Cowboys’ 2012 defensive season by the numbers

As we continue to examine 2012 as a primer for what needs
to be accomplished heading into training camp of 2013 and beyond, we should
follow up our
breakdown of the offensive numbers
with a thorough checkup of the
statistics that the defense was responsible for.

Clearly, this is less relevant when you consider the wholesale adjustments to
the defense moving forward.  They spent the offseason changing the
coaching staff and the scheme of the defense and asking much of their 3-4
personnel to now simply switch to the 4-3.  Most NFL experts would
argue that this is a very unwise endeavor as players are often identified as
one or the other on draft day and yet now the Cowboys are asking their entire
Front 7 on the defense – who were all drafted because they were tailor-made for
the 3-4 scheme to not only learn but perform at a high level on the 4-3.

Much of this is also mitigated by the fact that the Cowboys
did run a very multiple and versatile front with Rob Ryan in the last few years
and that they have very talented players who should work in any scheme, but
still, it is not a sure thing this will work when they have 6 of their
projected 7 starters as hold overs from the old scheme.  Only newcomer
Justin Durant, the projected SAM linebacker in Monte Kiffin’s scheme has every
played a snap in a 4-3.  That is a shocking reality of what the
Cowboys are about to try to do.

On the other hand,
what you are about to see are the statistics that the Cowboys defense has
amassed in 2012 with their old scheme.  Now remember, health had a ton
to do with another disappointing effort from the defense – so much so that the
firing of Rob Ryan doesn’t really seem fair based on 2012 performance – but,
make no mistake;  we should not be too bothered with the Cowboys
trying a new defensive strategy moving forward.

Trouble is, we know from experience that scheme doesn’t make the team.
 Players do.  Special ones.  And, honestly, I have
significant doubts that the Cowboys can be a special defense based on a scheme
that requires a team to get pressure with only the front 4 (The Tampa 2 seldom
blitzes) and is based on the cognitive skills of safeties to orchestrate the
entire secondary.  But, I will let the coaches sort through those
issues in a long camp and see where it goes.

In the meantime,
let’s try our best to sort through those 2012 numbers.  When we did
the offense, we found 5 great stats, 5 good stats, and 5 poor stats to analyze.
 Unfortunately, finding 5 great stats from the 2012 defense will not
be easy, so I am forced to relabel the categories.

Here we go:

5 Good to Great Stats from the Cowboys
Defense in 2012

Opponents Quick
Strike Drives:  Rated 9th in NFL with 28 drives of 4 plays or less.
 NFL Average was 41 drives and Playoff Teams averaged 31 drives where
points were scored in 4 plays or fewer.

3rd Down and
Long 10 yards+ Conversions: 4th best in NFL with 15.9%.  NFL Average =
20.6%, Playoff Average = 21%

Opponents rushing for 4+
yards:  42% was 7th in NFL.  NFL Average = 43.5%, Playoff
Average = 43.9%

Opponents rushes for 50 yards:
 Allowed 0 plays ranked 1st.  NFL Average = 1, Playoff
Average = 1

Opponents Drives Starting inside the 20:
 5th in NFL, 56.  NFL = 48, Playoffs = 48

As you can see, I am really scraping the bottom of our
barrel to find 5 stats where the Cowboys rank in the Top 10 in the league.
 And let’s be honest – none of them really seem to be a major category
of excellence.  Rather, they are subcomponents of larger categories.
 It is certainly good news that the Cowboys did not give up huge plays
very often, but they did give up tons of other things – long drives and big
time of possession ground and pounds.

You do have to
like that they made teams work hard for rushing yards and did not allow 4 yards
a lot relative to the league.  Also, it should be pointed out that the
5th stat I found – opponents’ drives starting deep in their own territory is
actually a stat that is reflective of strong special teams work – not defensive
excellence.

Overall, as you can see, there just
wasn’t much at all that this defense was really good at.  So, we
arrive back at the question of what is the argument for keeping the scheme and
the coaching staff the same?

5 League Average Stats from the Cowboys
Defense in 2012

Opponents Net
Passing Yards Per Game:  230, 19th in NFL.  NFL Average =
231, Playoff Teams Average = 230

Opponents Red Zone
Scoring:  54.5 TD%, 18th in the NFL.  NFL Average = 54.1,
Playoff Teams = 53.1

Explosive Plays (Plays of 20
yards or more): 67, 22nd in NFL.  NFL = 60, Playoffs = 60

Opponents First Downs:  317, 16th in the NFL.
 NFL Average = 318, Playoff Teams = 312

Opponents Time of Possession:  29:27 for 13th in NFL.  NFL
Average = 30:00, Playoff Teams 29:23

Here we see that
the squad did some things in line with the pack in the NFL.  They
weren’t killed with yardage through the air and did a reasonable enough job
with the clock and limiting the first downs.  However, 67 explosive
plays is at the low end of average and there just wasn’t enough meat here to
help when it mattered most.  They found themselves behind quite a bit
early in games and that actually might lead to some misleading numbers through
the air as well.  As you will see below, when QB’s wanted to move the
ball against the Cowboys, they didn’t struggle to do so.

5 Very Poor Stats from the Cowboys
Defense in 2012


Opponents Negative Plays (in yards):  Cowboys -295,
30th best in NFL.  NFL Average = -370, Playoff Teams -385

Takeaways:  16, which ranked 28th.  NFL
Average = 25, Playoffs = 27

Opponents Passer Rating:
 94.7, ranked 29th.  NFL Average = 85.6, Playoff Teams
Average = 81.8

10 Play Drives Allowed:  32, 28th.  NFL
Average = 27, Playoff teams = 28

Opponents Passer
Rating vs Blitz:  106.1, 29th.  NFL Average = 83.4, Playoff
Teams = 77.8

Holy Cow.

Look at those opponent’s passer rating numbers. So, first, just look at
all passes.  We have always talked about how 80 is the NFL average and
90+ is an elite QB.  As you can see, the Cowboys defense made their
entire schedule to be elite QBs.

Then, with the
blitz, they actually got even worse.  They somehow conceded a 106.1 QB
rating when they brought pressure.  They also did not turn the ball
over (again) and had fewer tackles for loss and sacks than almost anyone in the
league.  This is particularly depressing given the monster investment
in the cornerback position last offseason.

They just
didn’t make any plays on defense.  They didn’t take the ball away, nor
did they make the opponent lose yardage and set up longer plays.

They just didn’t do much defensively that you can sink your teeth
into.

Moving forward, we look to better health, a new
scheme, and better safety play (gulp) to improve upon things.  But,
looking at these numbers, you can see the reason some were scratching their
heads when the Cowboys did nothing to address the defense of note in the early
part of the draft or free agency.  These numbers are the argument for
Shariff Floyd or players like that could have added a playmaker to the front 4.

But, they elected to look elsewhere and we will see
if they end up regretting that.