The Dallas Cowboys are in a good place right now. After the first month, it was evident that their defense was special. Even though the takeaways regressed just like everyone said they would, this unit is still performing better as they are getting after the quarterback at an alarming rate. And while Cooper Rush did an incredible job holding down the fort while Dak Prescott was out of the office, we are now witnessing the return of offensive firepower with their star quarterback behind center. In fact, let’s provide a little comparison of how each of these units was performing before and after Dak’s return (graph courtesy of @CowboysStats).
Weeks 2 through 6 (Cooper Rush):
Most are familiar with EPA (expected points added), but if you’re not, here is the simple way to look at it. Every situation (down and distance, field position) has some expected points associated with it. If a team executes a good play, those expected points increase and they will earn a positive EPA score. If they have a bad play, the expected points decrease. This allows a team’s performance to be evaluated equally based on the specific game situation. The more positive their overall score (and more negative for defense), the better the team is performing.
Looking at the chart above from the first six weeks tells us what we probably could have figured out ourselves. The defense was a top 5 performing unit while the offense was middling at best.
But that was then.
When we turn the page, that’s when the magic begins to happen. You might’ve seen some of the splits between Rush and Dak since his return. Both quarterbacks went 4-1 in those time windows; however, the offense is a completely different machine with Prescott running the offense.
- With Cooper Rush, the Cowboys' offense averaged 21.4 points per game
- Since Dak Prescott’s return, the Cowboys' offense has averaged 33.8 points per game
That stat alone shows a 12.4 difference, almost two touchdowns per game! That’s pretty significant. So, it shouldn’t be all that surprising to see the Cowboys' offense move further along the right of the EPA chart. Let’s take a look.
Weeks 7 through 12 (the return of Dak Prescott):
After coming to the realization that this Cowboys’ defense was the real deal, many of us were excited about what that would look like if the offense started getting their act together and played as it did at the beginning of last year. And now, we’re seeing exactly that. Looking at that EPA chart from the last five weeks, one of those teams is not like the other.
The Cowboys' drift into the upper right quadrant is directly related to having Dak back. Despite the click-bait attempts from some media outlets suggesting Rush is every bit as good (if not better) than Prescott, it’s pretty clear that this team is considerably better with Prescott as their quarterback. But it’s not just that Dak is the better quarterback on this Cowboys team, it’s also that, when healthy, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the entire league.
Watching Prescott operate last Sunday was a thing of beauty. According to NextGenStats, against the Vikings, Prescott completed 21.8% of passes over expected. No quarterback, who has had at least 25 passing attempts, has completed more passes over expected over the last three seasons!
It’s easy to appreciate him in that game as the Cowboys dismantled Minnesota and Prescott only had three total incompletions. We know Dak has his moments, but how about a little consistency? One great game could be an anomaly, but how about two great games?
Prescott is coming off a Thanksgiving game where he threw two interceptions and the Cowboys offense was not doing much scoring in the first half, so it may have created the illusion that Dak wasn’t all that great, but that is simply not the case. Prescott delivered an encore performance on Thursday. NextGenStats has him completing 17.7% of his passes over expected. It was the highest CPOE by ANY quarterback in a game with at least 30 pass attempts over the last three seasons!
What we are witnessing is Prescott is finding his groove. There is no Amari Cooper on this team. There is no Tyron Smith on the field. And there is no Odell Beckham Jr. on this team. But there is a Dak, and he’s in a zone right now. It’s a small sampling, but it’s two games where he’s thrown the ball more accurately than anyone has over the past three years. If this is Dak Prescott now, can you imagine what this means for this football team? A great quarterback with a great defense? When was the last time we’ve ever seen that?