There’s no sport more context dependent than football, and no industry larger than the one that pretends it isn’t. It’s because there’s few businesses bigger than talking football. And there has to be something to talk about.
It’s not that other stats in other sports aren’t inflected by circumstance but if you’re wondering, for example, why Andrew Luck threw three interceptions last game, bringing him to 6 on the season, it’s because the Colts were down 35-0 when he threw his first one. You make riskier throws when you’re in that situation. It’s like counting a half-court heave in basketball as a missed shot, only it happens every possession.
“Good” teams that rely on passing have surprising losses to mediocre teams with good pass defenses. “Bad” teams with a running game look pretty good against awful pass defenses. When the Patriot’s lost their perfect season to the Giants in the Super Bowl it was shocking, sure, but it was made possible by the one thing that could have derailed that monster Patriot attack, which was that nobody got after the QB like that Giants pass rush.
The Cowboys would probably always have been better off, rather than working on getting more Tyler Eifert’s and Terrance Williams (love you, T-Will), spending the last half-decade accumulating a monster offensive line. Remember when Shaun Alexander rushed for nearly 2000 yards, in 2005? And then in 2006, All-Pro G Steve Hutchinson went to Minnesota? And Shaun Alexander went from 1880 yards to 896, to 716, to 24, to retired at the age of 31?
Meanwhile Chester Taylor, the Viking’s RB, went from 487 yards in 2005 to 1216 to 2006? He’d never break 1000 again. It’s not like part of it wasn’t about Shaun Alexander or Chester Taylor, it’s that nobody was talking about it like it wasn’t 95% them. Meanwhile, the Cowboys went from a team, with Brian Waters, that chewed up the Lions, the Broncos and the Redskins defenses pretty good to one without Waters that needed a fumble return and a two minute drill TD to outscore the Vikings with their 29th ranked passing defense.
It’s all about who you play. And when. And who you have healthy when you do. And it’s just barely a little more complex than that.
We still probably only know the basics of these Cowboys. Did you know that of the ten teams the Cowboys have played, 6 of them occupy the 26-31 spots in passing yards allowed, with the Cowboys holding down the 32nd spot? Did you know that the Boys have played 4 of the top 5 QBs, in terms of passing yards, this season, and 5 of the top 9 in QB rating?
So if the offense has frequently looked really good, is it because it’s decent, but they’ve played a lot of the worst defenses in the league? And if the defense has looked bad is it because…
Okay, that defense is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. But theoretically it wouldn’t be so bad against, say, the Vikings. And in fact, it wasn’t, though it wasn’t great either.
So here we are, 5-5, blank slate and a bunch of mediocre teams on the horizon. Did the Giants “get it together” after a terrible start? Or would the Cowboys, who could have lost that game to the G-Men pretty easily despite six turnovers, have had basically the same start if they’d played the Giants schedule, which, after Dallas, was Denver, Carolina, Kansas City, Philly, Chicago. Three teams Dallas has lost to, two it totally could, one it almost certainly would.
Then Oakland. Sure, they’re bad, but Terrelle Pryor is pretty good against bad defenses, which, of course, the Cowboys have.
Then it’s Chicago with Jay Cutler (maybe) back, Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers (maybe) back.
Then it’s Washington. Then it’s Philadelphia. It being the Cowboys, you can more or less bet money that one of those two games will decide the Cowboys’ season. But this is the point:
Even as the season goes on, a team is a moving target. The Cowboys without an o-line don’t magically stay the Cowboys they were when they had one. The Cowboys without Sean Lee, or Demarco Murray, or a healthy Dez or Jason Hatcher or a healthy DeMarcus Ware aren’t the Cowboys who beat up on Washington and Philly earlier this year.
It’s not because they’re good or bad, it’s because they’re good or bad this week, against this team.