It’s no secret that if you take care of the ball and create turnovers on defense, that’s going to help you win football games. The Dallas Cowboys were hideous in this department last year. It’s also no surprise that if you have more big plays than your opponent, that’s also going to help you win. Both these elements are key ingredients to success and if you are on the wrong end of it, it can be toxic to your football team.
SportingCharts.com offers up a measurable called the toxic differential that takes into account these important elements.
The statistic was created by Super Bowl winning coach Brian Billick while he was offensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings. He's quoted as saying "It’s not merely good enough to avoid turning the ball over; you need to generate big offensive plays as well."
The statistic involves three categories:
- Turnover differential (giveaways – takeaways)
- Big passing play differential (passes of 25+ yards)
- Big running play differential (runs of 10+ yards)
Add up these categories and you got the toxic differential.
The Cowboys finished fourth-worst in this category last year.
So, it shouldn’t be surprising that they had the fourth pick in the draft. Furthermore, the other teams that finished worse than Dallas in toxic differential also had terrible records and joined them at the top of the draft. The correlation to winning is real.
It should jump out at you that the Cowboys are in this club for one big reason – horrible turnover differential. Dallas gave away the ball too much and couldn’t take the ball away in 2015. Trying to win football games while this is happening is like playing with your shoelaces tied together – it’s extremely difficult. There is no question that this a big point of emphasis going into the new season.
And the good news is, the Cowboys finished week one in the positive for turnover differential. The defense picked off Eli Manning once and the offense didn’t turn it over. That’s a good start.
The bad news however, is that they did terrible in big play differential. After moving the chains and dominating the time of possession, it was baffling that the Cowboys lost, but the lack of big plays was the culprit. They finished -3, which puts them in the bottom third of the league. And it shouldn’t be a shock that six of those bottom eight teams all lost last week.
While most people are focused on correcting the red zone woes that plagued them last week, the Cowboys need to put another thing at the top of their "to-do" list – win the big play differential. That’s great in theory, but can the Cowboys do this? What are the best ways to get this done?
Get Zeke in space
We are all waiting for the first time Ezekiel Elliott breaks off a big run. The Redskins run defense was giving up big runs to Pittsburgh, so the hope is that they will oblige the Cowboys running attack as well. It will take some dirty yards before the defense wears down, but if the rookie gets some room, it could be exciting times.
Don’t arm tackle Matt Jones
The second-year running back only had 24 yards last week. The Cowboys defense struggled last week and gave up four big running plays, so Jones should fare better this week. He is a physical runner, but he’s not exactly shifty. The Cowboys DTs should be able to win the battle against the Redskins interior line. As long as the linebackers do their job correctly, Jones shouldn’t be much of a problem.
The Cowboys need to come out on top in this department.
Over the top
While the Redskins running game was suspect last week, they also gave up three big passing plays. The Cowboys will need to attack them through the air as well. People will are expecting that Dez Bryant to be more involved, and he should be, but this is a great opportunity for Terrance Williams or Brice Butler to come up with a deep touchdown pass. Wouldn’t it be great if TWilly redeemed himself with a big touchdown catch?
Don’t let DeSean Jackson fly past you
The Redskins big plays come from yards after the catch as Kirk Cousins isn’t a deep throw threat. With Byron Jones now at safety, the Cowboys have been doing a good job putting the receivers to the ground when the catch is made. The bigger problems lies when they have a speed mismatch. DeSean Jackson is that mismatch. The Cowboys have to provide some help so that Jackson doesn’t beat them deep.
The Cowboys got beat once by Odell Beckham Jr. and that led to a touchdown. The Redskins got beat three times against Pittsburgh, mostly by Antonio Brown. The team that comes out on top in the big pass differential category could be the deciding factor.