Will the Cowboys Improve in 2009?

Tony Romo (By Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

Tony Romo (By Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

Coming off of a 13-3 record in 2007, the Cowboys were among the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl before the 2008 season. Unfortunately for Cowboys fans, several issues appeared in 2008 to derail what began as a promising season. TO whining, Tony Romo’s injury, and struggles on defense during Romo’s injury led to losses that ultimately cost the team a playoff berth. Coming off of those issues, how likely are they to repeat (or surpass) the success of 2007?

Based on 2008 records, they will face a tougher overall schedule this year than last. The combined winning percentage of 2008 opponents was .492. Coming into 2009, the Cowboys’ Strength of Schedule is ranked 11th with a .516 winning percentage (also based on 2008 records). Now, of course, the final 2009 SOS is not finalized until the season’s over, but this does indicate that the Cowboys may have a somewhat tougher schedule this year.

In this post, I wanted to break down the Cowboys’ 2008 and 2009 schedules a little further to get a better understanding of what they are up against this season (much the same way I had in this post on the Falcons). Taking my raw data from Pro-Football-Reference.com, I have compiled the Offensive and Defensive rankings of the Cowboys’ opponents from 2008 and 2009, broken out in the following 4 categories:

  • Pts Rk – Total Points Rank
  • Yds Rk – Total Yards Rank
  • Pass Rk – Passing Yards Rank
  • Rush Rk – Rushing Yards Rank

The rankings for both seasons are based on how the teams finished the 2008 season, since, of course, the 2009 final rankings are yet to be determined.

Before we get into opponents’ rankings, let’s review the Cowboys’ rankings from last season.


Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Cowboys’ 2008 Off Rks 18 13 9 21
Cowboys’ 2008 Def Rks 20 8 5 12

In both defense and offense, the Cowboys finished ranked lower in points than yards. This is most likely due to their being -11 in Takeaway/Giveaway (also taken from Pro-Football-Reference.com). Romo’s injury in the middle of the season also probably caused their offensive numbers to be lower than they otherwise would have been. With these numbers in mind, let’s take a look at the Cowboys’ opponents for last year and this year. In the tables below, we see the Cowboys’ opponents’ offensive and defensive ranks for 2008 and 2009. First, the offensive ranks for 2008:


Opponents’ Offensive Ranks
Cowboys’ 2008 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Cleveland Browns 31 31 31 26
Philadelphia Eagles 6 9 6 22
Green Bay Packers 5 8 8 17
Washington Redskins 28 19 23 8
Cincinnati Bengals 32 32 30 29
Arizona Cardinals 4 4 2 32
St. Louis Rams 30 27 26 25
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19 14 11 15
New York Giants 3 7 18 1
Washington Redskins 28 19 23 8
San Francisco 49ers 22 23 13 27
Seattle Seahawks 25 28 29 19
Pittsburgh Steelers 20 22 17 23
New York Giants 3 7 18 1
Baltimore Ravens 11 18 28 4
Philadelphia Eagles 6 9 6 22
Average Ranks 17.06 17.31 18.06 17.44

And 2009:


Opponents’ Offensive Ranks
Cowboys’ 2009 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19 14 11 15
New York Giants 3 7 18 1
Carolina Panthers 7 10 19 3
Denver Broncos 16 2 3 12
Kansas City Chiefs 26 24 20 16
Atlanta Falcons 10 6 14 2
Seattle Seahawks 25 28 29 19
Philadelphia Eagles 6 9 6 22
Green Bay Packers 5 8 8 17
Washington Redskins 28 19 23 8
Oakland Raiders 29 29 32 10
New York Giants 3 7 18 1
San Diego Chargers 2 11 7 20
New Orleans Saints 1 1 1 28
Washington Redskins 28 19 23 8
Philadelphia Eagles 6 9 6 22
Average Ranks 13.38 12.69 14.88 12.75

Next, we have the opponents’ defensive ranks for 2008:


Opponents’ Defensive Ranks
Cowboys’ 2008 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Cleveland Browns 17 26 14 28
Philadelphia Eagles 4 3 3 4
Green Bay Packers 22 20 12 26
Washington Redskins 6 4 7 8
Cincinnati Bengals 19 12 15 21
Arizona Cardinals 28 19 22 16
St. Louis Rams 31 28 19 29
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 9 4 19
New York Giants 5 5 8 9
Washington Redskins 6 4 7 8
San Francisco 49ers 23 13 20 13
Seattle Seahawks 25 30 32 18
Pittsburgh Steelers 1 1 1 2
New York Giants 5 5 8 9
Baltimore Ravens 3 2 2 3
Philadelphia Eagles 4 3 3 4
Average Ranks 13.06 11.5 11.06 13.56

And 2009:


