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Cowboys analytics roundup: No Dak Prescott, no problem (sort of)

The Cowboys continued their winning ways even without their best player

Dallas Cowboys v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

No Dak Prescott? No problem. This is, of course, hyperbole; the Cowboys are a massively better team with Prescott on the field, but they won a road game in a hostile environment against a pretty solid Vikings team without their franchise quarterback under center. Not too many teams can do that.

It’s no surprise, then, to see the Cowboys still ranking near the top of the league in many analytics categories, but showing at least a slight decrease in areas relating to quarterback performance. With eight weeks of football out of the way, schedule adjustments for DVOA are at 80% strength, while the DAVE ranking for teams (like the Cowboys) who have played seven games is currently a 50/50 split between preseason expectations and actual result.

Cowboys Efficiency at a Glance

 DVOA DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Previous Week Weighted DVOA Weighted DVOA Rank
 DVOA DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Previous Week Weighted DVOA Weighted DVOA Rank
Offense 10.7% 7th 7th 6.0% 11th
Defense -11.8% 4th 4th -13.6% 3rd
Special Teams 2.2% 7th 10th 3.4% 6th
Overall 24.7% 4th 5th 23.0% 3rd

The Cowboys offense is still highly efficient after swapping Prescott out with Rush. They saw hardly any real change in their DVOA totals on offense, as Rush threw for 325 yards against a defense that ranked third in pass defense DVOA. The defense saw a considerable boost in their numbers, made all the more impressive by their lack of takeaways, which had been a big factor in their high rankings until now.

Then there’s the special teams unit, which had two very negative plays Sunday that sunk their DVOA. There was Greg Zuerlein’s missed field goal early in the game and then Bradlee Anae’s offsides penalty on a punt, which gave Minnesota a first down that resulted in points. It was just two plays, but those were enough to drag the unit below their DAVE ranking.

The good news is that the Cowboys’ EPA-based rankings have them as the fifth-best team in the league, matching their overall DVOA ranking. That Dallas sits in the top five in both offensive EPA/play and defensive EPA/play is highly encouraging for their Super Bowl aspirations. Less encouraging is that three of the four teams ahead of them are in the NFC.


Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Offensive DVOA 10.7% 7th
Pass DVOA 29.2% 8th
Run DVOA -5.2% 12th

Credit must be doled out to everyone for this offense still playing as efficiently as they did without Prescott. Mike McCarthy has everyone on this team ready to step up, Kellen Moore did a great job of managing Rush without limiting him, the skill players and offensive line made Rush’s job that much easier.

Everything fell into place in this game. Those who thought Moore would have Rush just check the ball down constantly were dead wrong: only two other quarterbacks averaged more air yards per attempt this week than Rush. They let him sling it for sure, even if the full playbook wasn’t available. And the difference between Prescott and Rush is noticeable:

Dak Prescott’s Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
QBR 49.7 18th
EPA 52.9 15th
CPOE 3.5 3rd
DVOA 20.2% 4th
DYAR 926 4th

Cooper Rush’s Efficiency vs MIN

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
QBR 44.7 17th
EPA 3.3 20th
CPOE -1.3 12th
DVOA - -
DYAR - -

There’s a danger in comparing single-game results to someone with a larger sample size, but the gap between these two is so large that it offers at least some valuable insight. Prescott is top three in the NFL in CPOE (completion percentage over expectation), DVOA (value per play), and DYAR (overall value) and is just outside of the top ten in QBR.

It’s important to note that since EPA is a cumulative statistic, Prescott’s getting dinged there for not playing the last two weeks. For example, Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa has ranked first, third, and 12th in weekly EPA the last three weeks, but because he missed four games this year he’s 24th in EPA on the year. This will average out for both quarterbacks as the season goes on.

Rush, on the other hand, played at a significantly lower level than Prescott. Individual DVOA and DYAR is only calculated on quarterbacks with at least 120 passes, so Rush didn’t register anything there. But he had a negative CPOE and below-average QBR and EPA. All of these figures were better than Kirk Cousins, as well as several other starting quarterbacks around the league, but pale in comparison to the guy at the top of the depth chart.

