Skip to main content

3 & Out

Presented by

3 & Out: The Truth About This 1-3 Start


FRISCO, Texas – Moving forward with three quick topics after a game that Cowboys Nation (and the Cowboys, too) would like to forget:

  • Turnovers
  • Run D
  • Garbage Time

I Know…
statistics can get bent and twisted into whatever narrative you want to push, but this one is the hard truth.

You've heard a lot about turnover margin from head coach Mike McCarthy the last few weeks, but Sunday's 49-38 loss drove home his point like a fork to the eye. He's absolutely right. It's got to improve – fast.

The Cowboys are now ranked last in turnover ratio (minus-7), tied for the most turnovers (9) and tied for the second-fewest takeaways (2). The result is pretty staggering, actually.

The Cowboys' first four opponents (Rams, Falcons, Seahawks Browns) have scored 45 points off those nine turnovers. On the flip side, the Cowboys have scored only a field goal off two total takeaways.

That's a 42-point swing for a team that has lost three games by 21 total points.

After a loss, especially one that lopsided, the inclination is to point fingers at individual players. If you own a Twitter account, you've seen plenty of that the last few days. Bottom line: it's a team game, far more than any other sport, and the Cowboys' 1-3 start is a collective issue reflected in this one pure statistic.

No other stat has a larger impact on the outcome of a football game. Look at the Cowboys' results the past 20 years based on turnover margin:

2020: -7 (32nd)
Record: 1-3, playoffs TBD

2019: -1 (t-18th)
Record: 8-8, missed playoffs

2018: +3 (12th)
Record: 10-6, made playoffs

2017: -1 (t-16th)
Record: 9-7, missed playoffs

2016: +5 (t-9th)
Record: 13-3, made playoffs

2015: -22 (32nd)
Record: 4-12, missed playoffs

2014: +6 (t-9th)
Record: 12-4, made playoffs

2013: +8 (t-9th)
Record: 8-8, missed playoffs

2012: -13 (t-27th)
Record: 8-8, missed playoffs

2011: +4 (10th)
Record: 8-8, missed playoffs

2010: 0 (t-13th)
Record: 6-10, missed playoffs

2009: +2 (t-13th)
Record; 11-5, made playoffs

2008: -11 (30th)
Record: 9-7, missed playoffs

2007: +5 (t-8th)
Record: 13-3, made playoffs

2006: +1 (t-15th)
Record: 9-7, made playoffs

2005: -5 (19th)
Record: 9-7, missed playoffs

2004: -15 (28th)
Record: 6-10, missed playoffs

2003: -4 (22nd)
Record: 10-6, made playoffs

2002: -4 (20th)
Record: 5-11, missed playoffs

2001: -9 (t-24th)
Record: 5-11, missed playoffs

2000: -14 (t-28th)
Record: 5-11, missed playoffs

So, to recap…

In the last 20 seasons, the Cowboys have posted a negative turnover margin 11 times. They missed the playoffs all but once: Bill Parcells' first year as head coach in 2003.

In the last 20 seasons, the Cowboys have had a positive turnover margin eight times and made the playoffs all but twice. The two years they didn't, 2011 and 2013, they had a chance to clinch a spot in the season finale and lost.

2010 was the last time the Cowboys started a season 1-3. That year they finished with an even turnover margin. But during their 1-3 start? Minus-4.

It's the single biggest reason for 1-3 this year, too. They need more takeaways, and they need to protect the rock. This stat doesn't lie.

I Think…
the Cowboys will have to prove they can put their run defense issues to rest.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was asked Monday if he expected teams to copycat the Browns' emphasis on the run game – an approach that was true to Cleveland's specific offensive DNA but nonetheless highly effective with 307 yards on the ground. The Browns ran it 40 times and ran play-action 14 times.

"I think the majority of NFL coaches will utilize the film for what they saw beat you," Nolan said. "…I would expect the Giants to do similar because they have a similar running attack to what Cleveland has. It will be a challenge for us this week."

Playing without Saquon Barkley (torn ACL), the Giants ranked last in rushing before Week 4 but had their best performance of the season in a 17-9 loss to the Rams: 136 yards on 25 carries featuring quarterback Daniel Jones and the trio of Devonta Freeman, Wayne Gallman Jr. and Dion Jones.

So far the Giants are passing two-thirds of the time, a product of playing from behind. But former Cowboys head coach/current Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett believes in the run game, believes in balance. That's particularly beneficial for a young quarterback like Jones, who has been sacked 14 times in four games. The Dallas defense will have to tighten things up quickly.

I Have No Idea…
what qualifies as 'garbage-time' stats, but it's just wrong to generalize Dak Prescott's numbers that way.

Obviously, the Cowboys' production in the passing game isn't leading to wins right now. They're not nearly as balanced as they would like to be. They're getting behind early (partly by their own doing with turnovers, as we covered earlier) and the result is catch-up/hurry-up mode in the second half contributing to Prescott's ridiculous 1,690 yards in just 25% of the season.

But let's be clear here. The Browns weren't locked in some deep prevent defense the entire second half Sunday. It wasn't even all off coverage. Prescott still had to scrap for those plays downfield and he made them.

And, while slow starts have been a problem at times this season, that wasn't the case Sunday. The Cowboys racked up 237 yards and 14 points by halftime. They very easily could have had more if not for the two fumbles that led to two Browns touchdowns and threw the score out of whack.

My point: we've seen enough evidence the Cowboys' offense can move the ball up and down the field. The key is getting out of their own way before the second half, where they've been accused of empty calories.


The Cowboys are back at AT&T Stadium next Sunday, October 11th to take on their rivals, the New York Giants. A limited number of tickets are on sale now. Get yours now before they sell out!

Details on all of the health and safety procedures you can expect at AT&T Stadium this season can be viewed at

Related Content