It's actually mildly surprising that the Cowboys are 5-5 considering they've allowed the most passing yards and the second-most rushing yards in the entire NFL. Even in terms of efficiency, the Cowboys defense ranks sixth worst in net yards per passing attempt and third worst in yards per carry.
Although the Cowboys would like to head into their bye off of a win, it really couldn't come at a better time. Dallas has a number of key players who are banged up, so it's hoping it can take on the Giants in Week 12 with a relatively healthy roster.
Before jumping into how Dallas can overcome this low point in the 2013 season, let's take a look around the NFC East.
|New York Giants||3-6||165||243|
After another impressive win, this time over the Green Bay Packers, the Philadelphia Eagles have joined the Cowboys as the only NFC East teams to have scored more points than they've allowed. At 5-5, the Cowboys still technically have a hold of the division lead since they beat the Eagles head-to-head. It's looking like that Week 17 meeting in Dallas is going to be a big one.
Meanwhile, both the Redskins and Giants are just a single game back in the loss column. Assuming they can make up ground when the Cowboys and Eagles are on their byes, Washington and New York are very much alive in what's turned into the worst division in the NFL.
Using the Pythagorean Expectation, we can calculate the number of wins the teams "should" have based on their points scored and allowed.
|Team||Actual Wins||Pythagorean Wins||Difference|
|New York Giants||3||2.57||-0.43|
Based on their scoring differentials, every team except the Giants has played slightly better than their record indicates. The Giants, coming off of three straight wins, could easily be 2-7 given how they've played. Overall, though, there's not too much variance here; every team has the exact record you'd expect when considering their points scored and allowed.
|Sean Lee||Hamstring||Out 3-4 Weeks|
The big news for Dallas is, of course, the injury to linebacker Sean Lee. The latest reports suggest it could be about another month before we see Lee back on the field.
Meanwhile, all of the Cowboys' other injured players are looking to get back onto the field against the Giants in Week 12. Dallas is reporting that safety J.J. Wilcox, cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and wide receiver Miles Austin are all seeking medical clearance to go against the G-Men.
If healthy, the return of the Cowboys veterans, particularly those on the defensive side of the ball, should really aid a unit that's going to desperately miss Lee.
What Must Improve: The Pass Rush
One of the most important aspects of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's scheme is the ability to generate pressure with only four rushers. When the Cowboys can do that, they're effective. When they can't, they're not. It's that simple.
With the missed time from defensive end DeMarcus Ware and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, the Cowboys just haven't been able to get to the quarterback. That's a problem.
Using the pressure totals from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), I charted the Cowboys' pressure rate in each game this season.
Notice a trend? That 30 percent area is really the threshold the 'Boys need to hit in order to get over the .500 hump. If they can start to get pressure on around one-third of their defensive snaps, things will start to turn around.
But who's going to provide that pressure? The Cowboys' top three pass-rushers have all deteriorated as the season has progressed.
I predicted this would happen for Ware because of his age, and the same reasoning applies to Hatcher. Thus, the Cowboys might need to rely on improved play from Selvie, a seventh-round pick in 2010, to turn things around defensively.