Last year the Dallas Cowboys had the highest-scoring offense in the NFL. And if that wasn’t cool enough, their defense led the entire league in takeaways. The offense scored and the defense took the ball away. Both sides did their part and it worked out pretty well.
Things are not going down like that this season. The Cowboys offense has only averaged 17.8 points per game, ranking them sixth-worst in the league. And if that wasn’t sad enough, takeaways have been a little scarce this year as their four turnovers are ranked 21st in the league. So, without the offense scoring, and without the defense producing takeaways, how has this Cowboys team managed to get off to the same 3-1 start they had a year ago?
The easy answer is the defense. It’s also the correct answer. Make no mistake about it, the defense has been sensational. Despite the takeaways not being there, there are so many other nutritional stats to choose from. In fact, let’s have ourselves a little snack, shall we?
- They are third-best in points allowed at 15.2 points per game
- They are second-best in sacks with 15
- They give up the second-fewest yards per play this season
- They are one of two teams (49ers) who haven’t allowed 20 points in a game this year
- They haven’t allowed more than one touchdown in any game this season
Hold on, let me take a breath...
- The defense has allowed the fewest red zone opportunities with seven
- They induce the second-most penalties from the opposing offense with 7.8 per game
- They are ranked fifth in DVOA
That’s impressive. All of this great stuff without generating turnovers.
Back in June, we made a claim that the inevitable turnover regression wasn’t going to slow this defense down and that the team could still be successful without all those takeaways. The basis of this claim was that the team had a history of winning games that were not correlated to defensive takeaways, but more so to the points the defense allowed.
Every double-digit win season the Cowboys have had over the last 20 years has been when the defense finished in the upper half in points allowed, with most of them coming with a top seven or better finish.
Our article went on to proclaim that takeaways lined up a lot better with how many points the Cowboys offense was scoring than it did with the number of points their defense allowed. Basically, when the Cowboys offense was lighting it up like they were last year and in 2014, the opportunities for turnovers were plentiful and the Cowboys defense took full advantage. This season, the offense is not lighting it up. As we mentioned above, they have scored the sixth-fewest points in the NFL this season, so it shouldn’t be too surprising to see their takeaways be few and far between.
Despite the lack of offensive production, we have to praise them for one very important accomplishment - they don’t turn over the ball. The Cowboys have only committed two turnovers this season, a Dak Prescott interception and a Dalton Schultz fumble. This ties them for first in the league in giveaways. Not giving away the ball keeps opposing teams from having a short field. It also keeps points on the board even if the drives don’t result in touchdowns. Even though backup quarterback Cooper Rush has had a few throws that could’ve been picked off, he’s the only NFL quarterback this season who has thrown multiple touchdown passes without throwing a single interception.
The defense deserves all the spoils. They are fantastic. But the offense has been good enough without producing self-inflicted wounds that would otherwise make it difficult to win football games. And that deserves some credit.