Cowboys Offensive Line Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Adjusted Line Yards 4.86 3rd
RB Yards 4.80 4th
Adjusted Sack Rate 4.8% 4th
Pass Block Win Rate 56% 24th
Run Block Win Rate 72% 6th

The Cowboys offensive line continues to be dominant, especially in the run game. Dallas opted to stick with Terence Steele at right tackle despite La’el Collins returning from suspension, and Steele ended up being the only Dallas lineman to not allow a pressure this week.

That meant center Tyler Biadasz snapped (no pun intended) his four-game streak of not giving up a pressure, although Biadasz did find himself moving into a tie for the eighth-best run block win rate among centers. In other run block win rate rankings, Zack Martin is fourth among guards and Tyron Smith is sixth among tackles. Martin also ranks eighth among guards in pass block win rate.


Cowboys Defensive Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Defensive DVOA -1.8% 4th
Pass Defense DVOA -14.6% 4th
Run Defense DVOA -7.4% 19th
Pass Rush Win Rate 40% 19th
Run Stop Win Rate 31% 11th

Ladies and gentlemen, we may soon have to confront the reality that the Dallas Cowboys have a good defense. So far this year, they’ve been getting by on well-timed takeaways that erase all the yards they gave up. But against the Vikings, they registered zero takeaways and not only held the offense to one touchdown but actually moved up in DVOA rankings.

They did so by forcing the Vikings into several third and long situations, resulting in Minnesota going 1 of 13 on third downs. The defensive front did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage and taking advantage of a conservative quarterback. They’re top ten in pass defense DVOA and pass rush win rate, while sitting just outside in run defense DVOA and run stop win rate. These are very positive trends for the Cowboys.

Cowboys Pass Coverage

 Targets Completions Completion Rate Passer Rating Allowed ADOT When Targeted Air Yards Allowed Yards After Catch
 Targets Completions Completion Rate Passer Rating Allowed ADOT When Targeted Air Yards Allowed Yards After Catch
Trevon Diggs 82 45 54.9% 56.4 8.8 325 382
Anthony Brown 89 51 57.3% 79.1 12.0 410 276
Jourdan Lewis 55 40 72.7% 107.7 9.2 304 250
Jayron Kearse 53 34 64.2% 79.8 6.8 141 208
Damontae Kazee 18 9 50.0% 82.4 14.1 116 51
Malik Hooker 15 8 53.3% 110.0 9.2 40 46
Donovan Wilson 6 2 33.3% 47.2 9.3 16 9
Keanu Neal 25 21 84.0% 94.7 3.3 64 104
Leighton Vander Esch 28 21 75.0% 99.1 1.3 19 213
Micah Parsons 30 19 63.3% 76.4 3.6 43 112

One quick note upfront: Donovan Wilson, who played exceptional this week in his second game since returning from injury, still has not been credited with a pass thrown his way. Many of his snaps thus far have come up in the box and on the line of scrimmage as a blitzer or run defender. He’ll be added to this table when there is data to add.

With that out of the way, this secondary is really coming into its own. Trevon Diggs snapped his interception streak, but it was largely because Cousins didn’t test him after throwing a touchdown on him early. Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis saw a lot of action in this game, and both responded extremely well, with Lewis easily having his best game of the year.

Let’s talk about the linebackers, though. Keanu Neal has yet to force an incompletion, which isn’t ideal considering his safety background, but he’s also allowing the fewest yards after catch on the team despite having the sixth-highest average depth of target. In other words, he’s giving up completions but not allowing much more after that.

The same can’t be said for Micah Parsons and Leighton Vander Esch, though. Sunday was, by all accounts, Parsons’ best game in coverage so far but he’s giving up over twice as many yards after the catch as he is air yards. Vander Esch is worse: he’s got the lowest average depth of target and the fewest air yards allowed, but has allowed the fourth-highest yards after the catch. That offenses have been able to throw quick passes his way and rack up yards consistently is a bit of a concern.

If this defense has a weak spot, Vander Esch might be it. How Dan Quinn handles that going forward will be further complicated by losing Jabril Cox for the year. However, Quinn has already shown us more than enough to have faith that he’ll make the right adjustments.