The Dallas Cowboys of 2013 were lucky to even be 8-8 playing with a historically bad defense. Sometimes I find myself asking how Dallas managed to be in contention for the playoffs in the last week of the season when the Doomsday Defense referred to dooming the Cowboys, instead of their opponent. When playing the "what ifs" game, you can definitely drive yourself crazy with the thought of "what if" the Cowboys defense had just been decent last year? Because when it came to the offense, they certainly held up their end of the deal.
The big deal in the NFL right now on offense is tempo, running as many plays as you can and burning out the opposing defenses in the process. The Eagles under Chip Kelly are the poster-boys for this plan, but plenty of other offenses are trying to increase the speed of operations. So when you look at the high-powered scoring offenses from last season, you would expect to see many of the "speed" offenses listed. But they were also able to score efficiently, meaning on a points per play basis, they still ranked at the top of the league. Denver was the best with .494 points scored per offensive play, the Eagles were third with .406 points. Those offenses were also among the leaders of most plays run on offense for the year. Of the top 15 teams in this scoring inefficiency metric, 12 of them made the playoffs.
Slotted right there at second in the league for 2013, between Denver and Philadelphia for most points scored per play, are the Dallas Cowboys. They scored .415 points per play, but actually ran the lowest number of plays on offense in the league.
Not surprisingly, the Broncos lapped the field. Seeing the Eagles land at No. 3 in this particular ranking comes as no shock, either. What occurred between those squads is unexpected, however, with Dallas landing second overall with a .415 points-per-play average.
The Cowboys' landing spot highlights two truths: 1. Generating more snaps may not be necessary to produce points -- they ran just 957 offensive plays last season, least of any team in the league; 2. That scoring at an efficient rate matters little if a team's defense cannot keep up.
Dallas finished the year having allowed the NFL's most yards (6,645) and the seventh-most points (432). Its opposition snapped the ball 1,094 times on offense, about 14 percent more than did Tony Romo and Co. The Cowboys' big-play ability merely helped them break even rather than setting them apart like Denver.
Oh what could have been, with just a decent defense. Maybe this year?