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Missed takeaways hurting Cowboys' defense

IRVING, Texas -- What made the Dallas Cowboys' defense better than expected last season was its ability to create turnovers.

Some of the Cowboys' deficiencies were masked by the offense’s ability to dominate the clock and the ability to take the ball away. The Cowboys had 31 takeaways in 2014, second in the NFL.

This season the Cowboys have created just three turnovers and they all came against the Philadelphia Eagles. The other three quarterbacks -- Eli Manning of the New York Giants, the Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan and New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees -- have combined for five interceptions this season.

But it’s not as if the Cowboys didn’t have chances.

Against Atlanta, Morris Claiborne and Kyle Wilber missed interception chances in the red zone against Ryan. Against New Orleans, Tyler Patmon dropped a sure interception on Brees’ third pass of the night. In the second quarter, a Barry Church interception was negated by a Brandon Carr penalty. In the third quarter a Mark Ingram fumble was overturned correctly by replay.

"You have to be around the ball, you have to be opportunistic, you have to be punching at it, swiping at it, trying to strip it," coach Jason Garrett said. "When they throw you one you have to catch it. We had some missed ops in the game. We had some missed ops in positive territory for us that would have given us great field position, so continue to work in those areas."

It’s hard to expect that changing Sunday against the New England Patriots. Tom Brady is one of two starting quarterbacks without an interception. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the other, and the Cowboys play him later in the season.

The Patriots have only lost two fumbles as well.

Through four games last season the Cowboys had eight takeaways with five interceptions and three fumble recoveries. On seven of those takeaways the Cowboys’ offense answered with either a touchdown or field goal or ended the game.

There is a reason why Garrett has a t-shirt for the players that simply says: The Ball, The Ball, The Ball.

"The ball typically makes a big difference in the game," Garrett said. "We had no turnovers in the game, but we had no takeaways either. We weren’t able to go down there and create an opportunity for ourselves by taking it away. We have to do that going forward."