But, what are they really good at?
Sacks? No. They are Tied for 21st.
Takeaways? Of Course, no. Tied for 29th.
However, there are several metrics (albeit less glamourous) that they seem to thrive on to this point.
3rd Down Conversions - the Cowboys rank 10th in 3rd Down conversions which is playoff caliber. This is something that makes or breaks NFL defenses, and the ability to get off the field on the money down is incredibly valuable. However, will it hold through Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, and Michael Vick? They especially thrive on 3rd and 6+ (4th in the NFL) and 3rd and 10+ (2nd in NFL). These are especially encouraging given that the secondary was the offseason initiative. Keep the receivers in front of you.
3 and Outs - Wow. #1 in the NFL in 3 and Out percentages? I had no idea until the NFL Network featured them above Seattle and San Francisco in this category last Thursday Night. Again, we must consider sample sizes and the fact that the Cowboys have played some pretty weak offenses, but if they can continue to force a 3 and out in 33% of all drives (19 of 58 so far) then the Cowboys defense is going to be highly praised. The best way to keep from having issues is to snuff out drives before they get started. Interesting note: 32nd best team in this category? The Giants. 12%, or only 9 of 73 drives have ended in a 3 and out against that Giants defense
YAC - The Cowboys have given up fewer yards after the catch than any team in the NFL to this point. Of course, not everyone has enjoyed a bye-week, and not everyone has had the benefit of playing Tampa Bay, Seattle, and Carolina, but still, 430 yards after catch through 6 games is a great number. The average NFL team has conceded 678 yards and there are 2 teams at over 900 yards of YAC (Tennessee and Washington). Theoretically, this means that there is better tackling happening and fewer explosive plays.
Again, in the end, this will be tested over 16 games, as last season after 6 games the Cowboys felt pretty good about themselves defensively, only to be fed a huge dose of reality in Game #7 at Philadelphia.
Let's take a look at the "Splash Plays" from Week 6 at Carolina:
Splash Plays are key impact plays from the defense. Usually, they are obvious, but there are some that blur the line. I have listed time and play of each one for those who want to double check my work.
For more, read a detailed explanation of this study here: What is a Splash Play?
Oddly, one week after a season low 7 splashes in Baltimore, the Cowboys had 19 in Carolina. There were many occasions where Carolina was going to run their offense right into the teeth of the Cowboys front and see how Dallas responds. For the most part, Dallas responded very well and handled their
|1-15:00||1/10/O40||Lee||Tackle For Loss|
|3-11:04||1/10/O25||Ware||Tackle For Loss|
|3-10:11||3/13/O22||Carr||3rd Down Stop|
Up to date season standings - after 8 games, I will make sure we get a "per snap" ratio:
It was quite evident that the Cowboys were not going to bring any pressure to Cam Newton. Conventional wisdom is that you must keep him in front of you, and therefore it was a different type of "pressure" strategy. You could see the edge rushers not going all out to get to the QB, but rather to keep contain and to not let Newton out into the open field.
Here are the 6 Carolina explosives - which is a troublesome number - none of them coming because of blitzes.
|2-10:08||3/8/C46||Newton Scrambles, +24||4|
|2-8:59||2/7/D27||Newton Keeper, +20||--|
|2-2:00||1/10/B50||Newton to Lafell, +32||4|
|4-13:36||2/1/C34||Stewart Up Middle, +20||--|
|4-12:46||2/9/D45||Newton to Murphy, +26||4|
|4-0:49||2/1/C34||Newton to Smith, +26||4|
|1-10:18||2/9/D38||Newton Sacked by Ware and Hatcher||4|
|2-7:38||2/G/7||Newton Intercepted by Claiborne||5|
|4-0:24||3/10/C46||Newton Sacked by Spencer||4|
Here is how Rob Ryan deployed pass rushers, separated by down. In 30 of the 39 situations, the Cowboys rushed 4 or less. Careful, and keeping contain on their most dangerous weapon.
Pass Rushers Against Carolina - 39 pass rush/blitz situations:
|Pass Rushers||1st D||2nd D||3rd D||4th D||Total|
The game by game pressure numbers:
Wk 1 - NYG: 11/37 - 30%
Wk 2 - SEA: 10/26 - 38%
Wk 3 - TB: 12/32 - 37%
Wk 4 - CHI: 12/27 - 44%
Wk 5 - BAL: 10/27 - 37%
Wk 6 - CAR: 9/39 - 23%
Wk 6 - CAR: 9/39 - 23%
Totals: 64/198 - 32%
Overall, great work, and the big kill shot in the end by Spencer was a rare game-saving play. There was only one similar play in all of 2011 - where a defensive play sealed a win - also by Spencer against Washington last September.
Now, a big test arrives. The man who tortures Dallas defenses, Eli Manning is coming to town.