The Dallas Cowboys are on a roll heading into the bye week at 5-1 and sitting atop the NFC East division. This start seems all too familiar for Cowboys fans, feels all too reminiscent of how they began the 2014 campaign. The glaring difference being that this time the Cowboys aren’t coming off three straight .500 seasons and missing out on the playoffs by one game. They are, however, coming off a dismal 4-12 season in which they failed to win two games without their franchise quarterback.
This season they are doing it on the shoulders and legs of a couple rookies. In both campaigns, the Dallas Cowboys started their season with a loss at home in the first game only to follow up with a win on the road. Both seasons involved a four-game win streak and then the Cowboys would head into hostile territory during week six. In 2014 it involved heading into Seattle instead of Green Bay this season. The results were the same, physically punching their opponents in the mouth.
For their seventh game of the season, it would involve playing a divisional opponent. The Cowboys beat the New York Giants at home 31-21 behind a three touchdown performance by Tony Romo. Gavin Escobar would record two scores and the other to Terrance Williams. This time around the Cowboys will be hosting the hated Philadelphia Eagles. The game could be the first head to head matchup of two rookie quarterbacks taking the league by storm.
THE DIFFERENCES ARE GLARING
That is where the similarities appeared to end. Through six games the Cowboys defense was giving up 23.8 points per game. They’re averaging only 17.8 points per game, which makes them the 7th best among NFL teams this season. The Cowboys still have the “bend but don’t break” mentality and teams are finding it difficult to run on this team. The defense averages 92.2 rushing yards allowed which is 10th best in the league. In 2014 the Cowboys were giving up 115 yards per game. Turnovers created in 2014 was 11 to this season 9. Overall the defense has been better this season.
The turnover differential through six games this season is +4 which is sixth best in the league, in 2014 it was +1, which was due in large part to the fumbles by DeMarco Murray and the early season struggles of Tony Romo. In the first game alone they have four turnovers. This season the Cowboys have done a relatively good job of protecting the ball. Against Green Bay, the Cowboys had more turnovers than usual, but the Packers had a similar issue. It wasn’t until week six that the rookie quarterback Dak Prescott threw his first interception setting an NFL record for most pass attempts without an interception to start a career.
Offensively in 2014, the Cowboys scored 27.5 points per game. Comparatively, we’ve seen the 2016 Cowboys averaging 26.5 points per game which is the 8th best in the league. The Cowboys are known for their rushing attack, and this season the team averages 161.2 yards per game compared to 160.3 in 2014. Passing yards this season 240.3 yards per game compared to 238.3 in 2014. Total yards per game is 401.5 in 2016 compared to 398.6 in 2016. The Offensive line has given up 1.5 sacks per game this season compared to 1.67 per game in 2014. All of that to say, that the offensive performances are almost identical.
The Cowboys this season have done a better job than 2014 through six weeks at scoring on long drives. Prescott has engineered eight drives from inside their own 20-yard line. Five of those drives resulting in scores (four touchdowns and one field goal). When the offense was led by Romo in 2014 the Cowboys failed to convert on as high of a rate. Out of a possible 18 chances the offense only scored on seven of those drives (three touchdowns and four field goals). However, in 2014 the Cowboys converted all six drives into points when starting in opponent’s territory with three touchdowns and three field goals. So far this season, the Cowboys have started in opponent’s territory five times resulting in one touchdown.
The biggest difference between the two season in comparison is how the Cowboys have been able to start games. In 2014 the Cowboys first possession of each game resulted in two fumbles, two punts, a touchdown and a blocked punt. This season it has resulted in three touchdowns, two field goals and one missed field goal. The team is able to set the tone early which has allowed them to lean on their running game which is 2nd in the league in terms of yards per game.
IN THE END, WE WIN
Given where this team currently sits, the Cowboys are poised for another 2014-like run with a favorable schedule. Should the Cowboys go 1-1 in the next two games they will be at the exact pace of 2014. A lot of positives for this team. Which should give this fan base a lot to be excited about.