Lack Of Cowboy Takeaways Linked To Offensive Ineffectivenes
No team was more proficient at taking the ball away during the 2014 season than the Dallas Cowboys. In 16 games, Rod Marinelli’s unit forced 31 turnovers, one of the primary reasons for the team’s rise to the top of the NFC East standings.
Now a year removed from that, the Dallas defense is singing a different tune. Through six weeks of the 2015 season, the Cowboys have only three takeaways to their credit, and have registered nary a one during the team’s current four-game losing skid.
This turn of events has been a surprise for the many who figured that key additions Sean Lee, Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory would make the defense even better than last season, and has inspired certain of the unit’s key members to find answers, even more so than their current 2-4 record has. The talent is there. Excepting a forgettable second-half versus Atlanta in Week 3, the effort has been evident as well. What then is the problem?
While it’s easy to point to a combination of injuries and suspensions that has scrambled the weekly lineup, and a significantly tougher schedule as it pertains to opposing quarterbacks, the biggest difference for the defense from last year might just be the production of the Dallas offense.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Despite all of the takeaways and a surprise playoff berth, the Dallas defense was anything but a juggernaut in 2014. Give them credit for playing with an inordinate amount of enthusiasm, but it should also be acknowledged that they spent most of their time protecting a lead.
How important is playing ahead? Consider the following.
While Dallas’ new version of the Triplets were enjoying career years last season, the Cowboys averaged 29 points per game. With DeMarco Murray now in Philadelphia, and Tony Romo and Dez Bryant each down with injuries, that number has dwindled to 20 in 2015.
The Cowboys had a double-digit lead in eight games last year. Not since leading 28-14 late in the second quarter against the Falcons have they led by more than four points this season.
Less production from the Cowboy offense has meant less pressure on opposing offenses, who now no longer have to abandon their game-plan simply in order to keep up on the scoreboard. Despite having only been on the field for a league-low average of 26:02 per game, the Dallas defense is allowing an average of 26 points every Sunday, an increase of four points from last season when they were on the field for an additional two minutes per contest.
Marinelli’s current unit is three-percentage points better than a year ago at getting stops on third-down. But forcing more punts hasn’t translated into victories this season because the offense has done anything but take advantage of their additional opportunities.
If the Cowboys are going to make a rally during the final two months of this season, the defense will certainly have to sharpen up their takeaway skills. An assist from the Dallas offense would be both welcome, and long overdue.