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Cowboys Will Play 14 of 16 Games In 2016 Against Below Average Pass Defenses

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In 2016, the Dallas Cowboys play 14 games against defenses that had a 90+ defensive passer rating last season. A reason for optimism?

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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.

Week Opponent CMP ATT YDS CMP% YPA TD INT Rating
1 New York Giants 423 638 4,920 66.3% 7.7 31 15 95.9
2 @ Washington Redskins 354 566 4,392 62.5% 7.8 30 11 96.1
3 Chicago Bears 322 513 3,830 62.8% 7.5 31 8 99.1
4 @ San Francisco 49ers 375 549 4,375 68.3% 8.0 21 9 98.1
5 Cincinnati Bengals 415 646 4,264 64.2% 6.6 18 21 78.9
6 @ Green Bay Packers 321 551 3,898 58.3% 7.1 20 16 80.1
7 Bye Week
8 Philadelphia Eagles 394 633 4,516 62.2% 7.1 36 15 92.8
9 @ Cleveland Browns 322 511 4,169 63.0% 8.2 34 11 101.8
10 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 402 625 4,661 64.3% 7.5 29 17 90.9
11 Baltimore Ravens 350 545 3,957 64.2% 7.3 30 6 99.6
12 Washington Redskins 354 566 4,392 62.5% 7.8 30 11 96.1
13 @ Minnesota Vikings 359 561 4,042 64.0% 7.2 24 13 90.0
14 @ New York Giants 423 638 4,920 66.3% 7.7 31 15 95.9
15 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 378 541 4,072 69.9% 7.5 31 11 102.3
16 Detroit Lions 360 528 4,065 68.2% 7.7 27 9 100.9
17 @ Philadelphia Eagles 394 633 4,516 62.2% 7.1 36 15 92.8

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.

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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
Team CMP ATT Yds CMP% YPA TD INT Rate
NYG 5,778 9,031 67,488 0.64 7.5 449 191 94.3
DAL 5,946 9,244 68,989 0.64 7.5 459 203 94.2
DET 5,665 8,977 66,808 0.63 7.4 448 196 93.2
GB 5,675 8,899 65,704 0.64 7.4 429 189 93.2
CHI 5,723 8,956 66,669 0.64 7.4 426 196 93.1
PHI 5,768 9,009 66,858 0.64 7.4 406 198 92.2
CAR 5,828 9,017 66,229 0.65 7.3 415 210 92.2
CIN 5,720 9,172 67,061 0.62 7.3 455 205 91.7
MIN 5,629 8,993 65,809 0.63 7.3 433 209 91.1
WAS 5,878 9,257 67,499 0.63 7.3 430 220 91.0
CLE 5,883 9,329 67,987 0.63 7.3 436 219 90.8
BAL 5,974 9,491 69,333 0.63 7.3 442 230 90.4
PIT 5,779 9,280 67,399 0.62 7.3 444 224 90.1
ARI 5,838 9,152 66,477 0.64 7.3 392 215 90.0
HOU 5,689 9,106 65,884 0.62 7.2 419 214 89.8
TEN 5,599 9,017 65,260 0.62 7.2 422 211 89.8
IND 5,602 9,026 64,736 0.62 7.2 421 210 89.5
SEA 5,860 9,259 67,133 0.63 7.3 414 232 89.5
STL 5,796 9,143 66,340 0.63 7.3 402 227 89.5
ATL 5,870 9,252 66,319 0.63 7.2 421 235 89.4
KC 5,796 9,213 65,907 0.63 7.2 418 223 89.4
JAC 5,482 8,913 63,762 0.62 7.2 427 214 89.1
BUF 5,841 9,315 67,134 0.63 7.2 405 219 89.1
SD 5,765 9,234 65,559 0.62 7.1 435 234 88.8
OAK 5,638 9,066 64,533 0.62 7.1 424 227 88.7
TB 5,791 9,127 65,454 0.63 7.2 391 228 88.7
DEN 5,837 9,297 66,567 0.63 7.2 418 237 88.6
NYJ 5,758 9,266 66,720 0.62 7.2 415 233 88.3
SF 5,713 9,092 64,902 0.63 7.1 394 227 88.2
MIA 5,688 9,205 65,956 0.62 7.2 405 226 87.9
NO 5,934 9,268 65,378 0.64 7.1 371 240 87.4
NE 5,689 9,210 65,250 0.62 7.1 406 234 87.2