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10 Cowboys Games In 2016 Will Be Against Above Average Passers

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In 2016, the Dallas Cowboys will play 10 games against QBs who had a 90+ passer rating in 2015. A reason for concern?

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Earlier this week, I took a look at the quality of pass defenses the Cowboys will face this year, and found that the Cowboys will play 14 of their 16 regular season games against subpar pass defenses, defenses that had a below average defensive passer rating in 2015. The conclusion to that piece of data wasn't very hard to reach:

In principle, this should bode well for the Cowboys' passing game.

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.

So much for the good news, because today I'm going to look at the passing offenses the Cowboys will face this year. More specifically, I'll look at the opposing quarterbacks on the Cowboys' schedule in 2016. To do that, I'll use two stats, the passer rating we're all familiar with, and a metric from ProFootballReference.com called "Rate+", an indexed passer rating that has 100 as the average passer rating, with everything above 100 being above average (the higher, the better the QB), everything below 100 being below average (the lower, the worse the QB).

If you know the index is set against a passer rating of 89.6 in 2015, you could probably calculate in your head how much each QB is above or below that average, but for those of us less than spectacularly endowed mentally, the Rate+ metric is a welcome mental crutch.

Here's the Cowboys' 2016 schedule, including the projected opposing QBs and their respective passer rating:

Week Opponent QB Passer Rating Rate +
1 New York Giants Eli Manning 93.6 106
2 @ Washington Redskins Kirk Cousins 101.6 118
3 Chicago Bears Jay Cutler 92.3 104
4 @ San Francisco 49ers Blaine Gabbert 86.2 95
5 Cincinnati Bengals Andy Dalton 106.2 126
6 @ Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers 92.7 105
7 Bye Week
8 Philadelphia Eagles Sam Bradford 86.4 95
9 @ Cleveland Browns Josh McCown 93.3 106
10 @ Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger 94.5 108
11 Baltimore Ravens Joe Flacco 83.1 90
12 Washington Redskins Kirck Cousins 101.6 118
13 @ Minnesota Vikings Teddy Bridgewater 88.7 99
14 @ New York Giants Eli Manning 93.6 106
15 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jameis Winston 84.2 92
16 Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford 97 111
17 @ Philadelphia Eagles Sam Bradford 86.4 95

As you look at this table, you'll notice that seven of the Cowboys' first nine games will be against above average passers with a passer rating above 90. That's a mighty long stretch for a pass defense that still struggled last year.

While most NFL teams are clear on who their starting QB will be this year, some aren't, so I used the listing on the ourlads.com depth charts as the final arbiter for which QB is the starter for which team. As a result, the table above assumes Sam Bradford (PHI), Blaine Gabbert (SF), Josh McCown (CLE) will be the starters for their respective teams, but that can change by the time the Cowboys play those teams, just like an injury to a starting QB somewhere else could also change the overall picture.

Anyway, once the team hits Week 11, things will ease up a little, as they'll be alternating between above and below average QBs from week to week.

But what initially looks like bad news could just as well be good news in disguise. A lot of the feedback I got for the previous article about the 14 subpar defenses was about how the way a team finishes/plays the previous year has no bearing on the following year, and that there was no way all those defenses would be as bad in 2016 as they were in 2015. If we were to apply that same logic here, would that mean that there is no way all those above average passers from 2015 will remain above average for 2016? Good news if true.

Be that as it may, last year the Cowboys allowed a defensive passer rating of 94.2, which ranked them 20th in the league. With the team likely facing quality passers in 10 of 16 games, do you expect the Cowboys to a show a better or worse defensive passer rating in 2016?