Variance in the NFL is an interesting thing. We talk a lot about teams having an identity, but if they do it's a fleeting one, forged game by game during the season, only to start with a blank slate the next year. As fans we like to talk in terms of narrative; we talk about such and such team's window, team x is a throwing team, coach y always has a good defense, etc. The truth is, while there is some carry-over from year to year, most teams start each season anew.
Which, after a year like last, is a good thing for our Cowboys. So now as fans we get the joy of discovering our team all over again. Which brings me to the question; what did we know about the Cowboys going into last Sunday's game, and what do we know now?
WHAT WE KNEW: After a Pro Bowl season last year and a strong showing in week one versus the stout 49'ers defense, we knew going into the Titans game that this year's Cowboys could run the football. I wrote during the off-season that DeMarco Murray would be one of five players to make or break this year's team, and compared him to the 5th gear in a car. But it's not just Murray, both Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar have gotten in on the fun as well. They've been reviewed and gone over multiple times, but just for the heck of it let's look at the two week numbers again:
1st Downs: 21
If you prorate those numbers out to a whole season, this is how it compares to last year:
That my friends, is a running football team. We knew going in that we could do it, now the question is, will we commit to it?
WHAT WE LEARNED: This is not Monte Kiffen's defense. And I'm not just talking about the final stats or the better play on the field, structurally Rod Marinelli is doing a lot of different things. One of those things is bringing pressure through the blitz.
Last year PFF had us ranked 29th in blitz percentage, with us blitzing on just over 21% of passing plays. Although they don't keep track of blitzing on a game by game basis, so far this year it looks like we've sent a linebacker or defensive back rushing on 22 of 57 pass attempts for a whopping 39% blitz rate. That would have been good for 4th in the league last year. Some of this blitzing is due to necessity; while I think the defensive line is doing a good job disrupting the pocket they aren't necessarily getting home. Right now defensive backs and linebackers are accounting for:
1/3 of team sacks
1/2 of QB hits
1/4 of QB hurries.
Whatever the reason, over two games we've learned that this is a team that is going to bring the pressure.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER: A team's identity is built over an entire season, not two games. That being said, we can start to theorize about what kind of a team we're going to be based on the first two games:
A ball control offense. Right now we're looking at a ball control offense that is going to dictate the flow of the game through the run, and take shots downfield off of play action.
An attacking defense. This team wants to get the opponent in third and long, then bring pressure after the quarterback from all different angles.
Fellow members of BTB, do you agree? What kind of identity do you see us building so far this season?