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Cowboys analytics roundup: Dak Prescott’s slump isn’t holding Dallas back

The Cowboys are playing like one of the NFL’s best, even with their offensive struggles.

Dallas Cowboys v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The major discourse in Dallas this week has centered on whether or not the Cowboys quarterback is experiencing a slump after two consecutive wins. That’s not to minimize the struggles of the Cowboys offense, but it does provide meaningful context to the severity of the team’s problems relative to wins and losses.

Dallas is in really good shape right now. After the Cardinals lost on Monday Night Football to the Rams, the Cowboys are only one game out of the top spot in the NFC, although there’s a lot of tiebreaker math to be done. They can also clinch their division this week if a few different things go right, and are still the overwhelming favorite in the division. Furthermore, the analytics suggest Dallas is one of the teams to beat in the entire conference.

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 13.4% 6th 9th 11.3% 7th
Defense -15.2% 2nd 1st -19.1% 1st
Special Teams 2.2% 6th 5th 4.4% 5th
Overall 30.9% 1st 1st 34.8% 1st

In spite of their recent struggles on offense, the Cowboys have climbed up to the third spot by total DVOA and for the second straight week feature a top 10 ranking in all three phases. No team could say that last week, and only the Colts and Patriots can this week. No other team in the NFC has that distinction.

In a big surprise, the Cowboys offense is their least efficient unit right now while the defense stands out as their best. Who could have seen that coming in the offseason? Obviously you want the offense to figure things out again soon, but this is a team that’s proven capable of winning games in multiple ways, an unusual experience for Cowboys fans this century.

NFL team tiers, Weeks 1-14 courtesy of rbsdm.org

The EPA-based team tiers aren’t as kind to the Cowboys, but they’re still among the league’s best. It’s interesting to see the Patriots now ahead of them considering Dallas was the last team to beat New England. Of note in this chart is how Dallas ranks fourth in defensive EPA per play and has tumbled quite far in terms of offensive EPA per play. It bears repeating just how unexpected this turn of events was, but credit to Dan Quinn and that defense.

Offense

Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Offensive DVOA 13.4% 6th
Pass DVOA 31.7% 6th
Run DVOA -4.0% 13th

Is the offense broken? Is Dak Prescott in a slump? Does Emperor Kellen Moore have no clothes on? All of these are natural questions to wonder when a formerly dominant group falls stagnant, but it’s important to remember that the Cowboys offense is still ranked in the top ten by DVOA. Most teams would kill for that.

Still, Dallas needs to find answers. The simplest answer is probably just that everyone needs to get healthy enough for this offense to play a few games together. Sunday’s win over Washington marked the first time all year that Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup all played over two-thirds of snaps in a game, although next week’s game will see Tyron Smith absent again while neither Ezekiel Elliott or Tony Pollard are completely healthy. The running game did see a modest uptick in efficiency this week, but the burden of this offense will fall on Prescott’s shoulders.

Dak Prescott’s Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
QBR 54.9 9th
EPA 85.8 7th
CPOE 2.2 T-5th
DVOA 21.2% 3rd
DYAR 1379 3rd

Prescott hasn’t been playing his best football lately, and it’s impossible to ignore that. But until this week, we’ve seen him remain near the top of the league value metrics like DVOA and DYAR, as well as completion percentage over expectation. This trend suggested that while Prescott was no longer lighting the league on fire, he was still playing very well.

That changed after the Washington game; completing under 60% of your passes and throwing two interceptions will do that. Prescott saw a considerable dip in all three of the aforementioned metrics while his QBR is slipping to unprecedented lows for him. In no way is it time to hit the panic button because Prescott has a much larger sample size of great football throughout his career that suggests these past few games are a statistical outlier and things should get back to normal soon.

Cowboys Offensive Line Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Adjusted Line Yards 4.80 2nd
RB Yards 4.68 5th
Adjusted Sack Rate 5.6% 9th
Pass Block Win Rate 58% 23rd
Run Block Win Rate 73% 6th

So, the offensive line has a problem. It’s easy to suggest that their problems in pass protection are the real reason for Prescott’s dipping numbers, but even if you don’t subscribe to that theory, the pass blocking has been a concern. Dallas has consistently been near the bottom in pass block win rate all year, although they’ve managed to generally avoid sacks in spite of it.

Early in the year, Tyler Biadasz and Terence Steele were the biggest problems in pass protection. But Biadasz has made huge strides, not allowing even one pressure in several weeks, while Steele seems to have finally been supplanted by La’el Collins, although he’ll likely play at left tackle in relief for Smith. Recently, the biggest culprit has been Connor McGovern, who’s struggled mightily at left guard. He’s been one of the worst in the NFL in pass block win rate since taking over for Connor Williams, and Pro Football Focus has him with the third-highest rate of negatively-graded run blocks in the entire NFL since Week 10.

McGovern isn’t solely to blame though, just like Biadasz and Steele weren’t isolated problems either. The struggles in pass protection have been a consistent issue all year, but they’re just starting to really impact the offense in a negative way. Whatever the answer is, Joe Philbin will need to figure it out sooner rather than later.

Defense

Cowboys Defensive Efficiency

 Grade Rank
 Grade Rank
Defensive DVOA -15.2% 2nd
Pass Defense DVOA -20.5% 2nd
Run Defense DVOA -7.1% 16th
Pass Rush Win Rate 42% 12th
Run Stop Win Rate 31% 14th

The Dallas Cowboys are an elite defensive football team. It’s weird to say but it’s true. They’re middle of the pack in pass rush win rate and run stop win rate, but Quinn has demonstrated an adept ability at scheming up pressures with various blitz packages. Getting DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and Neville Gallimore back has only deepened his bag of tricks.

Notable here is that the Cowboys now lead the league in pass defense DVOA. I don’t have nearly enough time to check the numbers and figure out the last time that happened here, but it’s been a very long time. The Cowboys have been exceptional against the pass lately, which is huge in a league that’s becoming more and more pass happy by the year.

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 103 54 52.4% 55.8 10.4 496 411
Anthony Brown 122 65 53.3% 78.4 12.2 518 318
Jourdan Lewis 76 52 68.4% 93.4 8.5 381 305
Kelvin Joseph 17 8 47.1% 82.7 6.8 14 75
Jayron Kearse 65 40 61.5% 77.5 6.8 179 237
Damontae Kazee 25 13 52.0% 85.8 14.2 135 70
Malik Hooker 28 16 57.1% 80.8 9.6 59 90
Donovan Wilson 14 6 42.9% 57.1 8.1 39 26
Keanu Neal 38 30 78.9% 97.1 3.8 109 169
Leighton Vander Esch 38 27 71.1% 87.9 1.8 37 226
Micah Parsons 36 22 61.1% 71.5 3.1 37 123

Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs now have a nearly identical completion rate allowed. Number 30 has come a long way since getting toasted by Antonio Brown in Week 1. His performance would make him the top corner on most teams, but the Cowboys have Diggs too.

Diggs was lights out against Washington, shutting down budding star Terry McLaurin and making things even harder on the Football Team’s quarterbacks. This may have been Diggs’ best game all year, and it came without a single interception.

One other note before signing off this week. In recent analytics roundups, I’ve highlighted just how bad Leighton Vander Esch has been in coverage lately. Maybe he saw that, because the Wolf Hunter had a great performance Sunday. He only allowed one completion on three targets and was charged with just one yard after the catch allowed. Vander Esch was also stout in run defense, not missing a single tackle all day. If he can replicate that performance over the next two months, this defense may become even more unstoppable.