I think the most optimistic description of the Cowboy’s defense so far would be "opportunistic". At times, these guys have been actually pretty darn good, but they have also folded so badly for almost a full quarter or a half at a time that we forget about it. In fact, Dallas is the 7th ranked scoring defense in the first half and 27th ranked in the second half. It’s almost like two different teams.
Perhaps opponents are making second half adjustments, perhaps it’s prevent defenses, or a lack of situational awareness, but unless they can figure out how to extend that performance to the second half, we have to take the good with the bad. Let’s take a look at their overall numbers so far for the season and see where things shake out.
Pink = A bottom ten ranking for the league
Green = A top ten ranking for the league
||TO's/G||Red Zone||Opp QB Rat||Pass Yds/G||20yd+ Passes||Rush Yds/G||20yd+ Rushes|
What becomes obvious from this chart is that they are giving up lots of yards, most of those yards are through the air and an unusual amount of that is through big pass plays. I think it’s fair to say that the big pass play is the bane of this defense.
On the flip side, the turnovers they are generating are really the only positive stat of note. That appears to explain why opposing QB’s can get so many yards but still have an average QB rating. It also probably has a hand in why the points allowed is still hovering around average.
Adding some context for New Orleans
I do think it’s fair to point out that the Cowboys have faced 5 of the top 6 offenses in the NFL so far this year (the Saints are 7th right now). Yes, we’ve faced a few bad offenses too, but if you averaged the yards per game of all of our opponents they would have a season average of 375 yds/game. That average is within 2 yards of Chicago, the tenth ranked Offense. So that is probably dragging our stats down a little bit.
This defense has not caught any breaks this year, and they won’t get much of one versus New Orleans. However, the Saints are actually the 6th worse offense they have faced all year in terms of yards/game. In other words, the New Orleans Offense should look pretty average to the Cowboys Defense by now.
This is not to downplay the firepower of the Saints, of course. One of their biggest assets they have is an explosive passing game that is ranked 5th in 20+ yard plays on the year. Considering that is one of our biggest weaknesses, this could be a long game for the Cowboys if they don’t find an answer. My hunch is that our most realistic hope is to slow down the Saints, rather than stop them.
I’m going to make an optimistic prediction and say that Dallas’s 7th ranked first half defense should be able to keep them in the game. And if the offense can just limit the Saints’ opportunities with a reasonable ToP, our offense has shown the capacity to be deadly in the 4th quarter.