When the Cowboys hired Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator early in the year, one of the first things he told his players was to go watch film of the Seahawks defense, because that was what the Dallas Cowboys’ new 4-3 defensive scheme would look like this season.
Cowboys fans from around the world hustled to read up on the Seahawks defense, and one of the bookmarks I kept from that time was to an article that detailed Pete Carroll's defensive priorities. The top item on that three-item list of priorities:
|#1 ELIMINATE THE BIG PLAY|
A recent unpublished NFL Study conducted in recent years again concluded that giving up explosive plays (+16 in the passing game, and +12 in the running game) has a major effect on determining the outcome.
Give up either an explosive run or pass play in any given drive and the opposition will score over 75% of the time for the period studied. Conversely, if the defense limits the opposition to 3 big plays in the game or less, the offense will only generate 8.6 points per game on average.
Against the Lions on Sunday, the Cowboys gave up 12 big plays in the passing game and four big plays on the ground for a grand total of 16 big plays.
Those 16 big plays are unprecedented in recent Cowboys history: It is the highest total the Cowboys have allowed since at least the 1999 season (that's how far the Pro-Football-Reference play-by-play database goes back).
And do you want to know something even more disturbing? It's a trend. Of the top four games in terms of big plays the Cowboys have allowed since 1999, three took place this year:
|Year||Week||Opponent||W/L||Score||Big Play Passes||Big Play Runs||Total Big plays|
There are six more games in which the Cowboys have allowed 12 total big plays, one of them the 2013 season opener against the Giants, in which Eli Manning connected on 10 passes of 16+ yards, and Da'Rel Scott and David Wilson each had a run of more than 12 yards.
In 2013 the Cowboys are hemorrhaging yards and big plays on an unprecedented level. So far this year, they've given up 59 passing plays of 16+ yards and 20 runs of 12 or more yards. Those 79 plays are tops in the league and six more than the Jaguars have allowed. The Jaguars!
The Seahawks, by way of closing the loop to the introduction of this article, are ranked second in the league with only 37 big plays given up (25 pass, 12 run).
There are many things need to be fixed for the Cowboys, and everybody has his own pet idea of what needs to happen (and who needs to go), but if I were making a list of things that needed fixing, I'd make like Pete Carroll and put eliminating the big play at the very top of that list.