It was the tale of two seasons for the Dallas Cowboys when it comes to creating takeaways this past campaign. After only creating three turnovers over their first seven games, the defense found themselves dead last in the league for takeaways. The inability to force turnovers was just one of a handful of failures this team was experiencing, but it was a big one as it plays such an important factor in determining the outcome of NFL games.
Fortunately, things took a drastic turn as the Cowboys defense forced a turnover in each of their final seven games of season, including a three-game stretch where they had at least three takeaways. The Cowboys won all three of those games and suddenly was making a push for playoff contention. Dallas finished the season with 23 total takeaways, ranking seventh in the league. It was a nice turnaround for the boys in blue, but which players had the biggest hand in taking the ball away? Let’s run through each takeaway week by week and see what we can learn after further review.
Week 1 vs. Rams : One takeaway (average: 1.0 , NFL Rank = 11th)
The Cowboys opened the season with one takeaway, and it came at a great time. The Cowboys trailed 20-14 late in the third quarter when Jared Goff threw towards the sideline at the first-down marker. Aldon Smith came inside on a stunt and was able to pressure the Rams quarterback as he released the ball. The throw was slightly off, but credit Chidobe Awuzie for smothering the receiver, allowing him to be in a perfect spot for the pick.
Week 2 vs. Falcons: No takeaways (average: 0.5 , NFL Rank = 25th)
The Falcons defense did all the taking in this one thanks to fumbles lost by Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dalton Schultz. Despite giving the ball up three times and surrendering 39 points to the Falcons, the Cowboys pulled off a miracle win in the end.
Week 3 vs. Seahawks: One takeaway (average: 0.7, NFL Rank = 24th)
In another shootout, the Cowboys again turned the ball over three times, only this time they weren’t able to pull out the late game comeback. Late in the first quarter, the Cowboys caught a break when rookie Trevon Diggs knocked the ball out of the arms of D.K. Metcalf, resulting in a touchback. Yes, Diggs did get beat for what should have been a 63-yard touchdown, but it doesn’t take away from the heads up play from the Cowboys young corner.
Week 4 vs. Browns: No takeaways (average: 0.5, NFL Rank = 25th)
For the third straight game, the Cowboys offense coughed the ball up three times. And for the third straight game, they spent the entire afternoon playing catch up. The Cowboys defense didn’t create a single takeaway and got smoked by the Browns 49-38.
Week 5 vs. Giants: One takeaway (average: 0,6, NFL Rank = 28th)
The Cowboys got a spark by the defense when DeMarcus Lawrence blew around the Giants fourth overall pick Andrew Thomas like wasn’t even there. Daniel Jones tried to escape the pocket, but didn’t realize Tank was so close as Jones wasn’t protecting the ball when he was sacked. Dallas got a great bounce when the ball popped up directly in the hands of Anthony Brown who ran it back for one of two Cowboys defensive touchdowns on the year.
Week 6 vs. Cardinals: No takeaways (average: 0.5, NFL Rank = 32nd)
The Cowboys didn’t force any turnovers in their Monday night matchup against Arizona, and to make matters worse, they turned it over a season-high four times on offense. Andy Dalton threw two picks, and Ezekiel Elliott fumbled it away twice, all of which contributed to a 28-point loss, their biggest margin of defeat all season.
With just three turnovers forced in six games, the Cowboys dropped to last in the league in takeaways.
Week 7 vs. Washington: No takeaways (average: 0.4, NFL Rank = 32nd)
For the second straight week, the Cowboys defense came up with no takeaways. It was particularly disappointing considering they were playing a dreadful Washington offense that was sixth-worst in the league in giveaways. Another goose egg just solidified Dallas’ spot in the takeaway cellar.
Week 8 vs. Eagles: Four takeaways (average: 0.9, NFL Rank = 25th)
The Cowboys finally broke out of their takeaway funk with four turnovers created against the Eagles. Twice they forced fumbles on Carson Wentz after he carelessly held the ball up in a last second attempt to throw it. Donovan Wilson and Leighton Vander Esch came at him at full force, jostling the ball away. And twice Wentz took shots deep, only Diggs tracked the ball better than the Eagles receivers, resulting in two interceptions by the rookie.
Despite an advantage in the turnover differential, the Cowboys still came away with 23-9 loss when rookie quarterback Ben DiNucci struggled to move the offense.
