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 correct place on the proper time or having a sequence 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 or not it’s due to a quarterback with an uncanny capacity to maintain the soccer, or due to a suffocating protection with nice ball consciousness, groups that prime 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 yr. In 2019, it was the Patriots. They’re an exception, as a result of, y’know, they misplaced somebody form of essential the next season. In 2018, it was the Seahawks who have been nice in 2019, top-of-the-line groups within the league, however sadly have been in the identical division because the eventual NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. You get the concept. This Cowboys group is completely different although, and I’m not saying this due to the lack of Amari Cooper and the harm to Michael Gallup. These are minuscule losses by way of 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 past eight years, only six teams to rank in the top-3 for yearly EPA off turnovers wound up beating their total EPA/play the following year, and only four already had a negative defensive EPA/play to begin with. Of the 18 that got worse, only eight regressed by fewer than 0.05 points per play. Maybe the Cowboys could break that mold, but I wouldn’t bet against those odds.
Basically, the Cowboys would have to rely on getting all those interceptions again in order to be as solid a defensive team as they were last year. Given the volatility of their cornerbacks, which has been well-documented, it’s hard to imagine a similar defensive EPA at all if their turnovers are halved, which is somewhat likely. Since 2017, there hasn’t been a single player to lead the NFL in interceptions and record more than half of their total the following year. 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 yr.
In fact, the holes within the secondary might be patched up with an improved cross rush. Whereas the Cowboys have already got an efficient cross rush, ending fourth in stress charge and seventh in hurry charge in 2021, they didn’t do a lot to enhance in that division this offseason. Positive, 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 sphere this yr, and after a yr of movie on the group, it’s solely pure to count on regression within the cross rush division now that Micah Parsons may be damaged down in movie rooms.
That’s not me saying Parsons received’t be elite subsequent yr. That will be ridiculous, however we shouldn’t count on the identical unbelievable numbers he put up in his rookie season. To not point out, Randy Gregory is gone, and he posted an 84.4 cross rush grade from PFF final yr.
I do know I’m not making a daring take by predicting that the Cowboys received’t be pretty much as good this yr, so I’ll take it a step additional. The Cowboys is not going to be wherever pretty much as good because the Philadelphia Eagles in 2022, and the Eagles could have the division wrapped up by Week 14. That’s my prediction, and I’m sticking to it.