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Will Dak Prescott Face Tougher Sledding In 2017?

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With the new schedule out, let’s return to a subject we touched on back in January when we knew Dallas’s 2017 opponents, but not the schedule - real quarterback rating differential.

NFL: NFC Divisional-Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Back in January, we wrote a series of three articles on Real Quarterback Rating Differential, and its value in predicting winners and losers in the NFL. By incorporating all quarterback stats, including rushing plays and fumbles, not just their passing stats, it improved upon the predictive value of quarterback rating differential.

The first article gave an overview of the stat.

The current passer rating is just that, a measure of passing effectiveness. Real Quarterback Rating includes rushing attempts, rushing yards, rushing TDs, fumbles and sacks to produce a new kind of rating that measures a quarterback’s overall performance with the ball, not just as a passer when he actually releases the ball (which is all that passer rating currently measures).

Here’s the value:

The differential just measures a team’s own quarterback play against how they limit their opponent’s quarterback play. The team that wins this differential has won between 85.5% and 87.5% of the games over the last five years.

In addition, it helps to rate highly in this stat if you want to make the Super Bowl.

Of the ten Super Bowl teams since 2012, six have ranked first or second in real passer rating differential, two more have ranked fourth, and two have been 12th. Plus, all 10 teams have ranked as high or higher than they ranked in passer rating differential.

New England and Atlanta ranked first and second in this stat last year.

The second article looked at whether the Cowboys could improve on this stat on offense this season. Among the things we looked at were the defensive real quarterback rating (DRQR) of Dallas’s opponents in 2016 and 2017 to see whether Dak Prescott would be facing more challenges than he did in 2016. Now that we have the 2017 schedule, it’s time to revisit that analysis.

Here are the 2016 and 2017 Cowboys opponents, with Dak Prescott’s quarterback rating against each 2016 opponent in the middle. Real quarterback rating is not broken down by game for quarterbacks, so we are using the old fashioned quarterback rating as a proxy.

Week 2016 Opp DRQR Prescott PR 2017 Opp 2016 DRQR
1 Giants 2 69.4 Giants 2
2 At Washington 22 103.7 At Broncos 1
3 Bears 25 123.6 At Cardinals 5
4 At 49ers 27 114.7 Rams 26
5 Bengals 11 117.9 Packers 24
6 At Packers 24 117.4 At 49ers 27
7 Eagles 6 79.8 At Washington 22
8 At Browns 31 141.8 Chiefs 4
9 At Steelers 10 121.7 At Falcons 21
10 Ravens 14 127.2 Eagles 6
11 Washington 22 108.9 Chargers 8
12 At Vikings 3 108.3 Washington 22
13 At Giants 2 45.4 At Giants 2
14 Bucaneers 16 99 At Raiders 18
15 Lions 32 148.3 Seahawks 9
16 At Eagles 6 63 At Eagles 6
253 203

One big caveat here. A team’s defensive real quarterback rating varies from year to year, so it’s unfair to project 2016 results onto the 2017 schedule. In our previous article, we tried to account for this by showing 2015 team ratings to show how much variance one might expect from year to year. Nonetheless, we don’t have 2017 results, so this is the best we can get for now.

With that caveat in mind, there is no question that Dak Prescott is going to have to elevate his game to match his stellar results from 2016, much less improve upon them. As can be seen, Dak’s two worst games were against the Giants, who ranked second in DRQR in 2016. His third worst game was against the Eagles, who ranked sixth. Dak also lit up the Browns and Lions, who had the 31st and 32nd ranking in DRQR last year. Overall, not counting the second Eagles game, when Dak barely played, he faced only four top-10 DRQR opponents in 2016. Their overall rankings averaged 15.8.

By comparison, in 2017, if we project off the Cowboys’ opponents’ 2016 DRQR, Dak will be facing five games against top-5 DRQR teams - Giants twice, Broncos, Cardinals, and Chiefs, and four more top-10 DRQR teams - Eagles twice, Chargers, and Seahawks. The overall rankings average 12.6.

Moreover, it’s an especially rough patch to start the year, against the second, first, and fifth teams in DRQR in 2016. The next four games are much easier, with all four opponents in the 20s. But the last nine games will not be easy, with only two teams ranked in the low 20s, and the opponents averaging a 10.6 ranking.

For the Cowboys to approach last year’s success, Dak is going to have to find ways to avoid being stymied by the top defenses, while he continues to feast on weaker foes.