Week 9 vs. Steelers: No takeaway (average: 0.8, NFL Rank = 29th)
The Cowboys defense had no takeaways against the Steelers, and it’s a shame because they lost a close one 24-19 and being minus two in the turnover department loomed large. The good news is it would be the last game the Cowboys defense came away empty in taking the ball away.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11 vs. Vikings: Two takeaways (average: 0.9, NFL Rank = 29th)
Against the Vikings the Cowboys finished with a positive turnover differential for the third time; however, it was the first time that it resulted in a victory. Thanks to two smashing hits by Donovan Wilson, the Cowboys turned a Kirk Cousins sack and a Dalvin Cook reception into takeaways.
The second-year safety continued to show his value as a turnover generator as it seems like everyone he hits struggles to hang on to the ball.
Week 12 vs. Washington: One takeaway (average: 0.9, NFL Rank = 31st)
On Thanksgiving, it looked as if the Cowboys were going to tie up the game late in the third quarter when Jaylon Smith had an Alex Smith pass fall right into his lap. Pressure came up the middle from Aldon Smith, forcing the veteran quarterback to just try to throw it away. Unfortunately, Jaylon was chased down from behind at the five-yard line where the Cowboys offense proceeded to sputter backwards. Dallas had to settle for a field goal, Washington then went on score 21 unanswered points, and the eventual NFC East champs completed the sweep of the Cowboys in emphatic form.
Week 13 vs. Ravens: One takeaway (average: 0.9, NFL Rank = 29th)
The Cowboys got another gift the following week after Ravens receiver Marquise Brown was unable to handle a pass across the middle. Safety Darian Thompson was able to dive and make the catch, giving Dallas great field position. For half the season, the Cowboys were positioned in the bottom five in takeaways, but this game against the Ravens would mark the final time they held that unflattering position.
Week 14 vs. Bengals: Three takeaways (average: 1.1, NFL Rank = 24th)
The Cowboys had their biggest margin of victory with a 30-7 win over the Bengals thanks to early takeaways. On Cincinnati’s first three possessions, they put the ball on the turf and the Cowboys turned all three of those turnovers into points to jump out to a 17 point lead. DeMarcus Lawrence and Darian Thompson each forced a fumble, and the Cowboys got their second defensive score when Aldon Smith picked up a loose ball (Bengals running back ran into his own lineman) and ran it back 78 yards for the score.
Week 15 vs. 49ers: Four takeaways (average: 1.3, NFL Rank = 15th)
The Cowboys kept the takeaway party going by taking the ball away four times against the 49ers. Lawrence was able to get his hand in at the last minute to force a fumble on 49ers quarterback Nick Mullins. Both Donovan Wilson and Anthony Brown jumped in front of a pass to get picks. And they even got a takeaway on special teams when Dorance Armstrong came away with a strip/fumble recovery on a punt return.
Week 16 vs. Eagles: Three takeaways (average: 1.4, NFL Rank = 9th)
The Cowboys continued their takeaway onslaught against their divisional foes as they capped off three consecutive games with at least three turnovers. Only this time around it was Eagles new quarterback Jalen Hurts who was in a giving mood. All of the takeaways came in the latter half of the fourth quarter. First, Brown stepped in front of a pass in the end zone to end any real chance of an Eagles comeback. Philadelphia was right back in the red zone a couple minutes later, but that drive ended when Randy Gregory stripped Hurts when he tried to take off running. Diggs finished things off with a pick giving him three on the season, all against the Eagles.
With their recent takeaway surge, the Cowboys defense fought their way from dead last to now inside the top 10 in the league.
Week 17 vs. Giants: Two takeaways (average: 1.4, NFL Rank = 7th)
The Cowboys lost a close one to the Giants in the season finale, but they can’t blame it on turnovers. For the third time this season, Dallas lost the game despite winning the turnover margin. Their first takeaway was a gift from the Giants when they mishandled the hand-off exchange. Awuzie reacted fast to come up with the recovery. And then early in the third quarter Donovan Wilson capped off a great season with an interception off a deflection. If you’re keeping score at home, Wilson is responsible for creating the most turnovers with five (three forced fumbles and two picks).
Here is how the player contributions looks for all of the team’s turnovers:
The great news is that two of the Cowboys young defensive backs are at the top of the leaderboard. Six different players had multiple takeaways, and all but Awuzie remain under contract. Hopefully, with improved coaching on the defensive side and the return of a high-scoring offense, more opportunities for takeaways are coming for this group in 2021.