where a loss may make fans feel as though they are still stuck in mediocrity. But once again, I’m going to get up and make a case that this team has established a winning identity.
The Story So Far
In my mind, if you want to find inconsistency in our season, you will find it, but if you want to accept responsibility for finding patterns, it’s not that hard to see a picture coming together
We have faced some quality competition so far this year. And while we haven’t beaten a truly good team, none of the teams that beat us have a losing record right now. The overall winning percentage of those teams (at the moment of writing) is .85. That percentage would be good enough to be a leader in 6 out of 8 of the NFL divisions. The average margin of loss was 4.3 points and two of those losses were on the road.
Ok, granted all the teams we have beaten at the moment are losers. I think it’s possible that the Eagles come around and post a winning record, but other than that, those teams look a bit lost. On the bright side though, our average margin of victory was 14.5 points. We’ve had 3 victories of 14 points or more this year. That’s as many as we had in the 2011 and 2012 seasons combined. Think about that for a second. So many people have poo-poohed our imperfections, but those kinds of victories are generally rare.
We’ve shown that we can absolutely put away the bad teams and we can absolutely compete with the best teams. At some point I expect our team to come out ahead in our competitive games with winners. I’m not afraid of any team on the schedule, nor do I expect a letdown against a truly inferior team.
Offensive explosiveness vs overall efficiency
Our offense has taken some criticism for a lack of explosiveness. It’s pointed out that our impressive 28.6 pts/game scoring has been dependent on some short fields and defense. I do think that there is something to be said for this analysis. Our 2013 offense should not be confused with the 2009 version. However, I also think that viewpoint can in some ways punish the offense for sitting on big leads with conservative plays (not an entirely bad strategy) and minimizes the positive contributions of the defense (defensive scoring/takeaways are good things after all).
Let’s try looking at a stat that actually takes into account offense, defense, special teams, field position etc... A stat that doesn’t get skewed by the incredibly good offense and bad defense that the Cowboys played against Denver.
Average Scoring Margin for Dallas
So at this point in 2013, our point differential is much closer to the 2009 playoff team than an 8-8 team. Indeed if you look at the 2013 NFL teams with a positive differential, you will see a strong correlation with winning records. In 2012, each team with a differential over +6 won at least 10 games.
We have kicked the snot out of our division with a perfect 3-0 record and an average winning margin of 11.3 points. If I understand the tiebreakers correctly, we even have an advantage in the wildcard race with a perfect 4-0 conference record. I think it takes some serious squinting to pretend that the Cowboys don’t have the inside track on the playoffs at this point.
To me, this is a winning team with a winning attitude that will be consistently competitive. This team takes advantage of the other teams miscues and has largely minimized their own mistakes (+5 turnover differential, 68% red zone efficiency). They are not elite by any means, but they will make teams work for a victory and pay dearly for being unprepared.
Are the Cowboys in a Superbowl conversation? No, not yet. But if they beat the Lions next Sunday, the conversations would not be completely unwarranted.