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How The Cowboys Offense Can Help The Defense Get More Turnovers

A couple of weeks ago, Coach Garrett said that one of the stats he plays close attention to is turnover differential, as he believes it correlates highly to winning.

We looked at that in great detail in this post and found that turnover differential does indeed have a high correlation with winning. This is not rocket science of course. The bigger the turnover differential in your favor, the bigger the chance you'll win the game. And the numbers bear this out. Last season, teams that won the turnover battle won 81 percent of the time (172 wins out of 212 games).

NFL winning probability by Turnover Differential, 2010 regular season
+1 +2 +3 >+3
Winning %-age 71% 83% 94% 96%
Winning record 66-27 50-10 34-2 23-1

A lot of the subsequent discussion in that original post centered on the largely random nature of turnovers, and whether there was a chance to increase the odds of getting a turnover by emphasizing things like fumble recoveries, ball stripping or tipping passes as part of training.

But there may be a much bigger factor in determining the number of defensive takeaways, and specifically interceptions: your offense.

What may initially sound a little strange becomes a lot clearer when you look at when the majority of interceptions are thrown: Only 22% of the 511 interceptions thrown last year in the regular season happened when the offense was playing with a lead. 61% of all interceptions occurred when the offense was playing from behind.

Here's a detailed breakdown of the stats.

Interceptions by score differential, 2010 regular season

Behind by 7
or more pts
Behind by 1-7
Ahead by 1-7
Ahead by 8
or more pts
Interceptions thrown 155 155 83 72 45
In % of total INTs
30.3% 30.3% 16.2% 14.1% 8.8%
INT/Pass Attempts 3.3% 3.2% 2.4% 2.2% 2.2%

When you think about it, the numbers above actually make sense. Not only are teams that are losing much more likely to throw a pass in an attempt to catch up, they're also likely to take more risks while throwing that pass.

The 2009 Cowboys offense broke records left and right. The franchise record 6,390 yards on offense eclipsed the 1978 Cowboys (5,916), and was good enough for the number two spot in the NFL, a paltry 71 yards behind the New Orleans Saints. The Cowboys also ranked No.1 in yards per first down play (6.52) and total yards per play on offense (6.3) and the Cowboys receivers racked up a league leading 2,154 yards after catch. Just about the only thing they didn't do well is score points: with 361 points scored, the 2009 Cowboys ranked a middling 14th.

With the backup QB under center for a large part of the season, the 2010 Cowboys didn't put up quite as many yards, but they did score more often. Their 394 points scored ranked the Cowboys 7th in the league.

If the 2011 offense - with the return of a healthy Romo and Bryant as well as a rejuvenated running game - is as prolific as the 2009 offense and as efficient as the 2010 offense, we should see a big positive number in the Cowboys' turnover differential. And you know what that means?

Playoffs, baby.

But that will only happen if the Cowboys jump out to an early lead in games, something they've struggled with in 2010 and 2009. But that's something we'll look at in a different post.

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