Another week for Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, and the performance levels are still rising! Indeed, this week looked so good, I think most of us would be happy with this kind of game from each of them all the time.
Dak’s stats from his first three weeks.
(Note: The key stats here are Adjusted Net Yards per attempt, which demonstrates how well a QB gets the ball down the field and into the end zone. Completion percentage tends to show accuracy. Attempts shows the run/pass balance, with fewer attempts for QBs often the goal. Turnovers, or the lack of them, are also critical.)
Look at the trajectory on all of Dak’s stats. His attempts have gone down each game, but his production and efficiency have gone way up. For ANY/A, a critical stat for any quarterback, Prescott went from a pedestrian 5.04 yards to a pro bowl 8.17 yards per throw (better than the number Tony Romo posted in 2014, his best season) to 11.1 yards per attempt yesterday. This stat adjusts the yardage downward for sacks taken, and Dak went from four sacks in the Washington game to none against the Bears. It also gives a bonus for passing TDs, and Dak had his first yesterday. He almost had two more, but Jason Witten and Cole Beasley were both downed inside the one-yard line. Had they both scored, Dak’s ANY/A would have been 12.8! (In 2014, Tony Romo exceeded that in only one game - a 42-7 romp over the Colts.)
Dak’s completion percentage was up to 79%, the highest any QB had this week, he had one TD pass, and his passer rating was 123.6. (Had Witten and Beasley scored, this number would have been 148.2). Once again, Dak won the passer rating differential for the Cowboys 123.6 to 93.7, which is a key variable in who wins football games. He also sneaked in for another rushing TD.
One of the things I liked about his game this week, which was part of the thoughts pre-game, was that Dak used his legs to scramble when passes weren’t there. He rushed four times for 36 yards, making him the second leading rusher on the team. These types of runs move the chains and can break down defenses who otherwise think they have things covered.
Dak’s mind meld with Cole Beasley continued. Seven targets, seven catches, for 73 yards, and Cole’s longest career reception of 29 yards. Dak also got Terrance Williams back into the flow (no targets or receptions last week) with four targets and catches for 88 yards, including a 47-yarder that would have put the game away had Williams not been stripped of the ball. For Dez, it was only three catches for 40 yards, but a TD to cap things off.
Amazingly, Dak is not completely running away with rookie quarterback honors.
Carson Wentz had a slightly higher quarterback rating, because of his two TD passes, though he was behind Dak on ANY/A and completion percentage, and didn’t have Dak’s rushing totals. With three more passes than Dak without an interception to start his career, he’s now overtaken Dak in this record as well. Trevor Siemian, while technically not a rookie, had the highest QB rating of all because of his four TDs. Cody Kessler and Jacoby Brissett brought up the rear.
If you like ESPN’s proprietary QBR stat, Dak Prescott is ahead of every healthy quarterback in the NFL, with a three-game total of 87.2 (100 is perfect), and tied for tops this week with Aaron Rodgers at 99.1 QBR. Only Jimmy Garoppolo is higher on the season. Carson Wentz is 13th, at 68.9.
It’s hard to even nitpick Dak’s game on Sunday night. Sure, he didn’t throw any deep passes again, but he put the ball where his receivers could gain yards after the catch, and was extremely efficient. Dak led the team on scoring drives it’s first four possessions to take control of the game at the half. But for a uncharacteristic missed Dan Bailey FG and Terrance Williams’ fumble, the Cowboys likely would have put up 40+ points. And this is only his third game! The Dak Prescott v. Tony Romo debate just got more interesting.
How did Zeke do in game three? A whole lot better.
- Rushing: 30 carries, 140 yards, 4.7 YPC, 0 TD, long 21 yards, no fumbles
- Receiving: 2 receptions, 2 targets, 20 yards.
This is what we all expected out of Zeke. He was consistently getting more yards on runs between the tackles. He showed more patience and spatial awareness at finding lanes, or breaking the run outside if the inside lane wasn’t there. He ran hard, and in one great sequence just after NBC had shown a video clip of him as a track star running hurdles, he hurdled a would-be Bear tackler on a 14-yard run.
In one game, he vaulted into a tie for second in the NFL in rushing yards, with 274. His yards per carry still need to rise, but they are also trending upward nicely. He was also used somewhat more effectively as a receiver in this game, though not nearly as often as Cowboys running backs have been used under Scott Linehan.
A couple things I noted. His yards per carry continued to decline late in the game. With the big lead, the Bears knew Dallas was going to run, and totally sold out to stop it. On the flip side, this can also be the time when a worn out defense can be gashed for big gains. I expect this will come. Was it fatigue at this point for a player who is still rounding into form? Zeke also took himself out of the game near the end zone, which allowed Lance Dunbar to punch it in from the half yard line for his first NFL score. And he failed on a couple of third down runs, which he hadn’t up to this point. These are nits to pick in an otherwise great performance.
My grades this week?
- Dak. A. Positives: Like Tony Romo in 2014, with fewer passing attempts and a solid running game, Dak became more efficient. His stats took another huge upswing this week, which hardly seemed possible as last week’s numbers were really good. What I liked most was taking control in the first half going four of four on scoring drives for 24 points. Negatives: What negatives?
- Zeke. A-. Positives: 30 carries for 140 yards and another 20 receiving is outstanding work for any running back. Negatives: I’m only giving him an A- because he can still do better. Looking for that first breakaway run, more catches and TDs, and to not take himself out of the game near the goal line.
What did you think of their performances?