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Crunching Cowboys stats: Moore progress for Dak

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With just six games to go, the key offensive partnership is hitting its stride.

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers are in from the Dallas Cowboys’ win over the Detroit Lions. There are a lot of things to consider, but let’s start with a season-long look at the performance of Dak Prescott, who has forced his way into the MVP conversation.

Prescott’s progress

Numbers by game

Opponent Yards Passer rating ESPN QBR Result
Opponent Yards Passer rating ESPN QBR Result
NYG 405 158.3 94 W
WAS 269 123.5 93.9 W
MIA 246 91.4 83.6 W
NO 223 73.2 78.5 L
GB 463 83.8 31 L
NYJ 278 89.4 71.3 L
PHI 239 100.5 62.9 W
NYG 257 101.7 68.8 W
MIN 397 101.4 84.2 L
DET 444 116.6 72.1 W

He started off red hot, cooled down during the disappointing losing streak (despite the big yardage numbers against the Green Bay Packers), and now seems to be returning to form as all the stats are up over the last two games. The fact they lost the Minnesota Vikings contest is more about the failures around him than anything.

This is also about Kellen Moore, hence the bad pun in the title. And indirectly, the last game may be a real sign that the team is shifting away from literally running the offense through Ezekiel Elliott.

It is worth noting that his absolute best performance in both the traditional passer rating and ESPN’s proprietary QBR stat came in the first game of the season. As you may vaguely recall, that was with Elliott coming off his holdout. As a result, he was kept in a secondary role, and Prescott clearly thrived against a weak New York Giant defense.

For most of the rest of the games, establishing the run was again standard operating procedure, and things did not go well, with four losses. That clearly changed on Sunday, with no real emphasis on the running game and the offense riding on Prescott’s arm. It was the key to the win. The closeness of the final score was driven by the errors of the defense and special teams. Prescott led the team to 35 points, which should always be enough to get a win.

It really seems that Moore has been unleashed to maximize Prescott’s talent. It would be a mistake not to remind you that Jon Kitna deserves a lot of credit for how that talent has been developed and deployed.

It is probably very pertinent that reports have emerged of a meeting Jason Garrett held in the week prior, where the head coach took some responsibility for what had gone wrong. It is speculation, of course, but it does at least indicate that the shift in emphasis on offense came from Garrett. If that is the path going forward, the chances for Dallas to maintain its lead in the NFC East and get the automatic playoff bid have just gone way up.

The run/pass splits

Just to illustrate:

24 rushing plays (including the three kneel-downs at the end), 75 yards, one TD, one fumble

47 passing plays, 444 yards, one sack, three TDs, no fumbles or interceptions

Pass first, and with the Blake Jarwin catch that sealed things on the final meaningful offensive snap, pass last. With a whole lot of throwing in between.

Wide receivers stepping up

This was also huge. Amari Cooper had a quiet day as he continues to fight through injury. The Lions also had a plan to take him out of the game, putting their best coverage man on him the whole time he was on the field.

No problem. Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb both responded with brilliant games. Gallup amassed 148 yards on nine catches, and Cobb contributed 115 yards and a touchdown with his four grabs, for an impressive 28.8 yards average. His yards after the catch were also worth noting, as he had 50, his best total of the year (per The Football Database).

If they can continue to perform well, the Cowboys now have one of the most potent wide receiver groups in the league. Cooper is fourth in total yards, Gallup is now 20th, and Cobb has climbed to 46th. That’s two playing at WR1 levels, and a very good WR2 degree of production. Now, if they can just cut down on the drops. The Cowboys have the fourth most drops in the league, according to ESPN. Finish a few more of those plays, and this passing attack becomes even more unstoppable.

Defensive struggles

The stats don’t show the missed tackles and occasional bad coverage. There’s no specific answer for why Jeff Driskel and Bo Scarbrough made so many plays, but these numbers show some of the results.

Third downs: 6 of 13 (46%). While not spectacular, the conversions came at bad times, keeping drives alive. Better skill players might have upped that number, with very bad consequences.

Red zone: 3 for 3. This was just unacceptable. The defense has been very good in this most of the season, but fell down against the Lions, and it almost cost the Cowboys.

In the end, the defense got just enough stops to preserve the victory, but something is not right, particularly in the back seven.

Dallas once again had no takeaways, losing that battle 0-1. They overcame it, but need to find a way to get the ball away from their opponent. It makes winning so much easier.

However, the defensive ends continue to be a bright spot

They had three sacks and were constantly flushing Driskel out of the pocket, but it was the tackle totals that tell just how important DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, and Michael Bennett are to this team.

Typically, most tackles are made by the linebackers and defensive backs, with the line occupying blockers in the run game and pressuring the passer. But against Detroit, Dallas’ terrible trio accounted for the third, fifth, and sixth most tackles in the game. Most of those came very close to the line of scrimmage. Stopping so many plays is important in slowing an offense down. It also shows how much the rest of the defense was not doing so well.

Bennett and Quinn are not under contract for 2020 - at the moment. The Cowboys will really have to think about just what they might want to do about that.

Special teams are the worst

Out of the three phases of the game for this team, special teams are at the bottom. They did nothing in returning kicks or punts, save for an improvised kick return by Tony Pollard that was a case of his talent and determination overcoming a tricky bounce. The coverage of Detroit’s returns was similarly dismal. Had a double penalty situation not allowed one kickoff from the Lions’ 35-yard line, it would probably have looked even worse.

Detroit was attacking the kick coverage throughout the game, which means they have been studying the video from previous weeks. Once again, Dallas was clearly on the short end of the “hidden yardage” part of the game. Their average starting point for drives was their own 20, while the Lions averaged their own 29 - and that becomes significant over the course of a game. It has been an ongoing concern, save for the Eagles win, and so far Keith O’Quinn has not had any answers. He desperately needs to find some, before this costs the Cowboys a loss they can’t afford down the stretch.

One-game lead

It was a bit of a strange combination of passing beauty and lots of ugliness elsewhere, but it went in the win column. Combined with the loss by the Philadelphia Eagles against the sluggish-looking New England Patriots, it puts them back in undisputed first place in the NFC East, and gives them the opportunity to write their own fate. That continues next against the Patriots, in their stadium. In New England. In November. We have to hope Prescott’s progress includes better play in cold weather, something the Cowboys have not had in the past. The forecast for the afternoon contest is for temps falling into and through the 30s, with a chance for snow.

At least Cobb is no stranger to that. Maybe he can share some tips with the rest of the team.