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A Cowboys Tale Of Three Seasons: Comparing '10, '09 and '07 Season Starts

Expectations going into this season were high for the Dallas Cowboys. Some expected a return to the form of the 2007 offensive juggernaut that finished the season with a 13-3 record. Others expected to one-up the 2009 playoff run and at least reach the Conference Championship.

It's still early in the season, and all of that could still happen. But there is a difference between this season and the '07 and '09 seasons: This year the Cowboys started 0-2 instead of 2-0 ('07) or 1-1 ('09). So what's different this year?

It's not the quality of opponents. Consider this remarkable statistical quirk of the schedule: In 2007, the Cowboys' first two opponents, the Giants and Dolphins, combined for an 11-21 record by the end of the regular season. In 2009 our first two opponents, the Buccaneers and Giants, also combined for an 11-21 record. Care to take a guess what the combined record of our first two opponents this year, the Redskins and Bears, was last season?

Correctamundo! They were 11-21. With that out of the way, we can now look at what the big differences are in the performances across all three years.

In the following I'll look at the main stat lines for both the offense and the defense. ANPY/A is Adjusted Net Passing Yards per Attempt. We've recently looked at this stat in great detail, look it up here if you missed that post. Here's the exact definition of how it's calculated:

Passing Yards + (Passing TDs)*20 - (INTs thrown)*45 - Sack Yards) / (Passing Attempts + Sacks)


Despite some rumblings after the Bears game (or as rabblerousr put it: the defense "now has a bullseye drawn on its lumpen back"), from a stat point of view the defense seems to be the least of the Cowboys worries, at least compared to the two season opening games in 2007 and 2009. This year's team allowed over 100 yards less than the previous two iterations, continued to clamp down on the run and was moderately effective against the pass. Takeaways are really the only thing missing in this stat table.

Year Points Pts/Game Yds/Game Pass Y/G Rush Y/G Takeaways Sacks Pass ANPY/A Rush Y/A
2010 (0-2)
40 20.0 279.0 215.5 63.5 0 2 7.5 3.0
2009 (1-1) 54 27.0 438.5 303.0 85.5 0 0 8.1 3.1
2007 (2-0) 55 27.5 386.0 293.5 92.5 6 3 5.3 4.3


The picture on offense is very different. While the offense is as prolific as ever in terms of raw yards, how they gain them and how they convert them has changed significantly.

The Cowboys rushing game is down both in quantity and quality. To compensate, the Cowboys have gone to the pass more often (99 pass attempts in 2010, 56 in '09, 53 in '07). The increase in attempts has impacted efficiency, and ANPY/A is significantly down.

The high level of turnovers is an area of concern, but ultimately the inability to score has been the undoing of the 2010 team. After two games, the 2010 Cowboys have scored only one third of the points the 2007 team scored.

Year Points Pts/Game Yds/Game Pass Y/G Rush Y/G Turnovers Sacks Pass ANPY/A Rush Y/A
2010 (0-2)
27 13.5 395.0 325.5 69.5 4 1 6.0 3.3
2009 (1-1) 65
420.0 303.0
135.5 4 1
2007 (2-0) 82
415.0 261.0

The inability to score this year, despite gaining basically the same amount of yards as in 2007 is disconcerting. Obviously it's far too early to tell how the season will play out, but the one piece of good news out of these numbers is that it certainly looks like this year's defense may be the best one the Cowboys have had in quite some time, particularly if the defense continues to improve over the course of the season as they have in the past. If only they could get the offense some short fields ...

Yesterday, we looked at Projected Pythagorean Wins for the Cowboys based on the first two weeks of play, and saw that barring significant improvements, the Cowboys are headed for 4.5 wins this season. The same projection based on the first two games of '07 & '09: 11.5 wins in 2007 and 9.7 wins in 2009. Off by only 1.5 and 1.3 wins? Much too close for comfort.

What's your take on the offensive and defensive numbers?

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