At this point in the season, the schedule is the single best explanation for why some teams look really good that probably shouldn’t, and some look bad that should. Long time football fans know we don’t know anything yet. The Chiefs look like a pretty solid team after ripping off their third straight win (and beating their win total from last season in week three), but the question marks around each team they've beaten mean their value as a measuring stick for the Cowboys is still low.
We know something about their weaknesses, though. On both sides of the ball. One’s easy to figure out, one not so much.
The problems with the Cowboys defense are obvious! The secondary is a rank piece of cheese and the safeties are awful. It’s not good news, but it’s clear and it’s intelligible and potentially fixable, if Kiffin and the ‘Boys start getting more in sync with each other, and if they haven’t made a terrible mistake in scheme and coordinator.
On the other hand, the offense is a little bit less clear. I mean, I think I know what the problem is, and it’s the fact that the Cowboys A) convert basically zero big plays and B) are supremely unable to string 6 or 7 first downs together. So they can’t have long drives. And I can prove it!
Of the Cowboys’ four scoring drives against the Chiefs, the Cowboys lone touchdown featured a 50-yard pass. The other three drives featured three FGs totaling 134 yards.
Against the Giants, the Cowboys scoring drives were a 4 play, 3 yard drive resulting in a field goal off an interception; a 10 play, 38 yard TD drive off an interception; a 2 play, 16 yard TD drive off a fumbled punt; and one, one 71 yard touchdown drive, featuring a 21 yard pass. It also included three field goals totaling 113 yards in length. You strip away the score and it turns out that there was a 71 yard drive for a touchdown, a 60 yard drive resulting in a field goal, a 53 yard drive resulting in a field goal and no other drives totaling even more than 40 yards.
Meanwhile, the Giants, who took the L, after it was all said and done, had four 80+ yard drives and a 72-yarder.
Against the Chiefs, the ‘Boys never cleared 70 yards, cleared 50 only twice, and had 10 of 12 drives go for less than that. Meanwhile, even the Chiefs managed two drives of 75+. It shows up in the box score, too. Romo, whose career YPA is a robust 7.9 is sporting a 6.17 which puts him juuuust behind…. Chad Henne.
Let’s let that one sink in, eh?
Some will say this is a new problem, and to an extent it is, but do you want to know another crazy stat? The Cowboys have won or lost by 7 or fewer points in 12 of their last 14 contests. Which is impossible. You actually can’t be within a touchdown of as good as Brandon Weeden’s Browns and Drew Brees’ Saints, Eli Manning’s Giants and Josh Freeman’s Bucs.
So they’re staying close enough to everybody that a turnover, or more likely an offensive holding, can sink them. Against the Chiefs, both did. More Big Plays. If they can. If not, run the ball a bit, why not?
This weekend, your Cowboys will be playing the Pride of St. Louis, the Greatest Show on Turf 2: Electric Boogaloo. They’re not a great team, but neither are the Cowboys. And the problem for the Cowboys is that the Rams line up with their weaknesses pretty well.
They have a terrible running game and are throwing the ball well. So far, the Cowboys’ defense has been good against the run and awful against the throw (In fact, their 262.5 passing yards allowed per game has to take into account the fact that Alex Smith’s 223 yards is more than he threw in all but three games since the beginning of last season, and two of those were 226 and 232. In other words, it’s worse than it looks. Or rather, for anyone who’s been watching, it’s just as bad as it looks).
The Rams have been stout, defensively, against the run (6th, so far) and poor against the throw (27th). That’s goodish news, since the Cowboys offense is so pass heavy, but on the chance that the Cowboys’ problem is not enough runs, it might not be. The Cowboys’ run game hasn’t been as bad as everyone says it is (Murray’s 25 yards on 12 carries against the Chiefs didn’t impress anybody, but 86 on 20, against the Giants, is just fine), but if the Rams are really that good at covering it, it’ll be more Chiefs than Giants.
Which means they’ll have to do it in the air. And it had better go more than 6 yards, this time.
It should be an interesting game. Sam Bradford, in addition to having the worst player card I’ve ever seen, seems to be fulfilling his potential at last, averaging 300+ yards a game, and with a 5: 2 TD ratio. And he’s doing it to Tavon Austin, Austin Pettis, and Jared Cook, with no running game. He also hasn’t been sacked yet, which is something the Cowboys generally count on to take a little pressure off the rank cheese secondary.
But, while Bradford’s never looked better, Romo’s rarely looked worse (his ribs? Who knows?). A little regression to the mean and the Cowboys could come out of this one feeling a lot better. There’s not much question that Romo, Dez, Witten, Austin, and Murray is a more talented offensive group than Bradford, Richardson, Cook, Givens, whatever in general, anyway.
Just watch how far Romo’s throwing the ball. In my opinion, it’s the key to the game.