Takeaways are consistently preached within the halls and on the practice fields at Valley Ranch.
It’s been the most telling statistic between wins and losses for years, and that likely won’t change for as long as the game is played. For all its complexities and intricacies, football often boils down to the simplest thing, such as giveaways and takeaways.
Everybody within the Dallas Cowboys’ organization understands that.
“That’s what we’ve stressed maybe more than anything else,” coach Jason Garrett said. “The opportunities an offense gets when you’re taking the football away, it’s unbelievable. You’ve changed field position. You’ve given them chances to score points.
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“This one statistic — taking the ball away, turnover ratio — correlates to scoring points and winning ballgames more than any other.”
The defense has certainly hit its stride in forcing turnovers of late. The defenders have produced 15 takeaways in the past five games, including three in the wild-card victory over the Detroit Lions.
That won’t be an easy trend to extend , though, against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field. Green Bay’s offense has turned the ball over only five times at home, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers hasn’t been intercepted at home since 2012.
But that isn’t going to stop the Cowboys from “attacking the ball,” as they like to say.
“Just get the ball,” said linebacker Bruce Carter, who leads the team with five interceptions.
“It’s always been drilled into us from Day One of practice. If we take the ball away, it gives us a better chance to win. That’s something we really pride ourselves in.”
The Cowboys have done a good job of getting takeaways all year. The only time they failed to do so was in the season-opening loss to San Francisco.
Since then, they’ve had at least one takeaway, and have produced multiple takeaways in the past five games.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy is well aware of it, and isn’t surprised, considering he’s faced Rod Marinelli-led defenses for years.
“They fly around. They gang-tackle. They do an excellent job of taking the football away,” McCarthy said. “These are things you’re always going to see when you compete against a Marinelli defense.”
Taking the ball away is the primary reason Marinelli landed with the Cowboys. That’s the No. 1 measuring stick, in Garrett’s mind, to judge how successful a defense is.
And the Cowboys simply weren’t getting enough takeaways with Rob Ryan calling the shots. They had 16 takeaways in 2012, the chief reason Ryan was fired that off-season and Monte Kiffin and Marinelli were brought in.
The takeaway number rose in that first season to 28. And, this year, the Cowboys had 31, the second most in the NFL, trailing only Houston’s 34.
Marinelli has always preached stripping at the ball once the tackle is secured, knowing that sooner or later takeaways would come.
“I just believe the more attempts you have, eventually they’re going to come out,” Marinelli said. “The lack of attempts, the lack of getting takeaways.”
It’s a message that has resonated throughout the defensive meeting rooms and onto the field.
The Cowboys had strip-sacks by Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Lawrence against the Lions on the final defensive series to seal the win. Earlier in the game, veteran defensive end Jeremy Mincey tipped a pass that Kyle Wilber intercepted.
“You always hear the coaches say, ‘The ball, the ball, the ball, the ball,’” Mincey said. “So when you go into the game, all you’re thinking about is the ball, the ball, the ball, the ball.”
There’s no question the message has gotten through.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760