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The formula for success that the 2016 Dallas Cowboys had to follow was written long ago. Trust the offensive gameplan and rely on the defense to “bend but not break.” That gameplan has led to a 4-1 record and impressive play in the process.
We’ve seen this play out over the first five games, four of which the Cowboys have ended in the win column, so we’re not exactly surprised. What we are right now… is curious. There’s more to this story than simply saying “the Cowboys offense is winning games for them,” and I have found that more. Let’s discuss.
All of these are facts regarding the 2016 Cowboys:
- They have more rush yards than anyone in the NFL (776).
- Ezekiel Elliott is leading the NFL in rushing (546).
- They average 3:31 per drive (longest in the NFL).
- They average 33:49 total time of possession in each game (2nd longest in the NFL).
- Four of their games, 80%, have had them hold the ball for at least 30:00 (tied for 2nd in the NFL).
- Of their 48 offensive possessions, 15 have been over five minutes in length. 14 of these have resulted in scores, eight of them being touchdowns. This is a 93.3 scoring efficiency.
- They have more first downs than anyone in the NFL. 52 have come via run, 59 via pass, 9 via penalty.
- They have the best conversion rate (50%) on third down in the NFL. They also are tied for first with the most games with 50% third down conversion (3) with New England and Pittsburgh.
This is exactly what the Cowboys want. This is the winning formula. This is the gameplan that has allowed them to be so successful on offense, defense, and in the #VictoryPoloMonday department.
Milking The Clock
It’s obvious how the Cowboys have managed to drain time off of the clock in their first five games. When they hold the ball they typically do so for a long time. They run, they gain first downs, they lather, rinse, repeat.
The 33:49 time of possession that the Cowboys are averaging is one of the most essential ingredients here. In 2015 Dallas was tied for 11th in the league in this statistic, averaging 30:59. Those three minutes are gigantic. Considering that the Cowboys average 3:31 per drive this season, you’re talking about almost a whole extra opportunity to hold the ball this season versus last. That is also one entire less opportunity for the opposing offense to be on the field, leaving our defense off of it as well.
It’s also worth mentioning that in 2014 the Cowboys averaged 32:26 time of possession per game (best in the NFL that season). It feels like, because it’s true, that this season’s defense is far better than the division-winning one of two years ago. A lot of that is due to the fact that they are on the field less. It’s amazing that the Cowboys have actually minimized how long the defense is on the field even further than what they miraculously did in 2014.
Putting It All In Perspective
The short answer here is that the Cowboys are holding onto the ball forever and capitalizing on it when they do. This is evidenced by their league-leading first/third down conversion rate.
It feels like the Giants loss was so long ago, but the reason it happened was because these opportunities were wasted. Dallas only converted one of their massive drives into touchdowns, and due to how much time they drain off the clock that left little at the end to really work with. They’ve managed to reach the endzone multiple times in every game since.
Another key element to what the Cowboys have done defensively has come via turnovers by the other team. These happen when your defense, our defense, is playing fresh. The time that is afforded to them by the offense keeps them that way and in a position to consistently make a play. The Bengals win was a microcosm of this entire idea.
The Cowboys are playing games exactly like they want to. The key to beating them is to get them out of that element, which is very difficult to do because Dallas can control the time of possession far more often than they cannot. When a team is able to put enough of a lead on them that they can’t play their style is when things will get spicy. For now though, things are looking good around these parts.