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Does Cowboys Offense Lack Killer Instinct?

Hard to believe, but true: The Cowboys have held the lead at one point in 8 out of 10 games this year, yet they just barely clawed their way to a 5-5 record. What gives?

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

You may find this hard to believe, but the 5-5 Dallas Cowboys have held the lead at one point during 8 out of 10 games this season. The only exceptions were the Seattle and Chicago games, in which the Cowboys never once held the lead.

Here's how this compares to the last two seasons in which the Cowboys made the playoffs:

  • In the first 10 games of 2009, the Cowboys also held the lead at one point during 8 out of 10 games. They failed to take the lead at any point against the Packers in Week 10, and only gained the lead on the final play of overtime against the Chiefs in Week 5.
  • In the first 10 games of 2007, the Cowboys managed to hold the lead at one point during 9 out of 10 games, only taking the the lead against Buffalo in Week 5 on the final play of the game.

One difference between the three seasons is of course that the Cowboys are 5-5 this year while they were 7-3 in 2009 and 9-1 in 2007. Another major difference between the three years is that the Cowboys don't appear to have - for lack of a better phrase - a "killer instinct" this year.

Over the first ten games of the season, the Cowboys have had 28 offensive possessions in which they've held the lead. The offense scored a grand total of 2 TDs during those 28 possessions where they held the lead. What's even more stunning is that both those TDs came in the season opener against the Giants (40-yard TD pass to Ogletree with the score at 7-3; 34-yard TD pass to Austin with the score at 17-10).

For the last nine games, the Cowboys offense has not scored a TD while in the lead!

The mark of a good offense is the ability to "put the pedal to the metal", to keep the momentum going once they've taken the lead, score again and extend that lead. The Cowboys haven't been able to do that this season.

Of the 28 possessions in which the Cowboys held a lead, four were End of Game or End of Half possessions, which we'll generously exclude. That leaves two TDs on 24 Possessions, a TD percentage of 8%. For comparison, the TD percentage over the first ten games in 2009 was 24% (9/38) and 43% in 2007 (17/40).

Here's the full breakdown:

Possessions Turnovers Punts Scores
Total EOG/EOH Fumble Interception Missed FG TO on downs Punt Field Goal Touchdown
2012 28 4 4 1 1 - - 9 7 2
2009 43 5 2 4 1 - - 16 6 9
2007 44 4 - - 3 - - 2 13 5 17

Note that I manually compiled these numbers from the gamebooks after the game last night, so they could possibly contain a miscount or two, but they should be pretty accurate overall.

In yesterday's game against the Browns, the Cowboys clawed back from a 0-13 deficit to take a 17-13 lead. That in itself is highly commendable, and an indicator that the Cowboys are actually quite good at dealing with adversity, a point that is often overlooked. But once they had the lead, they struggled:

  • One their next drive after scoring the go-ahead TD to take a 17-13 lead, the Cowboys started their drive on the Cleveland 18-yard line, but Tony Romo is sacked and fumbles the ball on the second play.
  • On their next possession, they start on their own 2-yard line and punt the ball after gaining two yards on three runs. The Browns retake the lead on their next drive and the Cowboys don't regain the lead until the game-winning field goal in overtime.

Call it lack of "killer instinct", call it "lack of execution", call it whatever you want; fact is, the Cowboys this year are not capitalizing on their chances to put their opponents away. Sure, there are many reasons why the Cowboys have failed to score TDs while in the lead, and everybody has their pet peeve: the overwhelmed O-line; inopportune penalties and dropped passes; questionable and/or conservative playcalling; hamstring disease; you name it, we've got it.

Today, the Cowboys are sitting at .500 and are one game out of the division lead. All things considered, that's not a terrible place to be in. But if the Cowboys are to have a realistic shot at the playoffs, the offense will have to come through down the stretch and show that it can get a knockout when the other team is on the ropes.