The Cowboys’ season is over. Somehow a team that had great statistics managed to go 8-8 and miss the playoffs. It’s a mystery that no one has been able to clearly solve. Besides some terrific team stats on offense, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott also had a monster year.
Prescott had not only the best year of his career, but one of the best among any quarterback this season. Just his raw stats alone are impressive. Prescott finished with a completion rate of 65.1% with 4,902 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also added 277 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The yardage and touchdown totals are both career highs for Dak, who finished second in yards and fourth in touchdowns for NFL quarterbacks.
There was more to his performance than just those raw numbers. His passes looked cleaner, his footwork was more precise, and he displayed a command of the offense that we haven’t seen from him in previous years. A lot of this is due to Kellen Moore and Jon Kitna. While Moore undoubtedly had growing pains in his first year calling plays, he built an offense that played to Dak’s strengths - only six other teams ran play-action more than Dallas - and encouraged him to attack through the air, as evidenced by Dak finishing second in the league in both intended air yards and completed air yards.
Kitna helped refine Prescott’s mechanics in a major way, and it helped Dak become significantly more accurate with the ball. Dak finished with the eighth lowest bad throw percentage and tied with Patrick Mahomes for the ninth highest on target throw percentage. Dak also led the league in dropped passes with 33, which makes his numbers all the more impressive; if those 33 passes were all caught, Dak would have completed 70.6% of his passes. The only three quarterbacks to complete over 70% of their passes this year were Derek Carr, Ryan Tannehill, and Drew Brees, none of whom even came close to as many dropped passes.
While the work of Moore and Kitna definitely helped, Dak did plenty of good all on his own. He finished seventh in the league in completion percentage above expectation (CPOE), an advanced stat that indicates Prescott outperformed the scheme Moore was running for him. Based on a bunch of different factors including pass protection, depth of target, wide receiver separation, and accuracy of the throw, Prescott was expected to complete 62.6% of his passes, but he ended up completing 2.5 percentage points higher than that, which is impressive. For reference, 24 qualifying quarterbacks (minimum of 128 pass attempts) had a negative CPOE, including Mahomes, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Carson Wentz.
When it comes to more refined advanced metrics that measure total quarterback play, Prescott once again showed his value. He finished fourth in the league in QBR and third in EPA, and even placed second in EPA per pass play. Prescott also ranked fifth in DVOA, or value per play, and led the league in DYAR, or total value as a quarterback.
So, whether you prefer traditional stats or analytics, or a mix of both, it’s fairly clear that Dak had a great overall statistical year in 2019. The unfortunate part is that it didn’t matter to the team, who missed the playoffs despite finishing second in total offensive DVOA, but it does help the Cowboys make a decision about the big contract extension they’re going to give him soon. Prescott’s big step forward this year should serve as a springboard to next year, regardless of who the coach is. Hopefully the Cowboys as a team will be able to actually take advantage this time.