By Matthew Postins

Dallas Cowboys logoIf the Dallas Cowboys are to make the jump from average team to playoff team, there are some things on the field that must change in 2013. In this series, outlines five improvements the Cowboys could make in order to accomplish that goal in 2013.

Create more turnovers

Wasn’t Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan supposed to bring an attacking defense with him?

Attacking defenses, typically, create turnovers. This Cowboys defense didn’t produce enough of those game-changing plays in 2012.

The Cowboys created just 16 takeaways in 2012, tied for the third-fewest in the NFL. Only Indianapolis (15), Kansas City (13) and Philadelphia (13) produced fewer turnovers.

So the Cowboys averaged one takeaway a game? Well, look deeper. There were five games this season in which the Cowboys didn’t force a takeaway. The Cowboys were 0-5.

There were five games this season in which the Cowboys forced at least two takeaways. The Cowboys were 4-1.

In the other six games the Cowboys forced one turnover. They were 4-2.

So Dallas was 8-3 when its defense created at least one turnover.

That’s confirmation that when the Cowboys force mistakes they can win games. But this year’s ratio of 1.0 takeaways per game was by far the worst for the Cowboys in the past half-dozen years.

From 2006-2011 the Cowboys toggled between 1.4 and 1.9 takeaways per game. That comes to anywhere from 22 to 30 takeaways each season. How does that translate to this year’s NFL rankings? Well, if Dallas had created 22 turnovers this season, they would have ranked seven places higher in the NFL in 2012. If they had created 30 turnovers, they would have been ranked in the Top 10.

Let’s approach this subject another way. If the Cowboys’ goal is to make the playoffs in 2013, creating more takeaways is a good way to get there.

Consider the Top 10 teams in takeaways in 2012. Six of them reached the playoffs. Two more did not reach the playoffs but had winning records. Expand it to the top half of the NFL and you find nine of the league’s 12 playoff teams.

In Part 1 of this series we looked at the teams that won the last seven Super Bowls. So let’s consider those seven teams next.

Of the last seven Super Bowl champions, none forced fewer than 25 takeaways. In fact, four of the seven forced at least 30. The average number of takeaways for the last seven Super Bowl champions was 30.3.

Turnovers aren’t always predictive of success. For instance, the last time the Cowboys forced 30 or more turnovers was 2010 when the Cowboys went 6-10.

But there’s enough evidence to show that teams that force turnovers at a higher rate win more games and, by extension, make the playoffs.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones promised plenty of discomfort at Valley Ranch the next two months.

If Dallas is going to be a playoff team next season, fans hope that some of that discomfort leads to a more aggressive, game-changing defense.

Next: It’s time to shrug off the slow starts.