IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys vastly improved on defense last season by being opportunistic.
In 2014, they jumped from last in total defense in 2013 to 19th largely because they got off the field more often with 31 takeaways. Only the Texans (34) had more. The Cowboys had a plus-six turnover ratio (31 takeaways to 25 takeaways).
Through four games this season, they're tied for 22nd with a minus-three turnover margin. They have committed six turnovers offset by only three takeaways, tied for the second-fewest in the league.
The good news is they've been close to getting several more. Cornerbacks Mo Claiborne and Tyler Patmon and linebacker Kyle Wilber narrowly missed out on three interceptions in losses to the Falcons and Saints. This past Sunday at New Orleans, safety Barry Church had an interception overturned by a Cowboys penalty.
Those four alone would give Dallas a positive turnover ratio – arguably the most critical stat in determining wins and losses in a parity-driven league – and build some confidence following a disheartening overtime loss to the Saints.
"You have to be around the ball, you have to be opportunistic, you have to be punching at it, swiping at it, trying to strip it," head coach Jason Garrett said. "When they throw you one, you have to catch it. We had some missed ops in the game. We had some missed ops in positive territory for us that would have given us great field position, so continue to work in those areas."
The task is easier said than done this week against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who hasn't thrown an interception in three games and had only nine in the entire 2014 regular season.
But an extra possession or two would greatly benefit fill-in starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, as well as keep the defense fresher by staying off the field longer.
"The ball typically makes a big difference in the game," Garrett said. "We had no turnovers in the game (at New Orleans) but we had no takeaways either. We weren't able to go down there and create an opportunity for ourselves by taking it away. We have to do that going forward."