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Have the Cowboys already Peaked?

Cowboys at Redskins 9/18/16

The Dallas Cowboys sit atop the NFC, and really all of football for that matter, with a record of ten wins and only one loss. “America’s Team” has been heralded by pregame shows, journalist, and anyone that pays any attention to the NFL, yet even with their star rookie quarterback and running back, their greatness and Super Bowl fortune is being blown out of proportion.

The Cowboys have had the easiest strength of schedule in the entire league thus far, and their oppositions’ records combine to only a .404 win percentage. Their ten wins have included victories over the lowly Bears, Browns, Bengals, Packers and 49ers. Credit where it is due, they have handled some of the worse teams in football very well, but when it has come to some stiffer competition, the games get much closer. In the five games against the teams mentioned above the Cowboys have a +74 point margin, but in their other five wins, against much more respectable teams, the Eagles, the Redskins twice, the Ravens, and the Steelers, they only have a +27 point margin. This is excluding the loss to the Giants which would bring their point margin against respectable teams down to a +26 margin. Point being, while the Cowboys have beat up on many subpar teams, the games get much closer against respectable teams still in the playoff hunt.

Take the Steelers game for example. The Steelers seem to be a team that no one can predict from week to week, but have played some great football against Dallas, and appeared to be on their way to a victory with 42 seconds left. The Cowboys pulled off a miracle and escaped a loss, yet it did show that they are not the perfect team they are made out to be. It’s also interesting to note that none of their wins came against an opponent with a win percentage higher than 60 percent. The lost to the only team with a win percentage higher than 60 percent, the Giants. Not only have the Cowboys beaten up on teams not in the playoff picture, the teams they have beat in the playoff hunt, are borderline or Wild Card teams at best. The Cowboys are not a superpower that no one can dethrone, as they might not even be the best team in their own division.

It is established that the Cowboys have not played the greatest competition so far, but there is a strong chance they will make the playoffs and be one of the top seeds. Anything can happen once a team reaches the playoffs, but the Cowboys are in some trouble with a rookie quarterback at the helm of their attack. History can be broken, but it often stands pretty strong. No rookie quarterback has ever won, or even been, to a Super Bowl as his team’s active starter. This is not great news for the Cowboys, and it is evident where they could run into some problems. In the playoffs, defense is utterly important. The Cowboys boast a mediocre defense, but rely on the arm and legs of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Without a dominating defense, yet playing against oppositions with great defenses, as those are the ones who seem to succeed in the playoffs, it is hard to imagine Dak could outgun a quarterback who will be facing the Cowboy’s mediocre defense. Below is a chart that features the yards per game against for the defenses of the 2006 Super Bowl winner through the 2015 Super Bowl winner, and also includes the Cowboy’s defense for comparison:

Year Team YDS/G Rank
2016 Cowboys 362.2 21
2015 Broncos 283.1 1
2014 Patriots 344.1 13
2013 Ravens 335.5 12
2012 Giants* 383.4 31
2011 Packers** 411.6 32
2010 Saints 306.3 4
2009 Steelers 305.3 5
2008 Giants 292 5
2007 Colts 279.7 3
2006 Steelers 300.3 9

*Interesting to note that while the Giants allowed the second most yards per game in the league, they were only 12th in the league in points per game allowed.

**Interesting to note that while the Packers allowed the most yards per game in the league, they were only 19th in the league in points per game allowed.

In this chart one can see that many Super Bowl winners have been some of the best in the league on the defensive side of the ball. This includes six out of the past ten Super Bowl winners being in the top ten in yards per game in their respective year. Even two out of the four teams, the 2014 Patriots and the 2013 Ravens, were just outside of the top ten in their Super Bowl winning year. On the other hand, the two outliers of this situation, the 2012 Giants and 2011 Packers, were led by future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers. Obviously, we do not currently know whether the Hall of Fame is in Prescott’s future. At 21st in the league the Cowboys’ defense does not stack up to other Super Bowl winning defenses, and do not have the scapegoat of a quarterback that is a lock for the Hall of Fame.

In comparison to all the other teams that have won a Super Bowl since 2006, the Cowboys have the most yards per game allowed when excluding the Giants and the Packers. This is definitely a concerning stat for a Cowboy supporter. In fact, the closest team to the Cowboys’ amount of yards allowed per game, besides the two outliers, is the Ravens who had 26.7 less yards per game allowed in their 2013 championship season.

As mentioned earlier, anything can happen in the playoffs; however, I do not see the Cowboys as one of the best teams in football that can contend for a Super Bowl championship. The pressure, by high caliber teams, that will be placed on Prescott and Elliott could lead to their demise. Right now the Cowboys are in the best placed possible for this season, but it will only go downhill from here. However, if the Cowboys can revive their defense and continue to grow on offense, this could be a Super Bowl contender for years to come. 

Ryan Green
Co-founder of First and Fan