It was inevitable. No matter how hard people tried to will it away, the Dallas Cowboys defense was always going to regress to the mean.
What do we mean (no pun intended) by that exactly? Consider that in 2021 the Dallas Cowboys defense took the ball away something like a million times (the true answer is 34). That was never going to happen this season as basically all of NFL history has taught us. They were bound to regress to the mean.
Through three games, an admittedly small sample size, we are seeing this bear out. While we are focusing on the first three games specifically and not any particular three-game stretch the Cowboys have generated just 25% of the turnovers that they had by Week 4 in 2021.
The thing is that this doesn’t seem to matter all too much. The Cowboys defense is thriving, admittedly against some weaker competition on Monday night, and the fact that they are doing it in spite of the regression is highly impressive.
Turnovers are down for the 2022 Dallas Cowboys defense, but they are more than making up for them
You would assume that with fewer takeaways this season that the Cowboys defense would be “worse” through three games this season, but they certainly feel better. Obviously how something “feels” is not the most objective measurement of success.
The value of certain things can be debated when it comes to defense, but for the purposes of this exercise we are going to focus on two splash plays - turnovers and sacks. Both of these plays negatively impact the opposing offense and in the case of the former they literally end the offense’s possession. Turnovers are inherently more valuable because it puts an outright stop to the possession which isn't always true for sacks.
It is true that this year’s Cowboys team is down in the turnover department, but they are up in the sack one. Way up.
- 2021 Dallas Cowboys defense through three games: eight turnovers, four sacks
- 2022 Dallas Cowboys defense through three games: two turnovers, thirteen sacks
In a vacuum turnovers are obviously better, but as we have discussed many times the turnovers were always going to decline. The Cowboys aren’t purposefully taking the ball away less but the natural order of things is bearing itself out. But they are mitigating the impact.
Having 13 sacks through three games is so stupid that it does not even make sense. The Cowboys defense was going to have to answer in some other area with turnovers decreasing and they are certainly doing so. Consider that by DVOA they ranked 17th defensively through three weeks a season ago and are currently eighth.
Obviously Micah Parsons has been a revelation, even considering the high bar that he set for himself throughout his rookie season. He is leading the team in sacks, but he isn’t doing all of this alone. It is a true team effort which is why it is so exciting.
Dallas Cowboys sack leaders through Week 3:
- Micah Parsons, 4
- DeMarcus Lawrence, 3
- Dorance Armstrong, 3
- Donovan Wilson, 1
- Leighton Vander Esch, 1
- Dante Fowler, 1
It is unlikely that the Cowboys will average four sacks a game across the entire season but they don’t have to. The pressures that they continue to generate will help generate more turnovers at some point in all likelihood, regression to the mean doesn’t mean regression to the opposite extreme.
Shout out to Dan Quinn. He is making all of this work wonderfully.