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Spagnola: Ball Protection Can Solve Scoring Drought

Posted Oct 12, 2012

IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys offense has been bad.

         Howwwwww baaadddd has it been?

         Well, since you asked, and thank you very much, nearly unprecedentedly bad if history becomes our barometer since the start of the 2003 season when the Cowboys finally washed away the remnants of those three consecutive 5-10 campaigns when everything was just gosh awful.

         So here is all you need to know about this offense with the 2-2 Cowboys heading to Baltimore for Sunday’s noon kick against the 4-1, homebody Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium:

While the Cowboys currently rank 30th in the NFL with a modest 16.25 scoring average after four games – only Philly (16.0) and Jacksonville (13.0) are worse – and even that thanks to the relative 24-point scoring explosion in the season opener against the Giants, they have scored just 7, 16 and 18 points in the past three games.

         No surprise, they went 1-2.

         Total those points up, and you have an anemic 13.7 scoring average in the past three games.

         This then caused me to wonder this since offense certainly has been the Cowboys calling card these past five seasons, ever since 2007 when Tony Romo became the fulltime starting quarterback and Jason Garrett became the offensive coordinator and then fulltime head coach in 2011:

When might have been the last time the Cowboys went three consecutive games scoring no more than 18 points? Heck, we might even want to put an asterisk on those 18 they scored in the 34-18 beat down by the Chicago Bears since the final eight came in mop-up time when the Bears were more than willing to passively play defense while the Cowboys ate up the remainder of the clock driving down field.

Now, not one to bring up bad memories, but I had to go back to the 2008 season to find at least three consecutive games in which the Cowboys failed score at least 18 points, and that year they actually went four straight scoring no more than 14 points. If you remember, Romo missed the first three games of that forgettable streak with a broken pinkie on his throwing hand and then gutted through the fourth one when he returned for a victory to even the Cowboys’ record at 2-2 during those games.

And the starter in the first three of that four-game, sub-18-point streak was … Brad Johnson, going an unsurprising 1-2. Those pitiful performances effectively ended his NFL career, the Cowboys signing Jon Kitna in the ensuing offseason as their backup quarterback. Worse, the Cowboys finished that year 9-7, missing the playoffs by one game, with one of those loses during the four-game streak to the Rams, dude.

Yeah, remember?

So from a perspective standpoint, that gives you an idea of how poorly the Cowboys have functioned offensively these past three games.

But even worse, on top of that? The only other such scoring brownout goes back to the 6-10 season of 2004, when Vinny Testaverde went from veteran backup heading into training camp to a 40-year-old emergency starter after the Cowboys got fed up with Quincy Carter’s immaturity (nice way to put it, right?) a couple of weeks into camp and released him.

In games 13-15 of that season, the Cowboys scored 13, 10 and 13 points, somehow only going 1-2 thanks to beating the Redskins, 13-10, in Game 15. And go figure since this streak came on the heels of that memorable 43-39 come-from-way-behind victory at Seattle.

So for total perspective, the Dallas Cowboys, from the start of the 2003 season through the opener of the 2012 season – a grand total of 146 games – have posted only two streaks of scoring no more than 18 points in at least three consecutive games.

Until now.

Must be some kind of NFL joke, since now they have to play those big, bad Baltimore Ravens at their place, and even though this Ravens defense no longer seems other-worldly, currently ranked 24th in the NFL, they have won 13 consecutive games at home and 21 of the past 22 – the one loss a three-pointer to Pittsburgh in Game 12 of the 2010 season.

Hey defense, front and center. Allow the Ravens to reach that 27.7 scoring average they’ve posted during this 13-game home winning streak and chances are, with this struggling offense, the Cowboys will come limping home 2-3 and having to go to Carolina the very next Sunday before entertaining the New York Giants the following week, a team yet to lose at Cowboys Stadium.

Right, Rob Ryan?

“I don’t know. I’ve been through some struggles, especially as a coordinator during my coaching career in this league, and the Cowboys offense isn’t struggling,” Ryan maintained. “You go out there and coach in Oakland every day or Cleveland, you can’t get a first down. That’s struggling.

“We are right on point, we’re moving the football up on down on people, but we’ve had a couple of turnovers. I’ve been in different rooms where it’s all on the defense or you’re in trouble, and if you’re great you’re still in trouble, so that’s not a deal for us at all, not here in Dallas.”

Well!

But, you know what? There is something to Ryan’s logic. Check this out:

While the Cowboys might very well be the 30th-ranked scoring offense, they are 16th overall when it comes to average yards per game (364.0). They are seventh in passing yards and 17th in third-down efficiency. Nothing much to write home about when you consider they are 29th in average rushing yards per game (67.8, yuck), but not just utterly impotent.

Sure, Ryan is not one to run down his own guys, but to a certain extent he does have a point when he drops the word turnovers on you. Whoa, boy. The Cowboys have 11 of those rascals, averaging then nearly three a game. They have only four takeaways, averaging one a game. That’s like an average of minus-2 turnover differential every game so far. Shoot, the Cowboys, with a number like that, are probably fortunate to even be 2-2.

Let’s compare with Baltimore. The Cowboys have a minus-7 turnover differential, which by the way ranks them tied for 30th with Philly. Only Kansas City (minus-15) is worse.

As an aside, how about these corollaries?

Now which team is right behind the Cowboys in 31st place when it came to average points per game? That’s right, Philadelphia. Hmmmm.

And did not Kansas City gain more yards last Sunday (338) than Baltimore (298), yet lost at home 9-6? Main reason, the Chiefs had four turnovers, the Ravens two. Can I get another hmmmm.

Like how many times have you heard Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett say, “Protect the football, that’s Line 1 in the National Football League.” There is a whole lot to that first line.

OK, back to comparing the Cowboys to Baltimore. The Ravens might only have the 24th-ranked defense in the league when it comes to average yards per game, but they are sixth in turnover differential at plus-6, mainly thanks to ranking fourth with 12 takeaways.

Oh boy, there are some colliding numbers, the Cowboys’ giveaways and the Ravens’ takeaways. And if that’s not enough to worry about, get this:

During the Ravens’ 13-game home winning streak we’ve been talking about, just guess what their turnover differential is?

Try plus-13.

All enough to make your head swim.

So if Ryan is right, the decisive moral for Sunday’s outcome will be, at least for the Cowboys, Scotchgard protection of the ball.

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