Opponents’ Defensive Ranks
Cowboys’ 2009 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 9 4 19
New York Giants 5 5 8 9
Carolina Panthers 12 18 16 20
Denver Broncos 30 29 26 27
Kansas City Chiefs 29 31 28 30
Atlanta Falcons 11 24 21 25
Seattle Seahawks 25 30 32 18
Philadelphia Eagles 4 3 3 4
Green Bay Packers 22 20 12 26
Washington Redskins 6 4 7 8
Oakland Raiders 24 27 10 31
New York Giants 5 5 8 9
San Diego Chargers 15 25 31 11
New Orleans Saints 26 23 23 17
Washington Redskins 6 4 7 8
Philadelphia Eagles 4 3 3 4
Average Ranks 14.63 16.25 14.94 16.63

Just a glance at these tables shows that the level of opponents’ offenses increases while the level of opponents’ defenses decreases. This seems like good news for the Cowboys, because lesser defenses are less likely to force turnovers. While it’s questionable whether the offense is better without TO, facing somewhat weaker defenses throughout the year should lead to improvements in offensive numbers. It may also mean Romo is less likely to get hurt like he did last year. Add in the return of Felix Jones, and you could have a top flight offense again, TO or no TO.

Digging a little deeper into the numbers, here are a few items of the note from this data.

  • The opponents’ average offensive rank increases 22% in points scored from 2008 to 2009.
  • The opponents’ average offensive rank increases 27% in yards gained from 2008 to 2009 (18% in pass yards, 27% in rush yards).
  • The opponents’ average defensive rank decreases 12% in points allowed from 2008 to 2009.
  • The opponents’ average defensive rank decreases 41% in yards allowed from 2008 to 2009 (35% in pass yards, 23% in rush yards).
  • In 2008, the Cowboys faced the following number of top 10 offenses: 6 in points, 6 in yards, 4 passing, and 5 rushing.
  • In 2009, the Cowboys will face the following number of top 10 offenses: 9 in points, 9 in yards, 6 passing, and 7 rushing.
  • In 2008, the Cowboys faced the following number of top 10 defenses: 9 in points, 9 in yards, 9 passing, and 8 rushing.
  • In 2009, the Cowboys will face the following number of top 10 offenses: 7 in points, 7 in yards, 8 passing, and 6 rushing.

When looking at all of the numbers, I come away with a couple of things. First, the Cowboys should be able to put up tons of yards and points this year. With a significant drop in average opponents’ defensive rankings, they should be able to move the ball offensively pretty well. As I said, getting back Felix Jones should help as well. Keeping Romo healthy will be the key. Second, if the Cowboys had a weakness on defense last year, it was rush defense. Obviously, with Ware bringing the heat, the pass rush was ferocious last year. But, the ‘boys could be run on, and they will be facing even better rushing offenses (on average) this year than last. The hardcore Dallas fans will know better if there are any changes that you could expect to see improvements in rush defense, but based on this analysis, it looks like there may be more rush yards given up than last year. Most likely, the Cowboys’ strategy will be to try to get early leads that will take away opponents’ run games. If they can do this, it will help their run defense.

Overall, it looks like Cowboys’ fans can expect to see a bit more offensive production this year, and likely an improved record and return to the playoffs. However, this analysis didn’t get into individual opponents and what changes each opponent went through in the offseason. For example, the Packers had a top 10 offense but a very disappointing defense last year. But, they’ve brought in Dom Capers in the offseason and are installing a 3-4 defense. They may be greatly improved defensively, or they may still be trying figure out the changes. But, as I said with the Falcons analysis, I think that this does give a good big picture view of the Cowboys’ upcoming schedule.

I would certainly like to hear the thoughts of those Dallas fans who know more about the team and can fill in the details.

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3 Responses to “Will the Cowboys Improve in 2009?”

  1. Michael Armon Says:

    Cowboys hopes hinge on health this year. They sorely lack depth in the secondary, linebacker position, and especially at offensive lineman. This is the punishment for having bad drafts since Parcells left. With that said, if this team can stay healthy, they can be good, real good. If Felix Jones can stay healthy this year, the offense will be just fine without TO, as the Cowboys run the ball with Barber and Choice. The Cowboys are also planning on using more 2 tight end sets with Martellus Bennett and Jason Witten, who are both capable receivers. On defense, if Terrence Newman can stay healthy, the defense will prosper. Also, not having Roy Williams at safety will be a treat for Cowboy’s fans this season. This team was 13-3 a couple of years ago, and I believe they are looking at a similar type of season, if they can avoid the big injury.

  2. adrian Says:

    dallas’s defense should be better! with a new starting corner and new safety there secondary looks to be upgraded. keith brooking will help there run defense and pass rush is looking just as good if not better than last year with some young linebackers like jason williams, steve octavian, and victor butler are looking really good throughout the preseason. the solid backups on defense are solid players, pat watkins, allan ball and micheal hamlin are good back up and special team players.

    • wolfpacksteelersfan Says:

      I live in Atlanta, so I’ve seen Brooking, and I have to say that the Falcons fans miss him more because of his being a hometown hero than anything else. He’s still a good player, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t thnk I’d count on him to be the answer on run defense. You may be better off with one of those young guys, if they step up and contribute well.

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