Each year, the league's annual schedule release prompts players, fans and coaches alike to debate which team has the toughest road to navigate through the course of the season. Using strength-of-schedule calculations like opponent win percentage, scoring differential, or number of playoff teams on the schedule, we annually try to figure out which teams have the toughest toughest schedules, and which teams have the softest.
When we did that exercise in January this year, we found that the Cowboys have the fifth "easist" schedule this year, meaning their 2016 opponents combined for the fifth lowest winning percentage in 2015.
But another thing that stands out when looking at the 2016 schedule is that 14 of the Cowboys’ 16 opponents were below average pass defenses in 2015 as measured by their defensive passer rating. The table below shows the Cowboys' 2016 schedule, including each team’s defensive passer rating. Note that the NFL average defensive passer rating last year was 88.4.
|14||@||New York Giants||423||638||4,920||66.3%||7.7||31||15||95.9|
14 games against below average pass defenses is a heck of a lot. The Giants are the only other team in the league to face the same amount of below average opponents, and as you'd expect, there are some significant differences between the schedules of all teams: Denver and San Diego have their job cut out for them, as they'll only face six teams each with below average pass defenses.
In principle, this should bode well for the Cowboys' passing game. Last year, the 16 opponents on the Cowboys' 2016 schedule combined for a defensive passer rating of 94.2, the second worst value in the league only to the Giants' 16 opponents (94.3). Other categories in which the Cowboys opponents didn't look too good.
Completions allowed: 31st
Passing Yards allowed: 31st
Completion percentage allowed: 31st
Yards allowed per attempt: 31st
Passing TDs allowed: 32nd
Today, winning in the NFL is all about passing efficiency. The best offenses are those that pass the ball the most effectively, the best defenses are those that prevent their opponents from passing it effectively.
Provided the Cowboys offense stays relatively healthy, and with the possible added boost of playing against some of he weaker pass defenses in the league, the Cowboys should reasonably be expected to have one of the more efficient passing offenses in the league this year.
The Cowboys defense on the other hand finished last year with a defensive passer rating of 94.2, which ranked them 20th in the league. To get the most out of their anticipated offensive production, the Cowboys need to figure out a way to improve their own defensive passer rating. Because the best teams in the league are good at both: The best teams in the league are those that pass the ball the most effectively and that prevent their opponents from passing it effectively.
Here is the full list of the combined defensive passer rating for each Team's 2016 opponents. The table is sortable, just click on the blue column headers to sort.
|Combined Defensive Passer Rating of 2016 opponents|