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Cowboys Have No. 1 Offense In NFL According to Aikman Efficiency Rating

The Aikman Efficiency Rating suggests the Cowboys have the NFL's best offense, despite featuring two rookies.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

One of the stats most closely correlated to wins in the NFL is the Aikman Efficiency Rating. The metric combines seven stats in five categories and aggregates them into a single number to provide a proxy for offensive and/or defensive strength.

The Aikman Efficiency Ratings were devised by - you guessed it - Troy Aikman, who was looking for a better way to rate team performance than the NFL’s "official" method of measuring offensive and defensive performance: yards gained or allowed. In 2006, together with Rick Odioso, a statistician for Fox Sports, and Jim Henzler, a senior analyst for Stats Inc., Aikman created the formula for the Aikman Efficiency Ratings (AER).

The exact formula used to arrive at the ratings was never made public, and remains proprietary to Stats Inc., but we do know what the seven stats are and how they are weighted in the formula:

Metric Weight Detail
Adjusted Points 20% Total points scored or allowed minus points on returns and safeties
Turnovers 20% Turnovers allowed on offense or turnovers generated on defense
Red Zone Efficiency 20% Percent of possible points - Number of points scored on red zone opportunities divided by total red zone opportunities multiplied by seven
Yards Per Play 20% 10% - Yards per rush attempt
10% - Yards per pass attempt including yards on plays involving sacks.
First Down Achievement 20% 10% - Number of 1st downs gained or allowed
10% - 3rd down conversion percentage

After six weeks of play, the Cowboys offense is ranked No.1 according to the Aikman Efficiency Rating, The defense is ranked 12th, and combined, the Cowboys rank 2nd overall in this efficiency metric.

Today we're going to focus on the offense only, so let's walk through the individual metrics for the Cowboys offense after six weeks.

Adjusted Points (Points allowed minus points on returns and safeties): Over six games, the Cowboys scored 159 points, and they didn't get any points off of returns or safeties. Their 159 points rank the Cowboys fifth overall with 26.5 adjusted points per game.

Turnovers: The Cowboys have thrown one interception and lost four fumbles. Over six games, that's 0.8 turnovers per game, tied for fifth fewest in the league.

Red Zone Efficiency. The Cowboys have had 23 red zone possessions, the fourth most in the league. At seven points per possession (leaving aside 2-point conversions), they could have scored a maximum of 161 on those possessions. The team scored 126 points on their 23 possessions for an efficiency percentage of 78%, the eighth best value in the league.

Yards per play: The Cowboys are gaining 4.8 yards per attempt on the ground (third overall) and 8.2 yards per attempt through the air (fourth).

First down achievement/Third down conversion. The Cowboys have achieved an average of 24 first downs per game, which ranks them No. 1 in the league. The Cowboys' third down conversion percentage is no less impressive, their 46.6% conversion rate ranks second overall.

The following table summarizes all the data above, with a color code added that shows a top five performance in green, a top ten performance in yellow and anything outside the top 10 in red.

Metric Weight League Rank per Week 6, 2016
Adjusted points 20% 5th
Turnovers 20% 5th
Red zone efficiency 20% 8th
Yards per rush attempt 10% 3rd
Yards per pass attempt 10% 4th
First downs 10%
3rd down conversion percentage 10% 2nd

You may have notice that the table does not contain any red cells and just one yellow cell, and as such the table tells a fairly straightforward story. The Cowboys offense is a top five unit in six out of seven metrics that make up the Aikman efficiency rating. The Red Zone efficiency is a slight outlier, but still within the top 10.

While we don't know how the Aikman Efficiency Ratings are ultimately calculated, we do know that the stats above are combined into one single number and then adjusted against a league norm established over the last 10 years.

The resulting number is usually somewhere between 50 and 100, and the better the offense, the higher the score. The NFL average on offense is around 80 points, here's how this year's Cowboys offense looks like after six weeks versus the year-end ranking for the previous five years:

Dallas Cowboys Aikman Efficency Rating
2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Aikman Efficiency Rating 82.6 80.0 86.9 90.9 73.7 96.1
NFL Rank 9 15 4 3 29 1

So far, the 2016 Cowboys offense is playing with an unprecedented level of efficiency. Week 6 obviously is still a little early to take the AER numbers as gospel. But as we get more data, the numbers will become more robust, which is why this is one of the stats I'll be watching closely this season.

And I won't be the only one; the Cowboys use this stat as well, as Rod Marinelli told Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News back in 2014.

When I talked to Rod Marinelli in training camp, he said there were only two sets of numbers he cared about for his defense: the Aikman ratings and turnovers.

The Aikman ratings are a set of efficiency numbers (like a passer rating, but they encompass more things). The Cowboys ranked 32nd in that last year as well.

What's particularly remarkable is that the Cowboys have achieved this offensive success with two rookies in the offensive backfield, without Tony Romo and with a part-time Dez Bryant. If the offense continues at this pace (and the defense hold up their part of the bargain) there should be a lot of post-season awards coming the way of the Cowboys coaching staff.

The Aikman Efficiency Ratings are published weekly, usually on Wednesday, and you can find them on the homepage of Troy Aikman Enterprises.

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