There are few things in this world as perplexing as the 2021 Dallas Cowboys. The rollercoaster of a season that ended in a first-round exit was a confusing year full of twists and turns.
But, looking forward, there is only more uncertainty. Which free agents will be retained? Will there be a star player cut from the roster? What will happen with the Cowboys coaching staff? The questions are abundant. But there are several certainties from the 2021 season that we know for a fact.
Micah Parsons’ did it all
Stat: Of the Cowboys defenders targeted more than 20 times in coverage, only Trevon Diggs finished with a lower passer rating allowed than Micah Parsons.
When dealing with a player who can both get to the quarterback and stop the run, it is easy to overlook coverage ability. But despite the slow start against the pass, Parsons developed into a decent coverage linebacker.
On 35 targets, Parsons only allowed 7.6 yards per reception on a 68.6% completion percentage, no touchdowns, and only 137 yards after the catch. While it wasn’t perfect, Parsons finished with the second-best coverage grade on the team according to PFF, and the second-best passer rating allowed at 80.9.
Granted, these numbers are somewhat inflated by the lack of opportunities against the pass and a low average depth of target. However, he did impress in coverage, and there is still incredible room for growth in this area.
Special teams did not disappoint
Stat: The Cowboys blocked more punts in 2021 (3) than they did in every season from 2001 to 2020 combined (2).
John Fassel is one aggressive man. Blocking 1.5% of all punts last season is likely unsustainable as teams use extra men in protection to stop the Cowboys from getting to the punter. But the three blocked punts in one season is unprecedented.
Coming into the year, over the last twenty seasons, Dallas ranked dead last by the number of punt blocks at two. But that all changed in 2021.
If three punt blocks doesn’t surprise you, consider that 24 teams failed to block a single punt this year. This isn’t an indictment of other teams; getting to the punter is incredibly difficult.
But the Cowboys accounted for 25% of all punt blocks in the league this season. Again, this likely won’t continue, but it was impressive to see for one year.
Trevon Diggs is a certified ball-hawk
Stat: Diggs finished with more interceptions (11) than Byron Jones, Tre’Davious White, Marlon Humphrey, Casey Hayward, Eli Apple, Kendall Fuller, Jalen Mills, Nate Hobbs, Chidobe Awuzie, and Adoree Jackson combined (10).
Alternate stat: Diggs finished with more interceptions (11) than Joey Bosa had sacks (10).
The Trevon Diggs interception numbers have been beaten to death, and this is just piling on. But did you expect a surprising statistics article without mentioning Diggs’ picks?
On top of Diggs recording the second-most interceptions in the NFL in a single season since 1980, he accounted for 42% of Dallas’ 26 turnovers last year. If you remove Diggs from the team, the Cowboys drop from the best team in the league by turnovers to tied in eleventh place.
If there is one certainty in this, Diggs will not repeat an eleven interception season in 2022. He has room to grow in his coverage ability; no one is debating that. It wasn’t all pretty, but that is why Cowboys fans should appreciate the elven interceptions even more. You’re likely not going to see it from Diggs again.
The offense was inconsistent at best
Stat: The Cowboys scored more points in six games than the Jacksonville Jaguars had all season.
Alternate stat: Dak Prescott threw for more touchdowns in three games (13) than Trevor Lawrence did in 17 games (12).
This is not meant to serve as an encouraging stat; it should actually be interpreted as the opposite. Because as explosive as the Dallas offense appeared at times, they were equally absent in a handful of games.
Because in the Panthers, Giants, Football Team, Falcons, and both Eagles games, the Cowboys put up a combined 271 points. That is more than the 253 points the Jaguars put up all year. Where was that offense in the playoff game and over the end of the year? Where was the “thirteen touchdowns in three games” Dak Prescott against the 49ers?
The apparent distinction is that the Cowboys took advantage of a poor division, wiped the floor with the bad teams, and then struggled against good teams. It is just confusing to consider now that the end of the season has arrived.
Say what you want about Ezekiel Elliott, but he did improve in one area
Stat: Of the running backs with more than 200 carries, only three players had fewer fumbles than Ezekiel Elliott.
If there is one statement that all Cowboys fans can agree on, it would be that 2021 was not Ezekiel Elliott’s best year. Playing through a torn PCL, it is unclear how this affected his game. But it wasn’t all bad.
Because after three seasons averaging four fumbles per year, Elliott put the ball on the ground once this year. Only Alvin Kamara, Elijah Mitchell, and Najee Harris ended the season with zero fumbles despite surpassing 200 carries.
To put this into perspective, Tony Pollard fumbled twice in 2021 yet only scored two touchdowns. This also ties 2017 as Elliott’s lowest fumble total in a season, which is particularly impressive given the criticism he received after 2020.
It was not a good year for Elliott, but credit where credit is due, he held onto the ball.
It was a season that had it all; disappointment, sadness, joy, optimism, anger, and nearly every other emotion you can think of. While there were some jaw-dropping moments and similarly surprising stats, it all amounts to nothing now.
So, go watch the Super Bowl. Share these stats with your fellow Cowboy fans because that is the only mention of America’s team that will happen on Sunday.