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3 & Out

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3 & Out: 31 Reasons Why The Defense Looks Special


FRISCO, Texas – Back with three quick topics as the Cowboys (10-4) continue climbing toward a possible No. 1 seed with three regular-season games left.

  • The '30 Club'
  • Progress On Offense?
  • 'Mac' Attack

I Know…
30 takeaways on defense doesn't guarantee playoff success, but it's a pretty good barometer based on past seasons.

The Cowboys and Colts are tied for the league lead in takeaways (31). They're the first teams to crack 30 this season. The Patriots (27), Bills (27), Bucs (25) and Chiefs (25) aren't far behind.

Common thread: All of the above would make the playoffs if they started today.

Because I'm a remarkably diligent reporter -- or a guy with way too much time on his hands -- I tallied up the number of teams who have reached 30 takeaways since 2000. (2020 is excluded because no team reached the 30 Club.)

The answer was 140 teams. Of those, 100 made the playoffs. That's a 71.4% batting average. Not bad.

This stuck out more. In 15 of 20 seasons from 2000-19, at least one team with 30-plus takeaways has made the Super Bowl. Ten teams won the title, including Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy's Packers squad in 2010 and the 2013 Seahawks, whose defense was directed by Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

The breakdown:

  • 2018: Rams (30) made Super Bowl
  • 2017: Eagles (31) won Super Bowl
  • 2015: Panthers (39) made Super Bowl
  • 2013: Seahawks (39) won Super Bowl
  • 2011: Giants (31), Patriots (34) made Super Bowl
  • 2010: Packers (32), Steelers (35) made Super Bowl
  • 2009: Saints (39) won Super Bowl
  • 2008: Cardinals (30) made Super Bowl
  • 2007: Patriots (31) made Super Bowl
  • 2006: Bears (44) made Super Bowl
  • 2005: Steelers (30) won Super Bowl
  • 2004: Patriots (36) won Super Bowl
  • 2003: Patriots (41) won Super Bowl
  • 2002: Bucs (38), Raiders (31) made Super Bowl
  • 2001: Patriots (35), Rams (34) made Super Bowl
  • 2000: Ravens (49), Giants (31) made Super Bowl

Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean the Cowboys are destined for LA in early February. The 2014 Cowboys reached the 30 Club and came within a Dez Catch of the NFC Title game. Conversely, the 2002 Cowboys had 30 takeaways and promptly won five games.

Stability at quarterback is the big variable in this little exercise. You need a defense that can give the offense extra possessions, and you need a quarterback who can turn those possessions into points.

The 2021 Cowboys have a quarterback -- Dak Prescott -- more than capable of doing that, despite the offense's recent dip in production.

So, the 30 Club is significant, especially if the defense can carry this momentum into January.

I Think…
the Cowboys had the right approach offensively against the Giants, even though the final stat line wasn't eye-popping.

For only the second time this season, Prescott didn't have a completion over 20 yards. (The other game: the road loss to the Chiefs.) The biggest reason wasn't lack of execution -- it was the Giants' shell coverage forcing more throws underneath and over the middle.

"I think it's a little bit of a trend across the league," offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. "Sometimes it's to make you go the long way, and you've got to be willing to do that and then at the same time still aggressively, when you do get the opportunity, take them."

With fewer defenders in the box, the Cowboys' running game showed more signs of improvement with 125 yards, led by Tony Pollard's 6.2 yards per carry. And for the most part, Prescott showed good patience taking the easy completions between the hashmarks.

When teams play that way, though, big-play opportunities come at a premium. That's when drops are magnified. CeeDee Lamb blamed himself for three drops. One in particular -- a throw

Prescott threaded between zone coverage in the third quarter -- would have gone for at least 20 yards. Same with Prescott's deep throw to Michael Gallup that legitimately got swallowed up by the wind, according to those on the sideline.

Overall, it was a more efficient performance for Prescott and the offense. The red zone continues to be a challenge, though: 2-of-5 against the Giants and now 3-of-11 the last two games.

I Have No Idea…
how much "Mac" package we'll see moving forward, but Connor McGovern had a noticeable impact on the run game in just 10 snaps.

One play after Ezekiel Elliott got dropped for a 1-yard loss, McGovern entered the game at fullback. Elliott's next run went for seven yards. Two other big gains happened with McGovern in the backfield: a 17-yard run by Pollard at the start of the second quarter and a 10-yard run by Elliott, pushed forward a few extra yards by McGovern and a convoy of teammates.

"I thought what McGovern brings to the backfield is really special and he does a good job of it," Moore said.

The switch back to Connor Williams at left guard looks like a win/win. McGovern, the previous four-game starter, is clearly effective as a lead blocker, and Williams' ability to pull and block in space was noticeable against New York.

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