The Dallas Cowboys entered Week 4 as home favorites against the Cleveland Browns. While concerns on defense surrounded the Cowboys after a 1-2 start, the Browns seemed like the perfect team to face to get to a .500 record. As you know, that wasn’t the case.
By now, you’ve probably read and heard how bad the Cowboys’ defense is playing. It’s gotten to the point where saying Dallas has the worst defense in the NFL is valid. The Browns lost starting running back Nick Chubb but that wasn’t a problem for Cleveland. D’Ernest Johnson and Kareem Hunt split snaps at RB while averaging 7.3 and 6.5 yards per carry respectively. Chubb averaged 7.2 before being ruled out.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield passed for 165 yards on 30 attempts yet the Browns put up 49 points on the board.
There’s no questioning that the Dallas Cowboys’ defense is playing terrible football. Coaches are telling fans on the radio and press conferences that they don’t believe Jaylon Smith is playing poorly, that the changing of schemes under Mike Nolan has been complex, that DeMarcus Lawrence is playing injured and so on, and so on.
But the fact of the matter is they’re playing bad on defense. Players are doing a terrible job tackling, pursuing, covering, rushing the passer… it’s bad all around. Just look at Odell Beckham’s touchdown that put the game to bed. Try to spot one single Cowboys’ defender doing a good job. You could make the case for Aldon Smith who has been balling since Week 1 but other than that…
Aldon Smith is the least of my worries here. He at least rerouted Beckham to give his mates more time. About those mates? ummmmmmmm guys? pic.twitter.com/Z8cPzYjrp6— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) October 5, 2020
But as I stated earlier, no one is questioning how bad this unit is. But let’s not underestimate how the Cowboys offense has hurt this team so far. Don’t get wrong, it’s a great unit. They’re close to being an elite offense in the NFL. But we can’t ignore the turnovers.
Dak Prescott is passing the ball at an unbelievable level while Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup have stepped up in key moments. They’ve been able to put up points consistently as they’ve only scored less than 31 points on one out of their first four games.
The problem? They’ve put up numbers for opposing teams as well. The Cowboys are last in the NFL when it comes to turnover differential at -7. Although that means the defense isn’t taking the ball away from opponents, the Cowboys offense is tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for the most giveaways in the league (9).
Even star running back Ezekiel Elliott is struggling immensely in this department. Take a look at this stat shared by The Athletic’s Bob Sturm:
“He is putting the ball on the ground at a pace that is just absurd in 2020. In 2019, he fumbled once every 118 touches. In 2020? Once every 31.”
Specifically versus the Browns, turnovers played a huge role in ruining the game. The Cowboys and Browns were engaged in a shootout while tied at 14 early in the second quarter. The Cowboys scored their first seven points on a five-play, 88-yard touchdown drive. The next drive they scored another touchdown after marching down the field for another 84 yards.
What happened next?
With 11:23 left in the second quarter, Myles Garrett destroyed undrafted rookie Terence Steele for a strip-sack. The Browns’ offense took over from the Cowboys’ 34-yard line and scored a TD four plays later. 21-14, Cleveland.
In the next drive’s opening play, Elliott fumbled on the first play, adding another turnover against the Cowboys. A few plays later, 28-14, Cleveland. What was a close shootout became a 14-point deficit after the Cowboys gave the ball away on back to back drives.
Sure, the Cowboys’ defense is bad, but if the offense keeps giving the ball away, how can they win ballgames?
There’s not much else to ask from Kellen Moore’s unit. When they avoid turnovers, they play at a very high level. Dak Prescott is putting up insane numbers, which are also boosted since they’re passing the ball so much because they’ve been behind on the scoreboard all year long.
The offense is so close to being elite that down the road allowing 30 points per game shouldn’t be the end of the world. Dak Prescott & Co. should be able to outscore opponents consistently. But turnovers are a big problem for the Dallas Cowboys, and it’s time we address it.
Featured image via Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports