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Best and worst NFL offenses at staying 'on schedule'

One of the most important goals for an NFL offense is to stay on schedule. Gaining yardage consistently keeps the offense in beneficial down-and-distance situations. Good down-and-distance situations help the offense to move the chains and keep drives alive, and also provide good opportunities for explosive plays because the defense has to defend both short and long passes. Of course, the best way to keep the chains moving is to convert so often on first and second down that you never even have to see third down.

Which offenses are doing the best job of staying on schedule so far in 2016? To determine this, we averaged every team's rank in four different categories:

  • Conversion rate on first down.

  • Average yards to go on second down.

  • Conversion rate on second down.

  • Average yards to go on third down.

It's no surprise which team comes out as the best offense in the league at staying on schedule. The Dallas Cowboys have the best offensive line and perhaps the best running back, which means regular, consistent yardage in any down-and-distance situation. However, some of the other teams that are good or bad at staying on schedule may surprise you. For example, although the New England Patriots have perhaps the league's most powerful offense right now, they are only middle-of-the-pack at staying on schedule, even if we look only at games since Tom Brady returned from his suspension.

Here are the five best and five worst offenses at staying on schedule, with the league-wide rankings at the bottom of the article:

BEST

1. Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys almost always gain yardage on first down -- a league-leading 78 percent of the time. That puts them in excellent position on second down, where they have the lowest average yards to go (7.1) and the highest rate of first-down conversions (41 percent). It helps that Ezekiel Elliott is so consistent, leading the NFL in Football Outsiders' running back success rate metric.

Of course, the Cowboys don't just make plays on first down; they make big plays too. Thirty-three percent of their first-down plays gain 8 or more yards, second behind Atlanta.