Helman: The Unspoken Edge That May Matter Most

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FRISCO, Texas – It was midway through the third quarter when I had an epiphany at the hands of Corey Clement.

The Cowboys' third running back, who has made his living on special teams this year, snaked his way through Washington's protection team and smacked a would-be punt by Tress Way into the turf at the goal line.

By the time Chauncey Golston recovered the ricochet for a touchdown, I myself had been smacked in the face by a realization: this Dallas Cowboys team needs to be playing as many games as possible at AT&T Stadium.

One play isn't completely indicative of that, but the scene set it up so perfectly – Golston and his teammates celebrating a special teams touchdown that bumped the score to 49-7. All the while, 90,000 people screamed and cheered and laughed that anyone could have the audacity to compete with this team in this building.

Feel free to take this opportunity to call me an idiot. Homefield advantage is one of the oldest and most obvious advantages in football. The Green Bay Packers have built a myth around the difficulty of playing in the elements at Lambeau Field. Every major college football program in the country is in an arms race to build a bigger stadium because of the impact that 100,000 screaming fans can have on a visiting opponent.

That's all well and good, but in my nine years covering this team I don't think I've ever seen a Cowboys squad that thrives off its home field the way this one does.

Go back through recent history and take a look. It's ironic that the 2014 Cowboys saw their season come to an end on the road at Lambeau, because they were road warriors that year. That team went a measly 4-4 at AT&T Stadium, but morphed into something different on the road, where they went a perfect 8-0 up until that heartbreaker in Green Bay.

The 2016 Cowboys, to put it simply, just beat everyone. The New York Giants famously were the only team on their schedule that could figure them out. They beat everyone else, home and away, up until a Week 17 loss in Philadelphia in which they sat most of their star players.

It's hard to judge the 2018 team, because I don't think I've ever covered a team that transformed so much from one half of the season to the other. From the time they traded for Amari Cooper until they were eliminated in the playoffs, the Cowboys went 8-3 and it didn't seem to matter where they played. You also got the sense that, regardless what happened, they were too flawed of a team to beat the NFC's elite that year.

In the year 2021, I'm not sure there's an elite team in the NFL. Or, if there is a group that's cut above the rest, I'm much more confident the Cowboys are part of it than I ever have been.

And the results seem to indicate they're a heck of a lot harder to beat at home.

I went through every NFC contender's season to this point and checked out their home/road splits. As you might guess, virtually everyone – with the ironic exception of Arizona – has played better at home this year.

The Cowboys stand out among them, though, with an average score of 38-22 in games played at home. That's a step above similarly dominant teams like Tampa Bay, who is outscoring home opponents, 32-17, and Green Bay, whose average home score is 30-18.

You might argue that this is simply because of the schedule. The Cowboys have played a lot of tough opponents, like the Buccaneers, Patriots and Chiefs, on the road, whereas several of their easier matchups have come at home.

The numbers don't necessarily back that up. The winning percentage of Green Bay's home opponents is 41%, which is a step down from from Dallas at 43%. Tampa Bay's mark is a bit better than both, sitting at 49%.

And yet, the Cowboys have scored a whopping 269 points at home this year and allowed just 152 – significantly better than the others in both categories.

There's also the matter of the quarterback. Dak Prescott has enjoyed success both home and away this season, to be fair. His games at Tampa and at New England were two of the best of his career. Still, it's hard not to notice that he has thrown 20 touchdowns to just two interceptions at AT&T Stadium this season, while the ratio is just 9:8 in seven road games this year.

That's not the only thing, either. For as many momentum-swinging plays as the Cowboys have made this season, the lion's share of them have come at home. Three of their four blocked punts this year have happened at AT&T Stadium. Their only kick return touchdown of the season happened at home on Thanksgiving. And that goes along with three of their six defensive touchdowns, highlighted by DeMarcus Lawrence's pick-six just last week.

Which brings me back to Chauncey Golston and 49-7. It's rare to see an NFL team string together dominant runs like Sunday night, when the Cowboys pieced together two different runs of 21-0 and 35-0 against an overwhelmed Washington group.

The Cowboys have made that a norm this year at AT&T Stadium. They enjoyed a 29-point second quarter in November against Atlanta. They strung together 27 unanswered points against Carolina in September and 17 against the Giants.

Call it confidence, call it momentum, call it whatever. There's an overwhelming amount of evidence that the Cowboys are a tough team to beat when they find their groove at home.

I haven't always thought that's the case, but I think it matters in 2021 – and more importantly, in 2022. If the Cowboys can find a way to stay home as long as possible this January, it could go a long way toward their postseason goals.

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