In Jason Garrett's opening speech to the players, filmed by Sports Illustrated, and brought to BTB in a recent post by O.C.C., Jason Garrett stated as one of the team's goals in training camp to focus on the ball. On offense, this means protecting it; he wants all offensive players to "finish" the play by running it out for 25 yards, keeping the ball "high and tight" until the very end, when it should be handed to a ball boy. On defense, they will work to punch the ball out in a conscious effort to generate turnovers. More than once, Garrett reiterated this goal, in the simplest of terms: "Ball, ball, ball."
To illustrate his point, he compared the 2012 Cowboys to the 2012 Chicago Bears. Dallas generated a mere 16 turnovers; the Monsters of the Midway collected a whopping 44 - for the English majors among us, that's 28 more opportunities for, as Garrett pointed out, an easy score or a short field. Indeed, I have felt very strongly that many of the ills that have befallen the Cowboys in recent years, especially the ratio of yards to points and their maddening tendency to become involved in so many close games - would be miraculously cured by a positive turnover margin of any substance.
Certainly my fellow front page scribe, Joey Ickes, agrees with this proposition. In his version of our "The Cowboys make the playoffs if..." series he, like Garrett, jumped on turnovers as the key to the team's success in 2013. After some impressive statistical numbers crunching, he concludes that our Beloved 'Boys will make the playoffs if they can generate 30+ turnovers. The key reason for this is that it will dramatically improve the yards to points ratio (he calls it a differential) to which I alluded earlier.
In support of this argument, I'd like to turn your attention to Bob Sturm's fine work. In separate posts this summer, he reviewed Dallas' offensive and defensive statistics, offering up five stats in each of three categories: things the team did well (i.e., in the league's top five); where they were mediocre (coming in between 11th and 15th) and where they were at the bottom of the barrel (roughly ranked from 25-32). So that we can see all this information at a glance, I've compiled a handy-dandy table here for you to peruse. For each statistical category, I've included the NFL rank for a bit of perspective:
|Five Good to Great Stats|
|First Down Efficiency||2nd||Quick Drives||9th|
|Three and Out Drives||3rd||Third and 10+ Conversions||4th|
|Third Down Conversions||5th||Runs of 4+ Yards||7th|
|Net Passing Yards/ Game||3rd||50+ Yard Runs||1st|
|First Down Passing||2nd||Starting Drives Inside 20||5th|
|Five Average Stats|
|Yards Per Play||11th||Passing Yards/ Game||19th|
|Times Sacked||15th||Red Zone Scoring||18th|
|Explosive Plays||16th||Explosives Allowed||22nd|
|Points Scored||15th||First Downs Allowed||16th|
|Time of Possession||13th||Time of Possession||13th|
|Five Poor Stats|
|10-Play Drives||32nd||Negative Plays Generated||30th|
|Penalties Called||30th||Passer Rating||29th|
|Running Plays||31st||10-Play Drives Allowed||28th|
|Yards Per Play/ Red Zone||28th||Passer Rating vs. Blitz||29th|
*As you can see, Sturm really had to dig deep and to fudge the numbers to find anything that might fit into the "good" defensive statistical categories.
Looking at what the Cowboys did well, they clearly had success passing the ball, and were also surprisingly successful sustaining drives (avoiding three and outs), in large part because they did a good job generating yards on first down, thus avoiding the dreaded second- and third-and-long situations. At the same time, they were last in the league at drives of more than 10 yards, a statistic no doubt enhanced by their woeful number of penalties called.
Because they had so much trouble sustaining long drives, and because there's no indication as of yet, given the state of the offensive line, that this will change in 2013, the key is to alter the takeaway/ giveaway ratio, preferably dramatically. As noted above, the offense will post much better numbers if and when they are gifted with more short fields, and can play from ahead thanks to defensive scores. On the other side of the ball, a defense that was at the bottom of the league in allowing drives of ten or more plays will surely reduce that number should their takeaway number approach those the Bears enjoyed in 2012.
Although football is a complicated equation, some of the variables are more powerful than others. Turnovers is one of those variables. Garrett has gone on record as saying that the organization engaged in a meticulous offseason self-study. Certainly one aspect of this study concerned turnovers, and how they would affect the entire offensive and defensive operation. Indeed, I believe that to be one of the primary reasons Monte Kiffin now wears a blue hat; his teams haven't often lead the league in yardage allowed, but they have been near the top in takeaways.
Now all that remains is for his attentive charges to heed Redball's instructions. I'll be watching, attentively.