The Cowboys Will Make The Playoffs If The Defense Can Create 30 Turnovers

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

The key to the Cowboys season lies in the ability of Monte Kiffin & Rod Marinelli's defense to create turnovers.

A few weeks ago I sought opinions from my fellow Front Page Writers in our virtual lounge. The request...

Complete the following sentence, "The Cowboys will make the playoffs this year if..."

This spawned a pretty interesting discussion, and a variety of ideas, which have turned into a series of very high quality posts.

Check out the takes of some of our other Front page writers...

Rabblerousr: "... if the defensive tackles stay healthy."

CotySaxman: "... if the two-tight-end set works."

Dave Halprin: "... if they can discover even the hint of a running game."

One.Cool.Customer: "... if the pass defense is fixed."

Tom Ryle: "... if the offensive line stays intact."

Now it's time for my take...

The 2013 Dallas Cowboys will make the playoffs if Monte Kiffin's defensive unit can create 30 turnovers. I understand that the idea that the Cowboys defense needs to force more turnovers is widely acknowledged and accepted, so I sought out to attempt to prove my assertion that this would improve their chances of making the playoffs.

As I started this process, I quickly made the decision that the best method to prove this point, is by channeling my inner-Goog, and resorting to some good ole number crunching. Before we continue, I want you to have the data I am referencing. All data is from 2012 and is courtesy of Pro-football-reference.com.

2012 Takeaway/Scoring Data (Click headers to sort)

Team Off Score % Off TD % Yds/Point Scored Def Takeaway % Punts Forced % Yds/Point Allowed Yds/Point Diff Wins
Cardinals 22% 10% 16.8 16% 47% 15.1 1.7 5
Texans 35% 20% 14.3 15% 47% 15.6 -1.3 12
Lions 36% 20% 17.6 9% 44% 12.5 5.1 4
Ravens 36% 21% 14.2 13% 48% 16.3 -2.1 10
Jaguars 26% 13% 18.8 12% 38% 13.7 5.1 2
Bears 30% 16% 13.3 22% 47% 18.2 -4.9 10
Jets 24% 14% 17.0 12% 48% 13.8 3.2 6
Bengals 35% 20% 13.6 15% 47% 16.0 -2.4 10
Browns 29% 14% 16.6 16% 47% 15.8 0.8 5
Buccaneers 35% 21% 15.0 13% 42% 15.4 -0.4 7
Bills 30% 19% 15.9 11% 41% 13.3 2.6 6
Eagles 29% 15% 20.2 8% 45% 12.4 7.8 4
Saints 37% 28% 14.3 14% 35% 15.5 -1.2 7
Broncos 40% 26% 13.2 12% 51% 16.1 -2.9 13
Patriots 47% 32% 12.3 22% 36% 18.0 -5.7 12
Titans 28% 15% 15.2 13% 38% 12.7 2.5 6
Raiders 31% 15% 19.0 10% 39% 12.8 6.2 4
Dolphins 28% 16% 17.3 9% 48% 18.0 -0.7 7
Steelers 34% 19% 15.8 11% 52% 14.1 1.7 8
Chiefs 24% 9% 24.2 7% 44% 13.4 10.8 2
Rams 27% 15% 17.6 11% 41% 15.8 1.8 7
Packers 38% 26% 13.3 13% 42% 16.0 -2.7 11
Redskins 39% 26% 14.1 18% 37% 15.6 -1.5 10
Colts 34% 19% 16.2 9% 43% 15.5 0.7 11
Chargers 31% 17% 13.6 15% 46% 14.9 -1.3 7
Vikings 38% 19% 14.2 13% 43% 16.1 -1.9 10
Cowboys 37% 21% 15.9 8% 45% 14.2 1.7 8
Falcons 43% 25% 14.1 19% 39% 19.6 -5.5 13
49ers 39% 23% 14.6 14% 47% 17.3 -2.7 11
Giants 44% 25% 13.3 20% 34% 17.8 -4.5 9
Panthers 32% 23% 16.2 14% 40% 14.7 1.5 7
Seahawks 39% 25% 13.6 18% 48% 20.0 -6.4 11

The first three columns of data here represent offensive numbers while the next three represent defensive numbers. The final two represent team wide information. These numbers are also adjusted to account for drives which were ended by the end of a half or the end of a game. Yds/Point Differential is how many more or less yards your offense has to travel per point scored in relation to your defenses numbers for allowed, so in this case a smaller number (fewer yds needed for your O, and more yds forced by your D) is better.

