Somewhere during the course of NFL analysis, it was established that if a defense gives up less than 20 points, then that team can usually expect to win the game. And vice versa for the offense reaching that magic number on the scoreboard. Looking at the 2012 Cowboys' season, that seems to hold some water. In the 8 wins of the Cowboys' 2012 season, there were of course 8 opportunities for the offense and 8 opportunities for the defense to meet that 20 point number respectively. Of those wins, the cowboys accomplished that 10 times. They did not accomplish it 6 times. In looking at their 8 losses, they failed to hit the magic number 11 times and made it 5 times. So it does seem that this 20 point mark does have some correlation to wins and losses, at least in this case, but how about a larger sample size?
Since 2007, the team is 55-41. A .745 winning percentage. In that time, the offense and defense have accomplished the 20 point mark 115 times and failed 79, a .686 success rate.. Of course this measure is not an exact correlation with wins, as expected. But it's a pretty close relationship nonetheless. I think it's safe to say that an NFL team should expect to win the game if the defense gives up less than 20 or the offense scores more than 20.
Let's see what these totals mean for past teams' records. The number in bold is the number of times the team hit the 20 point target, through the combined efforts of both offense and defense:
2007 Cowboys: 23 (13-3)
2008 Cowboys: 17 (9-7)
2009 Cowboys: 23 (11-5)
2010 Cowboys: 18 (6-10)
2011 Cowboys: 19 (8-8)
2012 Cowboys: 16 (8-8)
Interesting to note that just like hitting the number 20 itself, accomplishing it more than a combined 20 times per season has been the difference between a bad, or mediocre season, and a good one. The two best seasons of the past 6 years both had teams that reached that mark at least 20 times per season. The rest did not, and the records in those years were significantly worse.
So what can we expect from the team this year? On average, since 2007, Jason Garrett's offense has scored at least 20 points in a game, on average, about 11 times per season. In Monte Kiffin's 13 years at Tampa Bay, his defense gave up 20 or less points on average, about 10 times per season. That means we can expect this team to hit the mark about 21 times this year. Perhaps enough to pull the team out of the 8-8 funk, and maybe even threaten a 10-6 or 11-5 record.
The optimist would look at career highs for Garrett's offense and Kiffin's defense. Those numbers are 14 for Garrett in 2007 and 13 for Kiffin in 2002. If the two can bring the best out of eachother this year, that number of 27 should make Dallas a legitimate contender, and the best of Garrett's tenure, at least as performance on the field is concerned. And the record should follow suit.
On the pessimistic side, Garrett's worst number was 10 which happened three times, 08, 11 and 12. Kiffin's worst year in the NFL was in 2006 when his defense allowed 20 or fewer points only 7 times. A 17 would have the team firmly planted where they've remained for 5 of the last 6 years, meddling around a .500 record without some help from the football gods, who, as we know haven't been very favorable to the team recently. A bit encouraging to know that last year's performance would seem to be the floor for this combo. Garrett's offense and Kiffin's defense would have to combine for career worst performances to be worse than that 16, in which Ryan's defense gave up less than 20 points only 6 times, and Garrett's offense matched his career worst of 10.
Kiffin's average of 10 per season would seem to bode well for the Cowboys. Cowboy defenses have only done that one time since 2007. In 2009, Wade's defense held the opponent to 20 or fewer points in 12 games. Besides that year, the high was 9, reached in 2007 and 2011.
One final tidbit. You'll recall Kiffin's defenses have given up 20 points or less, on average, about 10 times per season in his career. Rob Ryan's have done it on average 6 times per season, in his career. I've highlighted Kiffin's career highs and lows above. Ryan's low: 3 in his first year as DC in Oakland. His high: 10 in Cleveland (Kiffin's average over 13 years). Kiffin's defenses have allowed 20 or fewer points in at least 8 games of the season in 11 of his 13 years as a DC. Ryan has done the same in only 3 of his 9 years. If allowing 20 or fewer points is important to you in your defense's performance, you should be happy to see Kiffin replace Ryan.