The Dallas Cowboys finished with the number one offense in the league last season in terms of yards gained, yet the somehow managed to finish the year with an 8-8 record. That’s disappointing.
With an offense so good, it’s easy to start pointing the fingers at the defense, and it gets even easier when you look at the complete overhaul to the coaching staff on the defensive side of the ball this offseason.
Only Leon Lett was retained from Jason Garrett’s staff, which is amusing in some regard as older fans will always remember him for two of the most bonehead plays in Cowboys history. But that’s all in the past as Lett now has eight years experience coaching the defensive line and there must be something to that as he survived the cuts.
While the Cowboys big shakeup in coaches along the defense was pretty significant, it’s important to point out that things weren’t all that terrible for the defense last season. They finished 11th in points allowed last year, and they finished sixth the year before that. In fact, the defense has finished in the upper half for points allowed in each of the last six seasons. Can they be better? Yes. Are they the reason this team loses football games? Not really.
In fact, if you really wanted to set your watch to whether or not the Cowboys win on Sundays, look no further than asking yourself - how many points did the offense score? When the offense is finding the end zone, the Cowboys win. Looking through last year’s numbers, when the offense scored more than 24 points last season, the Cowboys were undefeated at 8-0. However, every time they didn’t, the team lost. Here are the average points scored/allowed for each unit during the team’s wins and losses:
In some cases it was feast or famine for the Cowboys offense. When they were rolling, they were really rolling. But then there were other times when the offense had all kind of fits and just couldn’t find the end zone. Twice during the season, the offense never even found the end zone (against New England and Philadelphia), and they had three games total where they didn’t score more than 10 points. And that was unfortunate too because the defense held the opposing offense to 12, 13, and 17 points in those games.
What was also unfortunate is that there were a handful of games where the offense played well, but it didn’t translate to the scoreboard. The Cowboys lost four games last year where the offense gained over 400 yards, but a mixture of misfortunes kept them from scoring points. This included games where multiple field goals were missed as well as instances where the offense turned the ball over multiple times.
Certainly, it’s disappointing to lose games in that manner, but we should all take a little comfort in the idea that the defense has been holding serve. In fact, it’s been that way for a while now, which is a dark contrast to how things used to be. Remember that red carpet defense that allowed 6,645 yards (worst in the NFL) back in 2013? Those weren’t fun times.
Shout out the 2013 Dallas Cowboys defense. https://t.co/d4kxQIE2pR— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) June 20, 2020
But those days are long gone.
Over the last six years, the Cowboys defense has delivered a majority of the time. In fact, in that span they have a 44-4 (.916) record when the offense has scored more than 24 points in a game. That is substantially different than the 18-14 (.526) record they had in the previous four seasons. Here is a 10-year breakdown of how the team has performed when the offense eclipses the 24-point mark:
In 2015, the Cowboys only had three games where the offense scored more than 24 points because they were dreadful without Tony Romo. And in those three games, they lost two of them. And then in 2017, there was that two-game stretch where the defense surrendered the game-winning score in the final moments of the game (against the Rams, then Packers), squandering two straight 30+ performances by the offense. That proved costly as the team finished 9-7 that year and just barely missed the playoffs.
But outside of those two seasons, the Cowboys have had four years where they never lost a game when the offense scored more than 24 points with a collective record of 37-0. That’s a pretty good achievement for the defense.
Of course, one might say the defense doesn’t do them any favors by going above and beyond to bail out their offensive counterparts. While that is certainly true for last season, the defense has done a respectable job in coming through for the team when the offense hasn’t played up to snuff. Here is the same 10-year chart when the offense scores 24 or few points:
So, is the key to success really about the offense just getting a little better? Well, there are several areas that need to improve, and most of them are still on the defensive side of the ball. By no means is this talent-filled offense holding this team back. Even a slight uptick in special teams alone would’ve given this team at least three more wins and put them in the postseason last season. But it’s also true that a few other self-inflicted mistakes on offense would’ve shifted the outcome in the Cowboys favor, adding to their win total as well.
The organization continues to strengthen the defense with nice free agent acquisitions like Gerald McCoy, Aldon Smith, Dontari Poe, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. They also added a couple of great value draft picks in Trevon Diggs and Neville Gallimore. And All-Pro linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is expected back after missing nine games with a neck injury. They’re going to be better.
Even more satisfying is that this team is also going to be better offensively. They’ve added CeeDee Lamb and now have one of the most explosive wide receiving groups in the league. Ezekiel Elliott is their running back. They have a great offensive line with a sharp new offensive line coach in Joe Philbin. And let’s not forget that up and coming kid genius offensive coordinator Kellen Moore also survived the major coaching staff shake up.
The offense can’t be any better than no. 1 in the league in yards, but they can improve their point totals. And with more games coming where they’ll score greater than 24 points, history has shown that it’s going to result in good things for this Cowboys football team.