Instinctually, I believed that them most telling stats would be the Yards per Point differential, and the comparison between Takeaway percentage and the Punts Forced percentage.

I wanted to do some analysis on this data, to see how each of these pieces of information interacted with one another so I looked how strongly correlated some of these numbers are.

Off Score % Off TD % Yds /Point Scored Def Takeaway % Punts Forced % Yds/Point Allowed Yds/ Point Diff Wins
Off Score % 100%
Off TD % 92% 100%
Yds /Point Scored -69% -74% 100%
Def Takeaway % 47% 48% -70% 100%
Punts Forced % -26% -30% 4% -24% 100%
Yds/Point Allowed 55% 52% -61% 68% 5% 100%
Yds/ Point Diff -70% -71% 92% -77% 0% -87% 100%
Wins 75% 73% -81% 52% 12% 72% -86% 100%

Some of these things are naturally highly correlated, for example, Offensive Scoring % and Offensive TD % are very closely related because every TD counts as a score as well, so that particular correlation doesn't provide much insight, However I think there is some very interesting information which can be drawn from this table.

Of course, the point of all of this is to see what affects the teams ability to win football games. and we see that of all the pieces of information we see, the most highly correlated item to number of wins is the Yards/Point differential, at a -86% correlation. As statisticians will tell you correlation does not equal causation, but you can't deny the relationship between these two items.

So if we want to win more games, we need to improve (decrease) our yards/point differential. From a defensive perspective we can keep a team from scoring 2 ways, we can force a turnover, or we can get stops on 3rd down and force a punt.

If we look at these two options in relation to yards/point differential, we see that punts forced has zero correlation to the differential while takeaway % is -77% correlated to the differential. The more turnovers you force, the lower your yards/point differential is, and the lower that differential is, the higher the number of wins.

So clearly, there is a relationship between forcing turnovers, and generating wins for your team. But why 25 or more?

Lets look at some information about turnovers and the playoffs...

2012 Turnovers and The Playoffs (Click headers to sort)

Team # of Turnovers Playoffs
Bears 42 N
Patriots 41 Y
Giants 32 N
Redskins 31 Y
Falcons 31 Y
Cardinals 30 N
Texans 29 Y
Browns 29 N
Seahawks 28 Y
Bengals 27 Y
Chargers 26 N
Saints 25 N
Titans 24 N
Buccaneers 24 N
49ers 24 Y
Jets 23 N
Ravens 23 Y
Panthers 23 N
Broncos 22 Y
Vikings 22 Y
Packers 22 Y
Jaguars 21 N
Bills 20 N
Rams 20 N
Steelers 19 N
Lions 17 N
Raiders 17 N
Dolphins 16 N
Colts 15 Y
Cowboys 14 N
Eagles 13 N
Chiefs 12 N

When we look at this information, currently sorted by # of turnovers, we can see that generating 30 turnovers would have planted the 2012 Cowboys firmly in the top 10 in the NFL in turnovers. This top 10, contains 6 playoff teams and is led by the Bears, who finished with 10 wins, and missed the playoffs only because the Vikings were able to beat the Packers by 3 points in week 17.

So of the 12 teams that made the playoffs last year, exactly half were in the top 10 in turnovers. That's 50% of the playoff teams from ~30% of the teams in the league.

I like those odds, and I think Jason Garrett does too. Which is why Monte Kiffin was hired, and why the emphasis is being placed on going after the ball on defense.

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