A lot of the focus this week has been on trying to figure out exactly what happened to this Dallas Cowboys football team. The overwhelming consensus puts the team's intensity and heart in question, but there had to be some other underlying factor that shows why the Cowboys are struggling.
Some may say it's the offensive line not performing as well as they did last year, to which I say they've been about the same. The Cowboys are averaging more yards per carry this year this year than last and are averaging just about the same per pass. What's been different to give us the impression the O-line hasn't been as dominant can be attributed to Romo's attempts at staying tall in the pocket, when last year he continuously made plays with his feet in the pocket. I remember last year against the Bears when Romo had some of the greatest moves in the pocket to avoid sacks I have ever seen. That's something that hasn't been happening this year. Last year's dynamic offense was centered around the plays Romo was making when things broke down, and hid the inconsistencies of the line. Now obviously the line needs to start playing better for Brad Johnson, but I don't think it's all been on them.
So now you look at the defense. Not horrible numbers, except for points allowed (which is the only defensive stat that should matter). They're allowing more yards per pass this year than last, but overall not much has changed. That's worrisome considering the defense last year was a weak spot in the clutch and this year the offense has sputtered a bit, not able to cover up questionable play by the defense.
The biggest difference this year is the lack of turnovers forced. The Cowboys are a -6 this year, compared to +5 last year, which is an amazing number considering the amount of interceptions Romo threw. The Cowboys only have one interception this year by the secondary and none by a cornerback. That is unacceptable for a defense with this many playmakers.
Last season the Cowboys won some close games, and many times it was triggered by key interceptions at the right times. Terence Newman's picks against Buffalo and Washington came when the opposing teams were on the verge of scoring late in the game. Anthony Henry was a force, aggressively jumping routes and undercutting passes, including an interception return for a touchdown.
When a team employs a defense built upon not giving up the big play, it relies on turnovers to make the difference. We've seen what happens when the Cowboys play soft, scared of the big play and the offense goes on a 11 play drive down the field for a touchdown. Last year that would happen but the defense would at some point come up a game changing turnover that would turn the tide of the game. Game changing. That's the key phrase here, and something that has yet to happen this year.
Hopefully Wade Phillips realizing that the schemes aren't working will do something to change this. It's tough to force turnovers when your corners are playing 11 yards off the ball and the quarterback takes a 3 step drop. It's just too easy for a decent quarterback to exploit, especially one that runs the west coast offense. Coincidentally, that's what the Cowboys will be facing this week. If the Cowboys do not get any pressure on Jeff Garcia and give his receivers a cushion, he will tear the defense to shreds.
The Cowboys must find a way to start forcing some turnovers, especially now that Romo is out. The defense may give up a ton of yards, but a well timed interception can negate it all.