Shifts are a statistic that depends on luck. It doesn’t matter how far your corner back can cover the opposing receivers or how hard you hit your quarterbacks. Most of the time, transitions are nothing more than being in the right place at the right time or a series of lucky events falling on your lap. In 2021, the Dallas Cowboys’ defense benefited greatly from the number of turnovers they were forced into.
The Cowboys led the league in both interceptions (26) and total spins (34). They have also been linked to the NFL’s lead in the turnover rate difference (+14). That’s awesome! Most of the time, teams near the top of the differential leaderboards tend to see continued success from season to season. Whether it’s because of a midfielder with an uncanny ability to take care of football, or a stifling defense with great ball awareness, teams that top the leaderboard tend to do well the following season.
In 2020, the Titans were at the top in that category. They were AFC players. 1 seed last year. In 2019, it was the Patriots. They’re an exception, because, you know, they lost a rather important person the next season. In 2018, it was the Seahawks who were great in 2019, one of the best teams in the league, but unfortunately they were in the same division as the ultimate NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. You found the idea. But this Cowboys team is different, and I’m not saying this because of Amary Cooper’s loss and Michael Gallup’s injury. These are negligible losses in terms of business turnover teams. The problem is that unlike all those other teams, the Cowboys’ success came from transformations.
In 2021, Dallas led the league in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by an astonishing turnover of -166.9908. This is the ninth largest number over the past 10 years, and it is unsustainable.
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 He was the last person to do so when he scored seven interceptions in 2016 and then four interceptions in 2017, but not since then, and this was three times lower than the year before.
Of course, holes in the secondary can be patched up with an improved pass dash. While the Cowboys already have an effective passing dash, ranking fourth in pressing average and seventh in rushing average in 2021, they haven’t done much to improve this division this season. Sure, they used a second-round pick on the edge of Mississippi Sam Williams, but he’s still behind Dorance Armstrong on the Cowboys’ depth chart, and I don’t see that changing in the near future. Basically, the Cowboys are bringing roughly the same defensive unit onto the field this year, and after a year of film on the team, it’s only natural to expect a dip in the passing rushing department now that Micah Parsons can be split into movie rooms.
That’s not me saying Parsons won’t be an elite next year. That would be ridiculous, but we shouldn’t expect the same incredible numbers he put up in the junior season. Not to mention the departure of Randy Gregory and the publication of a file 84.4 Passing the Impulse Score From last year’s PFF.
I know I’m not taking the bold step of predicting that the Cowboys aren’t going to be good this year, so I’m going one step further. The Cowboys will be nowhere to be as good as the Philadelphia Eagles in 2022, and the Eagles will conclude the division by week 14. This is my expectation, and I abide by it.