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Despite what you heard, the Dallas Cowboys were not the #1 ranked offense in 2021

While it was common for the television broadcast to say “the Dallas Cowboys have the best offense in the NFL,” this is not true by almost every metric.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Playoff-San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

During the season, about twice a game, Dallas Cowboys fans were reminded that “Dallas has the number one scoring offense in football.” Even more egregious, the announcers would often state that the Cowboys have the best offense in the league.

While both of these statements are objectively false, they are being thrown around to defend Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott. If you want to protect these two, don’t use the argument that Prescott and Moore just led the best offense in football.

The Cowboys aren’t the best offense in the NFL, as proven by (essentially) every metric

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

There is almost no statistic, fact, tidbit, or other justification that supports the notion that the Cowboys have the best offense in football. Yes, this includes offensive points per game.

Now, the Cowboys led the NFL in points per game at 30.4, which prompted most announcers to believe this is the highest-scoring offense in football. However, the defense and special teams produced nine total touchdowns in 2021.

The 54 total points by the defense and special teams was by far the most in the NFL, with Miami second at 36 points. When you take these non-offensive touchdowns away from every team’s points per game, the Cowboys finished as the third-highest scoring offense in the NFL behind the Buccaneers and Bills.

The Cowboys were not the highest-scoring offense in football, and this discrepancy is even worse when you consider Dallas’ opportunities. Because of the constant takeaways the defense was forcing, Dallas was seventh in the NFL by the number of offensive drives they had.

What did they do on these 192 drives? They scored 43.8% of the time, the ninth-highest rate in the league, and punched it into the endzone 28.6% of the time, the sixth-highest rate.

The Cowboys were gifted a lot of opportunities to score, but they struggled to consistently convert these opportunities into points. They were not a bad offense over the year, but they were far from the best.

Now, the Cowboys did lead the NFL in one metric, yards per game. It would be unfair to dismiss this stat, but here is the reality; yards are a flawed measure of overall offensive success. This is not a statistic that should dictate who the “best offense in the league is.”

We shouldn’t completely dismiss the yards per game statistic; it does take a good offense to lead the league in this metric. But to assume we have nothing to worry about because Dallas led the NFL in yards per game is illogical, especially when you consider the previous argument that the Cowboys had more opportunities on offense than the average team.

Instead, here are specific metrics that are exponentially more meaningful in measuring offensive success and where the Cowboys landed at the end of the season:

  • EPA per play: 7th
  • DVOA: 6th
  • Weighted DVOA: 7th
  • Percent of drives that end in a score: 9th
  • Yards per play: 5th
  • Red zone scoring percentage: 6th
  • Third-down conversion percentage: 10th

All of these measures don’t even consider the offense’s inconsistency, such as the fact that 58% of the Cowboys’ 2021 points came in just seven games. Or the fact that the Cowboys scored more than thirty points eight times this season, with four of those eight games coming in the first six weeks, and four of those games being against NFC East opponents.

Dallas was far from the number one offense, and even if they were top-ten by most metrics, it was wildly inconsistent. But why does this matter?

So what?

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Alright, the Cowboys didn’t have the best offense in the NFL; why should we care? After all, 31 teams did not have the best offense in football.

But when we evaluate Kellen Moore, Dak Prescott, or anyone else on offense this offseason, the argument that the Cowboys “had the best offense in 2021” shouldn’t be used. No one should be safe from criticism simply because the television broadcast overestimated how efficient the Dallas offense was.

Here is how we should view the Cowboys offense: they were among the best in the NFL in the first six weeks, but they were not superior to all others. After the bye, Dallas quickly regressed, being an inconsistent, top-half offense at best. But throughout the season, they landed inside the top ten by most metrics, with the hot start and blowout NFC East games inflating these metrics.

So, the question that we will try to answer this offseason is: Do Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott have the ability to maintain their success for the entire season, or will there always be inconsistency issues?

This is a complex question and one that cannot be answered with “well, they were the number one offense in 2021.” It will take a lot of work in the offseason for Dallas to hold that title, but it can be done. However, to do so, there needs to be change and immense improvement at every level of the organization.