You don’t have to have a good defense to make a playoff push, as we’ve seen on plenty of occasions.
Of the nine teams currently leading or tied for the lead of a division through 10 weeks, just four are in the top 10 defenses in yards allowed per game.
You also don’t need to have a fantastic offense – presumably if your defense can pick up the slack. Of those same nine teams: again, only four boast top 10 offenses in yards totaled per game.
This is stating the obvious, but the catch is that you need to have one or the other. Whether you’re shutting down other teams or outscoring them, one half of your team generally needs to have itself figured out to have a chance of success.
Unless you’re the Cowboys, at least.
Thanks to division tiebreakers, the Cowboys still sit atop the NFC East, although they do share the same record as Philadelphia. That first place standing comes despite the fact that they are the only team among the nine listed above – Dallas, Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans, Seattle, Kansas City, Indianapolis, New England and Cincinnati – that doesn’t boast either an offense or defense ranked in the first half of the league.
The Saints 625-yard outing on Sunday night was sure to keep the Cowboys’ defense in the basement at 32nd in the league – that much was obvious. But the 193 total yards thrown on the board by the offense doesn’t help matters either, as the Cowboys have now slipped to No. 19 in the NFL and third of four teams in the division in offensive yards per game.
The Eagles, whose defense is just as atrocious as the Cowboys’, boast the No. 4 offense in the league. The Redskins sit at No. 5 in total offense, despite a secondary that has helped them fall all the way to 27th in team defense.
When I began looking up the stats, I figured the Giants, who started the season 0-6, would beat out the Cowboys in terms of struggles. But no – New York has fought back to rank No. 12 in total defense this year.
That puts Dallas in rare territory: the only team in a division of flawed teams, and the only team leading a division chase to have neither an offense nor a defense in the top half of the league.
Obviously, the Cowboys’ success with takeaways offsets some of that. They lead the league in turnover differential at plus-11, which is three better than Chicago and Carolina. That’s great – especially since Philadelphia, Washington and New York sit at plus-two, zero and minus-13, respectively.
The NFC’s leader in turnover differential has made the playoffs in six of the past seven years. The lone exceptions were last year’s Bears, who missed a wildcard spot by a razor thin margin.
Taking the ball away doesn’t necessarily bode well if you aren’t moving it, though. The Cowboys’ 0-for-9 performance on third down against the Saints dropped them to No. 30 in the league in third down conversions – 32.8 percent.
That’s 10 spots worse than New York’s anemic offense and well below Washington, sitting all the way up at No. 4 with a 46 percent success rate.
And yet, the Cowboys still sit on top of the division. So maybe it’s right to avoid the panic button for now.
This team is maintaining success in a few crucial areas, but the downward trend in a few spots has to be concerning.