CHFF's Naughty Nurse: Dallas shows signs of life
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 05, 2011
By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts theoretical physicist
We like to mull over the thought of alternate universes here at Cold, Hard Football Facts, usually after a couple shots of absinthe.
For example, there must have been a few alternate takes on the present reality where the 2010 Cowboys fulfilled their owner's dream and won the Super Bowl in the Jerry Dome itself. All in all, that was a more likely scenario than the one which actually unfolded. The Cowboys got out to a 1-5 start, mostly on the strength of strange bounces, then lost Tony Romo for the season, forgot how to play defense ... and then, by season's end, looked a lot like the team they were supposed to be in the first place.
Six wins represented the lowest possible number for a team good on paper at so many levels. But, just as Darth Vader's Death Star was vulnerable to that one great shot, so were Darth Jerry's Cowboys – and their weakness was on the sidelines.
Can Jason Garrett get the Cowboys back to using The Force in 2011?
The 2010 storyline: With the world largely enjoying the sight of America's Team struggling, the Cowboys imploded under Wade Phillips (1-7) and got back on track under Jason Garrett (5-3). All in all, it felt more like an aberration than a trend.
The Vital Signs
2010 record: 6-10 (24.6 PPG – 27.2 PPG)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 3-5 (25.1 – 30.1)
Last five seasons overall: 48-32 (.600)
Best Quality Stat in 2010: Passing YPA (7th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2010: Bendability (32nd)
Passing YPA: 7th
Defensive Passing YPA: 28th (new Quality Stat for 2011)
Quarterback Rating: 13th (new Quality Stat for 2011)
Defensive Quarterback Rating: 28th (new Quality Stat for 2011)
Offensive Passer Rating: 12th (breaking it out as a stand-alone Quality Stat in 2011)
Defensive Passer Rating: 29th
Offensive Hog Index: 12th
Defensive Hog Index: 17th
Relativity Index: 20th (once-proud Quality Stat being reintroduced for 2011)
Statistical curiosity of 2010
The Cowboys played half of their games against Quality Opponents, and had the same level of success as they did vs. the also-rans – 3-5 vs. Quality Opponents, 3-5 vs. non-Quality Opponents.
Best game of 2010
33-20 win at N.Y. Giants (Week 10). The Cowboys kicked off the Jason Garrett Era with a division road win against the Giants that ended a ruinous five-game skid. The Cowboys allowed 480 yards of offense so it wasn't exactly a masterpiece. But it did right the ship for the second half of the season. With that said, Dallas might have played its best all-around game in Week 6 at Minnesota, outgaining the Vikings 314-188. But the Cowboys managed to come away with a 24-21 loss marred by poor special teams – a fitting piece of the puzzling 2010 season for Dallas.
Worst game of 2010
45-7 loss at Green Bay (Week 9). A no brainer. This game was one of the worst losses in any Dallas season in recent memory and the official end of the Wade Phillips era. The Cowboys lost the turnover battle 4-0 and the total offense battle 415-205, while surrendering 28 straight points in the second quarter alone. It was so bad that Phillips actually came out as a mildly sympathetic character – for his team to lay such a huge egg with the coach's job on the line was pretty sad.
Jason Witten. There might not be a more underrated player in the NFL than Witten. Even though he gets plenty of recognition from his peers and the fans (seven straight Pro Bowls), when great tight ends of this era are brought up it's Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates first, then Witten.
But Witten's a true all-around tight end, one that takes blocking as seriously as catching passes, and his impact was felt on the Cowboys' two strengths in 2010 – the passing game (7th in YPA) and the Offensive Hogs (12th).
Witten was the only tight end in the top 20 overall in receiving first downs (49), and he was particularly valuable when Jon Kitna had to step in for Romo. Kitna was less than impressive in his last stint with Detroit, but had a passer rating just under 90 (88.9) thanks in large part to Witten – 62 catches and seven touchdowns in the 10 games Kitna started.
Secondary, secondary and secondary. Like the Houston Texans found out, you can't win in the NFL with a terrible pass defense. Not only did the pass D finish 28th in Defensive Passing YPA and 29th in Defensive Passer Rating, but it contributed heavily to a No. 32 rank in Bendability. Dallas allowed 33 touchdown passes, second-most in the league, and in the red zone they allowed 35 touchdowns, also second-most in the league.
While some of this can usually be chalked up to poor coverage by the linebackers as well, that wasn't really the case for the 2010 Cowboys – the underachieving corners and safeties contributed overwhelmingly to Jerry Jones' nightmare.
General off-season strategy/overview
The Cowboys need to at least replace half of their secondary this offseason, and with veterans if at all possible. They have more money spent toward some to-be-determined salary cap in 2011 than any other team, but there are also only a handful of free agents hitting the market.
They'll have a good base to work with at almost every group on the field, and can really attack the problems in the secondary in the draft and look for veteran bargains.
CB Mike Jenkins had a poor season in 2010. But he flashed Pro Bowl potential in 2009 and is probably the closest thing to a building block in the secondary. Dallas showed in 2009 that it could at least be average in the secondary (16th in Defensive Passer Rating), and needs to get back to that level.
Other than the issues in the defensive backfield, this could be a Super Bowl-caliber team. No team can boast a better fivesome in the passing game than Tony Romo-Jason Witten-Miles Austin-Roy Williams-Dez Bryant, although the chances of all of them being on at the same time seem slim.
The offense is going to be dynamic. Will the defense join the party?
Totally premature 2011 diagnosis
As much as the Cowboys looked better with Garrett as the head coach in 2010, the fact is that the team underachieved on defense badly. How can you have a great all-around threat like DeMarcus Ware anchoring your front seven and still be as bad as they were (No. 17 on the Defensive Hog Index)?
The hiring of Rob Ryan was a really good one, and if he can do for this team what he did for a talent-slim Browns team, the Cowboys will be tough. Clearly, 2010 was a worst-case scenario, and if the breaks even out in 2011, Dallas might finally live up to the annual hype that surrounds Jerry Jones' club. Ten wins is a low ceiling.
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