Spagnola: These Numbers Simply Jumble Logic


IRVING, Texas – Oh boy, here they go again, and already know what you're thinking, causing some high anxiety heading into Sunday night's game in Na' Orlins'.

Cowboys-Saints, in the Superdome, and of all things, at night, 7:30 CT, about as bad as it can get if you figure some 73,000 will have all day to get juiced for this game, as if the folks down there on the bayous need any artificial aid to get ready for a game involving their beloved Saints.

Drew Brees vs. that Cowboys' 31st-ranked defense.


I mean, geesh, one week the Cowboys have to face Philip Rivers, currently the NFL's third-ranked quarterback. The next it's Peyton Manning, the league's top-ranked quarterback. Then RGIII, and thank goodness he was still on the mend.

Then it's LeSean McCoy, who at the time and still is the NFL's leading rusher. Then the dynamic duo of Stafford/Johnson, the seventh-leading passer teaming up with the third leader in receiving yards. Then it's Adrian Peterson, the sure-fire Hall of Famer who is fourth in the NFL in rushing yards and tied for second with seven rushing touchdowns.

And if all that is not enough to make your defensive heads spin, now comes Brees, his 104.5 passer rating fourth in the NFL, along with tight end Jimmy Graham, the NFL's leading scorer among non-kickers with 10 touchdowns, two more than Jacksonville has scored all season and just three fewer than what Tampa Bay has scored.

Talk about a Murderers' Row. That'll just wear you out.

Now, it's bad enough this game will match the league's third-ranked passing attack against the 31st-ranked pass defense, one that in nine games has been rocked for four, 400-yard passing performances by opposing quarterbacks – an ignominious single-season NFL record. But, it's also a defense that already has been hit for a franchise single-game-high 488 passing yards by an opposing quarterback (Matthew Stafford) and a franchise single-game high of 329 receiving yards by an opposing receiver (Calvin Johnson)

Oh, and this: The Cowboys have given up 36 passing plays of at least 20 yards, and then another 32 running plays of at least 10 yards, including last Sunday's season-high 52-yard run by Peterson.

But it gets worse.

Sure, the Cowboys are rejoicing over the return of sackmeister DeMarcus Ware, scheduled to play his first game in a month come Sunday night in New Orleans, having been nursing a debilitating quad injury.

But … but … the Cowboys just might be without their two starting defensive tackles, Jason Hatcher, the team's leader in sacks (seven), still trying to regain feeling in his left arm after suffering another stinger in his left shoulder/neck that knocked him out of the Minnesota game, and Nick Hayden, a guy who didn't play all last season but has started all nine games this year – just four short of his previous five-season total – still recuperating from the rib injury also suffered against the Vikings. They will be game-time decisions, Hatcher listed as questionable and Hayden surprisingly probable.

This on top of being forced to waive defensive tackle Marvin Austin injured at the beginning of the week and poaching rookie defensive tackle Everett Dawkins off the Minnesota practice squad, meaning if Dawkins plays this week as last week's no-name signee Everette Brown did on short preparation against the Vikings, he will become the 17th defensive lineman to play in a regular-season game for the Cowboys in just 10 weeks.

Indeed, it's time to incorporate the idea of former scouting director Larry Lacewell of erecting a Statue of Liberty replica out front of The Ranch, as if a Cowboys' help-wanted ad one year when injuries equally had decimated the team:

*Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses … *


Who ever heard of getting ready to play your 17th defensive lineman by the 10th game of a season. Being able to name all 17 is sure to become some sort of Trivial Pursuit brainteaser?

Worse, by my count, and hey, not saying someone didn't fall through the cracks, but Dawkins also becomes the 32nd defensive lineman to have passed through Cowboys rights since the start of the offseason.

You'd think some devilish looking creature in a black cap is at the doorstep howling some ghoulish-sounding ha-ha-hah with the incongruous Saints about to march right in.

Yeah, yeah, we all know about "the next guy up" Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett keeps preaching, but this next, next-guy-up Dawkins has never played a down in an NFL regular-season game, and that on the heels of last week's NGU not having previously played in a game since 2011. Oh, and let's not forget the likes of Casaer Rayford and Jason Vega making their NFL debuts this season, too, with the Cowboys.

And some of you wondered why the Cowboys were overly patient with Jay Ratliff. Heck, they might be one injury away from trying to convince Wednesday night's Cowboys Legends Show guest Randy White to reconsider having retired even if he's 60 years old.

Having said all that, here is what is so frustrating about a Cowboys defense being held together at times with duct tape:

The Cowboys' 31st-ranked total defense is giving up 419.2 yards a game, on pace to obliterate last year's franchise single-season record of 355.5 yards. The Cowboys' 31st-ranked pass defense is getting burned for 305.2 yards per game, another on pace to break the 1983 franchise single-season record of 245.5 passing by opponents.

That's unbelievable.

But so is this: This same defensive unit, one giving up those gobs of yards and decimated by injuries, is tied for second in the NFL with 21 takeaways. Twenty-one, now, as many in nine games as the Cowboys had all of last season.

Go figure.

Check this out further. Already the Cowboys have intercepted 12 passes, five more than all of last season. And the nine fumble recoveries in nine games matches last year's 16-game total.

And since this team has significantly cut down on its own turnovers, the Cowboys are sitting there with a plus-10 turnover differential, second in the league to Kansas City's plus-15. Why, the last time the Cowboys finished a season plus-10 when it came to turnovers was 1999.

Oh, and sacks, a vitally important commodity when playing the pass-happy 6-2 Saints: The Cowboys, without three of their projected four starting defensive lineman these past three weeks and could be in the same boat if Hatcher isn't lining up next to the returning Ware on Sunday, have totaled 23 sacks, so on pace for 41 – seven more than last season's 34. [embedded_ad]

So as you can see, this defense being riddled by loads of opponent yards is surviving on sacks and takeaways while giving up at least 30 points in four of the nine games, but limiting three opponents to no more than 17 points.

Just doesn't make much sense, does it? And that's the frustrating part of this season, that and an offense that has been somewhat inconsistent.

Well, while numbers don't lie, maybe they have become somewhat misleading because in the game the Cowboys set the opponent franchise-high of 623 total yards and an opposing quarterback franchise high of 488 passing yards, they only lost by one point, 31-30, to Detroit on the road. And the winning touchdown wasn't scored until the final 12 seconds of the game.

Continue to go figure.

And maybe all this numerical deciphering is the biggest problem here. Maybe we're not supposed to worry so about all these debilitating numbers since only two count, right? The 5 and the 4, their record, desperately trying to enter next week's bye at 6-4.

And wouldn't that be something.

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