Turnovers are a fairly luck-dependent stat. It doesn’t matter how nice your cornerbacks can cowl opposing receivers or how onerous your center linebackers can hit. More often than not, turnovers are nothing greater than being in the proper place on the proper time or having a collection of lucky occasions fall into your lap. In 2021, the Dallas Cowboys’ protection benefitted massively from the variety of turnovers they pressured.
The Cowboys led the league in each interceptions (26) and complete turnovers (34). They have been additionally tied for the NFL lead in turnover differential (+14). That’s nice! More often than not, groups close to the highest of the turnover differential leaderboards are inclined to see continued success from season to season. Whether or not it’s due to a quarterback with an uncanny capacity to handle the soccer, or due to a suffocating protection with nice ball consciousness, groups that top up the leaderboards are inclined to do properly the next season.
In 2020, the Titans led in that class. They have been the AFC’s No. 1 seed final 12 months. In 2019, it was the Patriots. They’re an exception, as a result of, y’know, they misplaced somebody sort of vital the next season. In 2018, it was the Seahawks who have been nice in 2019, among the finest groups within the league, however sadly have been in the identical division because the eventual NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. You get the thought. This Cowboys staff is completely different although, and I’m not saying this due to the lack of Amari Cooper and the damage to Michael Gallup. These are minuscule losses when it comes to turnover differential. The problem is that not like all these different groups, the Cowboys’ success got here from turnovers.
In 2021, Dallas led the league in EPA from turnovers at an astonishing -166.9908. That’s the ninth-most previously 10 years, and it’s unsustainable.
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Over the previous eight years, solely six groups to rank within the top-3 for yearly EPA off turnovers wound up beating their complete EPA/play the next 12 months, and solely 4 already had a unfavourable defensive EPA/play to start with. Of the 18 that bought worse, solely eight regressed by fewer than 0.05 factors per play. Perhaps the Cowboys may break that mould, however I wouldn’t guess in opposition to these odds.
Principally, the Cowboys must depend on getting all these interceptions once more to be able to be as stable a defensive staff as they have been final 12 months. Given the volatility of their cornerbacks, which has been well-documented, it’s onerous to think about the same defensive EPA in any respect if their turnovers are halved, which is considerably possible. Since 2017, there hasn’t been a single participant to guide the NFL in interceptions and report greater than half of their complete the next 12 months. The Chargers’ Casey Hayward was the final individual to take action when he recorded seven interceptions in 2016 after which 4 in 2017, however none since, and that was nonetheless three INTs fewer than the earlier 12 months.
After all, the holes within the secondary could possibly be patched up with an improved cross rush. Whereas the Cowboys have already got an efficient cross rush, ending fourth in stress price and seventh in hurry price in 2021, they didn’t do a lot to enhance in that division this offseason. Certain, they used a second-round decide on Mississippi edge Sam Williams, however he’s nonetheless behind Dorance Armstrong on the Cowboys’ depth chart, and I don’t see that altering within the close to future. Principally, the Cowboys are bringing virtually the identical defensive unit to the sector this 12 months, and after a 12 months of movie on the staff, it’s solely pure to count on regression within the cross rush division now that Micah Parsons will be damaged down in movie rooms.
That’s not me saying Parsons received’t be elite subsequent 12 months. That might be ridiculous, however we shouldn’t count on the identical unimaginable numbers he put up in his rookie season. To not point out, Randy Gregory is gone, and he posted an 84.4 pass rush grade from PFF final 12 months.
I do know I’m not making a daring take by predicting that the Cowboys received’t be nearly as good this 12 months, so I’ll take it a step additional. The Cowboys won’t be wherever nearly as good because the Philadelphia Eagles in 2022, and the Eagles may have the division wrapped up by Week 14. That’s my prediction, and I’m sticking to it.