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The Dallas Cowboys at Midseason: An Average Team

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The halfway point of the NFL season played out in week nine, and the Dallas Cowboys, after defeating the Seattle Seahawks yesterday in an uninspired display of penalties and mental errors, do not appear to be much better than in the previous years under coach Wade Phillips. 

A Sputtering Offense

Head coach Jason Garrett, a former backup quarterback for Cowboys legend Troy Aikman, is being called out weekly for questionable play-calling decisions in the “red zone,” the area of the field between the goal line and the 20-yard line.  In the game against the Seahawks, on one occasion, Dallas had a first down on Seattle’s two-yard line.  Garrett elected to call pass plays on first and second downs; neither was successful.  Then, on third down, the offense failed to run the ball into the end zone, and Dallas settled for a field goal.  The red zone offense has not been up to par.

The Cowboys came into the weekend with an offense ranked eighth in the NFL.  The ranking is respectable and is based on total yards gained per game.  But, total yards are obviously not calculated into the game scores.  Dallas now stands at 4 wins and 4 losses, still good enough to be in second place in the NFC East.

Here are some of the problems midway through the season (prior to the eighth game against the Seahawks):

  1. Fumbles – In the first seven games, Dallas has fumbled the ball 14 times, ranking 29th in the NFL out of 32 teams.  Of the 14 fumbles, Dallas has lost five of them.  The Cowboys are ranked 22nd in fumbles lost.
  2. Takeaway ratio  – The statistic for the takeaway ratio combines interceptions and lost fumbles.  A positive number means the team has accomplished more takeaways from its opponents than it has given up.  Dallas, through seven games, has a -2 takeaway ratio, ranking 21st.
  3. Third down conversions – Third down conversions are considered to be a key statistic in determining the offense’s ability to sustain long drives, controlling the game clock, and causing the opponent’s defense to stay on the field a long time, risking fatigue and mental errors.  The Cowboys’ third down conversion rate is currently 34%, which ranks them 22nd in the NFL. This forces a choice to punt, try a field goal, or risk a fourth down conversion two-thirds of the time.
  4. Points per game – Dallas is ranked 18th in points per game with an average of 22.3. 

Despite being ranked eighth in offense, based on total yards gained per game, the keys to converting offense to scoring lies in most of the factors listed above. In these key categories, Dallas ranks well below the NFL average, around 21st on average.

First Eight Opponents

Demarco MurrayAnalysis of an NFL team falls short when it does not adequately consider the strength of its opponents.  It is a “fan trap” to think that a fan’s favorite team deserves to win based upon anything besides its performance on the field. 

Dallas played the New York Jets, Detroit Lions, and the New England Patriots, losing close games to them all.  The Cowboys were blown out by their hottest rival, the Philadelphia Eagles, in their seventh game of the season.  These four teams have a combined record, going into week nine, of 18 wins and 11 losses.  All of them have posted winning records at the halfway point of the season, except for the Eagles, who dominated the Cowboys in last week’s game.

The four teams Dallas has beaten this year are the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, St. Louis Rams, and the Seattle Seahawks.  Going into week nine, the combined record of these four teams was 12 wins and 16 losses.  Only one of these teams, the 49ers (7-1), has a winning record at this point in the season.

Judging by the strength of the Cowboys’ opponents, Dallas fields an average team.  This is just about where many analysts believed the Cowboys would be at the end of the season.  The most frequently heard prediction was that the team would fail to make the playoffs, and it would end the season with a 9-7 record.  My prediction was 8-8.

The Next Eight Opponents

The Cowboys will finish the regular season playing the New York Giants twice, the Eagles and Redskins once each, and four non-conference teams: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The combined record going into week nine, counting the Giants twice, is 26-30.  Among these teams, the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills are the only ones posting a winning record through the first eight weeks.

This gives fans of the Cowboys some room for hope.  If the team can go 6-2 over the final eight weeks, a record of 10-6 would most likely put the Cowboys in the playoffs.  I do not believe they will go 6-2, however.

Because of offensive weakness in the red zone that is proving to be a persistent problem, along with a weak third down conversion rate and turnovers, I believe the Cowboys will not make the playoffs.  As a fan, I hope I’m wrong, of course, but the numbers just don’t add up.

I expect the Cowboys to go 2-2 against the remaining division opponents, beating the Giants once and either the Redskins or Eagles, but not both.  Dallas would have to sweep the other four remaining opponents to have a 10-6 record and make the playoffs. 

Before game nine against the Buffalo Bills at Cowboys Stadium, I will write an article on Dallas’ defense at the midpoint.  Perceived as the team’s strength, the success of the remainder of the season may well rest in the hands of the Rob Ryan-coached defense.

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About ToddT

I enjoy baseball and writing about it. I pay to see independent league play, the Fort Worth Cats and the Grand Prairie AirHogs, and I follow the Texas Rangers rather passionately. A native of the Dallas area, I am nearing 60 years old, and I have been married to my college sweetheart for 36 years and counting.