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Getting turnovers is difficult for the Cowboys, and it may not be all their fault

Whether we like it or not, takeaways, especially fumbles, are more a matter of chance and luck than anything else.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos
We want to see more plays like this, but they are hard to come by.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Coming out of the bye week, the Dallas Cowboys have a laundry list of things they need to accomplish. Just ask, oh, about any of us who write about the team. One thing you will find on a lot of those lists is that the Cowboys need to start taking away the ball more.

But that might not happen. There is no magic formula or dependable method for taking the ball away from the other team. Coaches can run drills on punching the ball out and intercepting passes, but there is a huge element of chance involved, especially when it comes to fumbles. The Cowboys have caused several fumbles this season, but they have so far shown a frustrating tendency to bounce right back to the other team. Opportunities to pick the ball off have not been very frequent, and most of the ones that have happened have bounced off the defenders’ hands, which we concede can be more a factor of skill and not luck. But even then random chance or luck can step in. If you watched the TNF game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders, you saw a nearly perfectly played ball by the Raiders’ Keith McGill - that he couldn’t quite hang onto, and that then bounced right into the arms of Chiefs receiver Albert Wilson for a stroll-in touchdown. That is the kind of chance or luck that has plagued the Cowboys. Defensive backs cannot hang onto balls, and the caroms all seem to go to the other team.

In many ways, turnovers are a secondary result (no pun intended) of good play elsewhere. The improved pass rush and the emergence of young defensive backs like Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods should lead to more chances at interceptions, and Sean Lee being back on the field ought to see a few more balls knocked loose. There is a point at which the law of averages should see some of those pay off for the Cowboys.

But there is no real magic bullet here. And getting turnovers is not just a challenge for Dallas. Across the league, teams are doing a much better job of protecting the ball. Business Insider noted this in an article from late last season.

So far this season, the NFL is averaging just 2.6 turnovers per game. That would be an all-time low and down nearly 20% in just the last three seasons.

At the same time, both yards per play and yards per passing attempt have shown steady increases over the last two decades. While it may seem like teams are creating it more offense [sic], they are instead just creating more efficient offense at the expense of exciting plays. These improvements in yards per play have come from decreasing the number of turnovers and from utilizing shorter plays that result in positive yardage more often.

So, as much as we as fans may clamor for more turnovers to be created by the Cowboys, the reality is that there is not much concrete that can be done to get them, while at the same time they are becoming less frequent across the league. Jason Garrett often talks about worrying only about the things you can control. Dallas can work on getting after the passer, better coverage, and doing a better job tackling and attacking the ball. Those things should result in more takeaways over time, but there is no guarantee. It is a funny shaped ball that takes odd bounces and trajectories at times. That is not controllable.

It doesn’t mean that we should stop cheering for the Cowboys to take the ball away from the opponents. They are certainly going to be trying to, while protecting it on offense. It just is not going to happen on demand. The players may do everything right and still come up empty on fumbles. We just have to hope that it does not have a negative effect on the outcome of the games.

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