IRVING, Texas – What we learned from the next round of NFL playoffs, Volume II, heading into Sunday's NFL Conference Championship games:
Three of the four winners, both NFC teams, Carolina and Arizona, along with Denver in the AFC, play with quarterbacks selected in the first round of the NFL Draft: Peyton Manning (1998), Carson Palmer (2003) and Cam Newton (2011). Of course, Tom Brady the lone exception (6th).
In fact, those three also just so happen to be the No. 1 selection in their respective drafts.
Three of the four winners scored at least 26 points in the divisional round of the playoffs: Carolina 31, New England 27 and Arizona 26.
That means five of the eight victories so far in this year's playoffs have seen the winning team score at least 26 points.
And that is no exception. Last year nine of the 11 winners scored at least 26 points. And the year before that, 10 of the 11 winners scored at least 23 points, including Seattle putting 43 on Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Imagine that, offense wins.
So as we continue with the Dallas Cowboys' 2015 post-mortem, as the over-analyzation of 4-12 continues ad-nauseam – maybe the most disappointing season in club history from the standpoint of much expected, nothing realized – let's get real.
Look, so much is being made of the Cowboys' defensive frailties. About how they finished with a franchise-low 11 takeaways and set the franchise-low with just three fumble recoveries. That's 20 fewer takeaways than in 2014, yes. Although, it's not as if the Cowboys offense was doing anything with those takeaways, turning the 11 into just two touchdowns and two field goals since Rolando McClain just went ahead and returned his interception for a touchdown his own self.
Also, check this out: While the Cowboys gave up 374 points this year, an average of 23.4 points a game, they actually gave up just 1.4 points a game more than they did in the 12-4 season of 2014 (22.0). They actually held seven opponents to no more than 20 points, same as last year, and the defense would have held three more opponents to no more than 20 if not for takeaway returns and a kickoff return for touchdowns. In fact, the Cowboys gave up two fewer touchdowns this year (41) than they did last year (43).
Now would the team have liked better? Absolutely. But let's just remember only three times all season did the Cowboys ever play with as much as a two-touchdown lead, and only once by more, leading Philadelphia, 20-3, in Game 2 after Brandon Weeden's late fourth-quarter touchdown pass. Yep, the largest lead of the season.
So let's not kid ourselves one bit.
The Cowboys failed miserably on offense, especially compared to the 2014, playoff season, so let's not make more of this last-place finish in the NFC than it really is.
Last year the Cowboys scored 467 points, second most in club history, while averaging 29.2 a game. This year, only 275, nearly 200 less, the fewest since their 217 in 2002, averaging 17.2 a game.
Last year the Cowboys scored 56 touchdowns, matching the third most in club history. This year, just 26, my gosh the difference far greater than the amount they scored, actually matching the third fewest touchdowns scored in club history (2001-2002) and just three more than the club record-low of 23 set in the inaugural, 12-game 1960 season. That bad. Oh, and the second fewest? That would have been the 25 scored in the 1-15 season of 1989.
This would come as no surprise since the Cowboys were only able to score more than 20 points five times while doing so 10 times last year. And this with three of their five starting offensive linemen returning to next weekend's Pro Bowl.
Now, there are a lot of harebrained theories floating around out there for this epic offensive falloff, as if the Cowboys pushed their offense in a barrel over Niagara Falls: No DeMarco Murray, even though the team average per rush this year was the same as it was last year with the NFL's leading rusher, 4.6. Not enough rushing attempts, 100 fewer, or like six fewer a game, but remember with a lot fewer leads, too.[embeddedad0]
Or this notion that the Cowboys offense is solely designed for quarterback Tony Romo, and nobody else is capable of unearthing the secret, one tucked even deeper away when Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant wound up missing seven and a half games, and basically played all but one of the rest at far less than 100 percent.
Funny how fourth-year veteran Kellen Moore, in just his second NFL start, was able to pass for 435 yards in the season finale. In only two starts at the tail-end of the season, he threw four touchdown passes, one fewer than even Romo did in his four starts, and just three fewer than veterans Matt Cassel and Weeden did in 10 starts. Hmmm.
Or maybe, just maybe, and I know this is going to be hard for some to swallow, maybe Romo is just that good.
Let's see, in the past two seasons Romo is 15-4 in his 19 starts. The others – Weeden, Cassel and Moore – just 1-12.
Let's further see: Romo completed 70 percent of his passes, those others 61 percent. Romo threw for 4,589 yards in 19 starts, those others 3,096 in 13 starts while subbing out in three others.
Now brace yourselves, here come the biggies: Romo averaged 8.3 yards an attempt, had a TD/INT ratio of 39/16 and passer rating of 105.9. Those others averaged 6.9 yards an attempt, a TD/INT ratio of 14/17 and a rating of 76.8.
In deference to Terrell Owens, maybe these guys didn't have the foresight to draw up plays on cocktail napkins with Jason Witten the night before games.
Oh, and when you can't throw the ball, chances are running the ball is going to be like finishing off a hike atop one those Colorado Fourteeners: rocky. Once again, here is my long-standing stat: When the Cowboys fail to rush for more than 10 touchdowns in a season they have never finished with a winning record – nine losing now and three .500. And yep, they only had eight this season (16 last), stretching the drought to oh-fer-12.
So those in favor of blaming the offense say aye?
Come on now, let me hear ya.
I rest my case.