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At season’s halfway point, how do the 2017 Cowboys compare to the 2016 team?

With eight games in the books, let’s double the team and some player totals and compare them to 2016.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

At the seasons’ half-way point, it becomes easy to project team and player totals over a full 16-game season. Just double the halfway totals, and voila, you have a crude estimate that you can compare to the 2016 Cowboys. Of course it doesn’t work this way. Opponents make a big difference. Health is another huge factor. And, for the Cowboys, the looming on-again-off-again suspension for Ezekiel Elliott could cause a major shift for the team. With those caveats, let’s dive in.

Team Offensive Totals

2017 2016
Rushing Yards 2370 2396
Rushing TDs 22 24
Receiving Yards 3558 3631
Receiving TDs 32 25
Points 452 421

Note that the 2017 totals are projections based on doubling current stats through eight games.

The remarkable thing about these totals is how close they are to last season. Rushing yards and TDs are almost identical. The same is true for receiving yards. Receiving TDs are up, which is perhaps why points are also up.

Player Offensive Totals

We’re only looking at the top individuals here. 2017 numbers are projected.


Receivers Y/R Y/R Proj. Yds Yds Proj. TD TDs
2017 2016 2017 2016 2017 2016
Dez Bryant 11.6 15.9 878 796 8 8
Terrance Williams 11.9 13.5 714 594 0 4
Jason Witten 9.1 9.8 638 673 6 3
Brice Butler 23.7 13.7 426 219 4 3
Ezekiel Elliott 11.1 11.3 420 363 4 1
Cole Beasley 7.5 11.1 330 833 8 5

What is so odd about this is that, with the projected receiving totals nearly identical to last year, the individual receiver totals are quite different from last year.

  • Cole Beasley, who led the Cowboys in receiving with 833 yards last year, is now last among the Cowboys’ top six receiving threats. His yards per catch are off 3.6 from last year, almost 33%.
  • Dez Bryant has resumed his perch atop the receivers in catches and yards, but at what cost? His yards per catch are off more than four yards, from 15.9 to 11.6, though he is projected to match his eight TDs from last year.
  • Jason Witten continues his slow but steady decline in productivity. He hasn’t been an elite receiving tight end for years - he’s more middle of the pack.
  • Brice Butler is the only receiver who has improved his yards per catch totals, jumping up from 13.7 ypc to 23.7 so far this year. Teams may be catching on, however, as he’s only caught one pass over the last three games.
  • Terrance Williams dramatically boosted his totals in the win over Kansas City, going nine for nine for 141 yards.

The Cowboys need to keep tweaking this to find ways to increase the yards per catch, and the efficiency ratings.


Rushers Y/R Y/R Proj. Yds Yds Proj. TD TDs
2017 2016 2017 2016 2017 2016
Ezekiel Elliott 4.1 5.1 1566 1631 14 15
Dak Prescott 7.5 4.9 390 282 8 6
Alfred Morris 8.3 3.5 232 243 0 2

What’s different here?

  • Ezekiel Elliott is on nearly the same yardage path as last year, but it’s taking him a lot more carries to get there. He’s only had one game this year above five yards per carry, where he had eight such games (out of 15) last year.
  • Dak Prescott has really helped pick up the slack, at 7.5 yards per carry.
  • Alfred Morris has been used much more sparingly so far, but his yardage projection is nearly identical because he had a 70-yard run to boost his totals.


Let’s look at Dak Prescott’s chart compared to last year.

2017 326 518 63% 3636 6.94 32 8 97.9 80.5 52 390 8 20 82
2016 311 459 67.60% 3667 7.9 23 4 104.2 81.5 57 282 6 25 143

What do you notice?

  • The touchdowns are up, but so are the interceptions.
  • The attempts are up, but the completion percentage is down.
  • The ANY/A is down, which squares up with the receivers mostly being down in yards per catch.
  • The quarterback rating is off a bit, but the QBR is pretty close, which is likely a factor of Dak’s better rushing numbers.
  • There are fewer sacks, for significantly fewer lost yards.

Team Defensive Totals

Here is a smattering of stats to compare from year to year. 2017 totals are projections.

2017 2016
Opponent Rushing 1620 1336
Opponent Rush TD 8 9
Opponent Receiving 3574 4167
Opponent Receiving TD 28 25
Opponent Points 366 306

What’s different?

  • Opponent points are up by 3.75 ppg.
  • Receiving yards are down, but rushing yards are up, but the net change is positive, with 5,194 yard surrendered versus 5,503 last year.
  • Before you get your hopes up too high that the pass defense is much better, opposing passer rating was 92.7 last year. So far this year, it’s 92.32.
  • Rushing and receiving TDs are about the same.

Here are some other stats.

2017 2016
Sacks 54 36
Opp Sacks 20 28
Turnover Diff 6 5
Penalty Yds 1000 879
Opponent Penalties 702 784
  • The biggest change here is in the sack totals, jumping from 36 to a projected 54. DeMarcus Lawrence has already blown by last year’s team leading six sacks to post 10.5, while David Irving has six himself in only four games!
  • Meanwhile, opposing sacks project to be down. (The difference from Dak’s totals is last year’s 16th game, when Mark Sanchez played.)
  • Turnover differential is about the same, but the trend line has been good after being negative earlier this year.
  • Penalties are up, and opposing penalties are down. This may not have much to do with Dallas’s play on the field and more to do with spotty officiating. How else to explain the wide discrepancy between holding calls on Dallas versus their opponents?


Given the opening caveats, you don’t want to take too much away from these numbers. But we’ll raise a few points.

  • Scoring looks good, and it’s a bit mystifying, since many passing and rushing totals are not better.
  • Yards per catch numbers need to improve.
  • They need to find a way to get Cole Beasley open more, or punish teams for doubling him, if that’s how they are shutting him down.
  • Dak should run the ball even more than he has been, to a point. It’s one of the most effective plays in the Cowboys’ arsenal.
  • Who knows how this offense will look if Zeke has to miss six games? Many will likely opine that the Cowboys will be fine, and they might be against weak run defenses. But against tougher run defenses? He’ll be sorely missed.
  • With Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens, the Cowboys run defense is solid.
  • With the run defense shored up, the secondary looks to keep improving against the pass. It would be nice if Chidobe Awuzie got healthy and started contributing.
  • The Cowboys have a pass rush! Now the refs just have to recognize that our guys are being held when they don’t get home.

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