Will the Cowboys lead the NFL in takeaways?
New-look defense off to fast start
At the end of the first week of the season, the Cowboys rank first in turnover ratio. During the past 10 seasons, the Cowboys' highest finish in turnover ratio was eighth in 2007.
In some of those seasons, the Cowboys finished 27th, 30th, 28th and 22nd in turnover ratio.
Correspondingly, the Cowboys had defensive coordinators Mike Zimmer, Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips and Rob Ryan in the past decade. Parcells is a Hall of Famer. Phillips and Zimmer are among the best in their profession. Ryan is considered a bright, young mind whose dad is Buddy Ryan, the father of the 46 Defense with the Chicago Bears.
Not all great coordinators emphasize turnovers, but for those who do, it's more than mental preparation. The physical technique is easy to teach, but there's no way to predict whether players will successfully combine the skill and the defensive mindset to regularly take balls away from the offense.
The Cowboys now have Monte Kiffin, another great defensive mind, who is changing the culture around Valley Ranch.
Kiffin wants his defensive players to eat turnovers. In each of the defensive position group offices, there's a football attached to the wall in the doorway. Each player must touch the ball when he enters.
Can the Cowboys keep up this pace when it comes to turnovers?
They beat up Giants running back David Wilson pretty good -- forcing two fumbles -- but he's had issues with that in the past.
Eli Manning threw two picks on Sunday night, which isn't unheard of. The man had 20- and 25-interception seasons on his résumé.
While we're not downplaying what the Cowboys did against the Giants, it's almost unfair to say the Cowboys can continue at this rapid-fire pace. When the meat of the schedule heats up, quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick will be hard to stop.
Can the Cowboys get turnovers against these quarterbacks?
When the Cowboys face the Giants again, will Manning be turnover prone?
Those are questions that are hard to answer; not even Kiffin can speculate on that. While he was happy with the six turnovers, his defense gave up nearly 500 passing yards to Eli Manning. The Cowboys haven't really been tested in the run defense game, yet, and last season this group had its problems.
But Kiffin's defense is supposed to solve this problem -- and the lack of turnover issue, as well.
So far, the Cowboys are off to a strong start.
To keep that pace is almost unfair to ask.
Marinelli's magic extends only so far
It's easy to make wild assumptions after the first week of the NFL season.
The Cowboys will not lead the NFL in takeaways this season. Rod Marinelli's magic extends only so far. The Chicago Bears led the NFL in takeaways last season with Marinelli running the defense. Now the defensive line coach in Dallas -- with heavy emphasis on what the Cowboys do on defense -- the Cowboys will be more than pleased if Marinelli can just keep a consistent pass rush.
For the 24th time in franchise history, the Cowboys forced six takeaways in a game. The last time they did it was Dec. 14, 2003, at Washington.
Why so skeptical?
The Cowboys emphasized turnovers under coordinators Rob Ryan, Wade Phillips, Paul Pasqualoni, Brian Stewart and Mike Zimmer with the core of these defensive players. They worked drills every day. They talked about it in meetings. Ryan even went so far as to change the name to takeovers, thinking that might help.
To me, a player's ability to create turnovers is not learned. It's something he has. Sean Lee has shown the ability to create turnovers since he got here. He has a knack for getting the ball out, for being in the right spots. Orlando Scandrick doesn't. He will be close a lot, but he has three interceptions in 73 career games. Morris Claiborne has yet to show he can make consistent plays on the ball, but Brandon Carr can. Will Allen had his first interception since 2005 in the win over the Giants. Would you bank on him getting four or five more this season? Barry Church has shown the ability to be around the ball, but he's still figuring things out.
And there's another reason why the Cowboys won't lead the league in takeaways this season. They are playing against quarterbacks who generally protect the ball quite well. This week's opposing quarterback, Kansas City's Alex Smith, is as chintzy as they come with giving the ball away. Sam Bradford doesn't give it away much. Neither do Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. Robert Griffin III didn't turn it over much as a rookie.
The Cowboys will get their chances against guys such as Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler and whoever is playing quarterback in Oakland by Thanksgiving, but I'll go back to the aforementioned premise that they don't have enough players with the demonstrated ability to take the ball away.
So, no, they won't lead the league in takeaways. Finishing in the top 10 would be a more realistic goal.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss the Cowboys' season opener that included injury scares from Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Morris Claiborne.
Darren Woodson joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to preview the Cowboys' season opener against the Giants and give insight on what it takes to build a winning culture.
Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett for his weekly visit to discuss the drama between Jerry Jones and Jay Ratliff, the Cowboys' offensive line and more.