Why the Cowboys defense could have less turnovers in 2024 and be better

The last three seasons with Dan Quinn in charge of the defense, the Cowboys always finished at the top of the entire NFL in creating turnovers. In 2021, the Cowboys led the league in forced turnovers with 34, and the 2022 season saw the defense again finish first with 33.

In the 2023 season, although not finishing first, the Cowboys finished tied for 4th in number of defensive turnovers forced with 26. On top of all that, Deron Bland set a new NFL record last year for pick 6 interceptions in a season with 5.

An interesting aspect of looking at defensive turnovers is not only the number of TOs, but also WHEN they happened. The reason that is relevant is if all your TOs happen when your team is ahead, it has less impact than when your D gets a TO when the team is behind. Which then led me to look at when our D forced its turnovers last year.

Based on some research, here’s what I found out about our 26 forced TOs last year:

  • 21 of our 26 forced turnovers happened last year when we were ahead.
  • Only 5 of our TOs last year occurred while the team was behind or tied.
  • All of 5 Deron Bland’s pick 6 TDs happened when the Cowboys were ahead. Four of them happened when we were ahead by two or more scores.

Why does this matter?

Because Quinn’s defense flourished when the pass rush could be unleashed with a two score lead. Once the Cowboys were comfortably ahead, the pass rush of Parsons made the ball-hawking skills of Bland front and center.

But here was the problem: If the opponent got up on us early in the game – like Arizona, Buffalo, and Green Bay, our defense had to defend the run (a big weakness with smaller LBs and a not-so dominant DL) and they all controlled the LOS almost eliminating the pass rush as a defensive weapon. And when is the best time to get a TO? When you’re behind. We only had 5 last year when we trailed.

The possible good news is while Mike Zimmer’s defensive style is less aggressive than Quinn’s, It is better suited to stop the run and to keep everything in front of you. Which may mean less turnovers but maybe it also means we can stop the run when we need to get a stop.

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