The Dallas Cowboys have won three games in a row - all on the road, the only team in the NFL this season to win three straight away from home - and you would figure that this alone would be cause for streamers and celebration.
There is no question that this season has been a tale of two halves for the Cowboys in one sense and that particular sense is on the offensive side of the ball.
Tony Casillas and I discussed a lot of the ideas in this post on the latest episode of The 75O on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Dallas looked like the best offense in the NFL through the win in New England, the game in Minnesota with Cooper Rush at quarterback is an obvious outlier, but ever since the loss to the Denver Broncos back in Week 9 things have been shaky at best. The Cowboys destroyed the Falcons and managed to have a respectable fourth quarter on Thanksgiving against the Raiders, but other than that it has been a bit of a tooth-pulling exercise to score points unless it is on defense.
So even though the Cowboys hold the number two seed in the NFC through Week 15, there is concern that the good times may not be rolling for too long. The playoffs are a different beast and Dallas is going to have go against other offenses, ones that are performing much better than theirs is right now.
The Dallas Cowboys offense is struggling as of late, but so are the other NFC contenders... sort of
It can often feel like the Dallas Cowboys are the only team that [does a bad thing here], but that is very frequently the result of living in a silver and blue bubble.
There is no denying that Dallas has had one of the poorer offenses (especially relative to expectations) in the league over the last six weeks, but the good news is that all of the contending teams in the conference are a bit down as well.
As you can see the Cowboys are in fact struggling, but they are not exactly at the bottom of the barrel among the NFC’s elite. The Los Angeles Rams bounced back last Monday night in Arizona, but before then they had really been in a funk themselves. Unfortunately most of the other offenses are more efficient through the lens of EPA per play.
While Dallas currently holds the number two seed in the conference it is very possible that they draw the San Francisco 49ers at some point in the playoffs and given that the 49ers have had one of the more efficient offenses in the league in this stretch that would be a little bit terrifying.
But while facing one of these offenses would be challenging the Cowboys would have their robust defense working on their behalf which would obviously help things. Speaking of, the Cowboys defensive performance as of late is certainly helping a bit of this data as far as things like point differential and time of possession are concerned.
Ultimately the only offense that is truly flawless is that of the Green Bay Packers which is just delightful (sigh) to see. While no one is ever excited about any sort of injury the Arizona Cardinals showed last week what missing DeAndre Hopkins (who would return for the NFC Championship Game at the earliest per reports) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are clearly going to be very different without Chris Godwin (torn ACL), among other injuries.
The Cowboys offense is not so great right now. But there is plenty of time, and all the reason to believe that it can get right and compete with the other teams on the road to the Super Bowl, especially if they keep getting help from the other side of the ball.
An offense’s best friend is a great defense
While the Cowboys are struggling to score when given the ball, it should be noted (which serves to make things all the more frustrating) that they are being given the ball a lot by their defense. Like a lot a lot.
Over the last three weeks the Cowboys defense has generated exactly four turnovers per game which is good for four extra possessions for the offense per week in theory. This is what Dallas has done with those possessions for full context, though.
Dallas Cowboys possessions after defensive takeaways, Weeks 13-15 (drive starting point)
- Field Goal (DAL 5)
- Punt (DAL 26)
- Punt (DAL 41)
- Defensive Touchdown so no possession
- Touchdown (WAS 41)
- Defensive Touchdown so no possession
- Field Goal (WAS 25)
- End of Game so no real possession (WAS 28)
- Touchdown (NYG 13)
- Field Goal (NYG 46)
- Punt (DAL 25)
- Punt (DAL 20)
There are obviously 12 turnovers in totality, but for the purposes of examining what the offense is doing we have to take out the defensive scores and should also removed the end of game possession against Washington. That brings us down to nine turnovers worth examining and down to three per game which again is where context comes into play. (We have bolded these for emphasis.)
Of these nine particular possessions the Cowboys have started with an average field position of their own 44-yard line. We are playing with things and living in the world of averages here, but if you told any Cowboys fan that they could have three possessions per game given to them with only 56 yards to go they would take it 100 out of 100 times.
Unfortunately of these nine possessions the Cowboys have punted four times, settled for a field goal three others, and only gotten into the endzone twice. It is no mystery that the two touchdowns have come with some of the shorter fields to go although they are not even the two shortest ones as Dallas had to kick a field goal after starting a possession on the Washington 25-yard line.
None of these results are going to make you feel better about the offense, but the takeaway (no pun intended) should be the opportunities that they are getting here. It isn’t sustainable for the Cowboys to continually take the ball away this much, although we have sort of been saying that all year and look where we are, but if they can come anywhere close to it then the offense is going to have opportunities to get right.
As you can see the likes of Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Los Angeles (Rams), and especially Green Bay have been far more successful on offense than Dallas over the last three weeks, but their defenses don’t come anywhere close to the same level of production.
We have all said for years that if the Cowboys can have even a competent defense then they can contend in the playoffs and as we sit three weeks out the Cowboys sort of have a supremely elite defense. In fact, they are literally the best as they have the top Defensive EPA/Play Allowed over this three-week stretch.
Maybe the defense can really keep this up for another month and a half, that certainly exists in the world of all possibilities; however, the hope is that the offense will start to carry its own weight and we won’t have to find out the answer to this.