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2023 Cowboys analytics roundup: Dak Prescott continues to ascend

The Cowboys are rolling ahead of their Thanksgiving game

Dallas Cowboys v Carolina Panthers Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images

The Cowboys scored another big win, beating the Panthers 33-10 on the road, and now have to make a quick turnaround to host the Commanders on Thanksgiving. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to really evaluate this team, but the analytics roundup is here to offer a glimpse at where they stand before this next divisional game.

Cowboys Efficiency at a Glance

DVOA DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Previous Rank Weighted DVOA Weighted DVOA Rank
DVOA DVOA Rank DVOA Rank Previous Rank Weighted DVOA Weighted DVOA Rank
Offense 6.4% 10th 10th 8.2% 10th
Defense -12.8% 3rd 4th -12.7% 4th
Special Teams 1.9% 8th 9th 2.2% 5th
Overall 21.1% 6th 5th 23.1% 4th

The team dropped a spot in total DVOA but saw their actual DVOA grade increase from 20.6% to 21.1%. That’s because the Bills, playing their first game since firing their offensive coordinator, put up the highest DVOA grade of the week to leapfrog over Dallas.

So, yes, the Cowboys drop a spot but not because they were bad. Their grade improved, and they got better across the board. And for the second week in a row, they’re one of just two teams to rank in the top 10 in offense, defense, and special teams DVOA.

2023 NFL Team Tiers, Weeks 1-11, courtesy of rbsdm.com

Looking at the EPA-based team tiers, the Cowboys rank as the second best team in football behind the 49ers. It’s interesting that the Cowboys’ upcoming games against really good football teams - the Eagles, Bills, Dolphins, and Lions - are all clustered together in the “really good offense, okay defense” portion of the chart.

This chart also illustrates how good their offense and defense has been despite not being ranked at the very top. On offense, they’re very close to both the Bills and Dolphins with the 49ers a clear outlier. Similarly, the defense is neck-and-neck with Baltimore, but the Browns defense is breaking the whole chart with how ridiculously good they’ve been. Long story short: the Cowboys are good.

Offense

Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Offensive DVOA 6.4% 10th
Pass DVOA 25.5% 10th
Run DVOA -11.7% 22nd
EPA/Play 0.102 4th
EPA/Dropback 0.200 2nd
EPA/Rush -0.059 11th

The Cowboys’ offensive performance on Sunday fell below expectations after several weeks of red-hot scoring, but they still did well. Their offensive DVOA grade in this game ranked 10th among all teams this week, which matches their 10th place ranking on the year. There were also some unusual external factors that played a part in this game.

The Cowboys saw a boost in EPA across the board on offense, but curiously regressed in rushing DVOA despite Tony Pollard having his best game of the year. That’s likely a reflection of the Panthers entering this game with the 31st ranked run defense, something the EPA formula doesn’t account for. In terms of production in a vacuum, it was a good day for a run game that’s been getting a little better each week, though there’s an argument they left some meat on the bone against this defense.

Dak Prescott’s Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
QBR 73.9 2nd
EPA/play 0.234 2nd
CPOE 4.8 7th
DVOA 18.6% 6th
DYAR 711 7th

It wasn’t another crazy box score for Dak Prescott this week, but his play was still very good. It’s hard to get riled up about 189 passing yards, especially after three straight 300+ yard games, but Prescott took what little the Panthers secondary gave him and avoided the urge to force something that could result in a crucial mistake.

Prescott keeps rising through the ranks, even with a quiet game like this. He’s playing very efficient football, making big plays when they’re available and avoiding mistakes when the big play isn’t there. After this week, Prescott is now the highest graded quarterback in all of football, according to Pro Football Focus. If he can keep this level of play going, it won’t be long until he’s viewed as a frontrunner for the MVP.

Cowboys Offensive Line Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Pressure Rate 15.3% 5th
Adjusted Sack Rate 7.0% 15th
Blown Block Rate 2.49% 9th
Pass Block Win Rate 55% 18th
Run Block Win Rate 72% 7th
Adjusted Line Yards 4.3 T-10th

This was a very good game for the offensive line, especially in pass protection. The Panthers defense threw a ton of different looks at them in an effort to get Prescott uncomfortable, but it rarely worked. Terence Steele was targeted by this pass rush and only gave up five pressures, not a great day but certainly not as bad as it could’ve been.

All in all, Prescott was pressured on 33.3% of his dropbacks but was only hit four times and came out of the game without a sack. Considering the aggression from the Panthers front, and the lack of open receivers for Prescott to throw to, this was a very encouraging day for the line.

Defense

Cowboys Defensive Efficiency

Grade Rank
Grade Rank
Defensive DVOA -12.8% 3rd
Pass Defense DVOA -11.9% 4th
Run Defense DVOA -13.9% 13th
Pass Rush Win Rate 61% 1st
Run Stop Win Rate 29% 26th
EPA/Play -0.132 3rd
EPA/Dropback Allowed -0.145 3rd
EPA/Rush Allowed -0.112 13th

The defense didn’t let Bryce Young get into a rhythm, and they didn’t seem phased by head coach Frank Reich taking back play-calling duties. There was one extended drive that resulted in a touchdown for Carolina, but it relied on a penalty on a punt in addition to three different fourth-down conversions. Other than that, this offense was incapable of doing anything.

Micah Parsons had a dominant day despite vomiting on the sidelines. He came away with nine pressures and 2.5 sacks, which made him the first player in franchise history to record 10+ sacks in each of his first three seasons. Parsons leads the league in pass rush win rate and is just one pressure behind Raiders star Maxx Crosby for the league lead.

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 8 2 25.0% 1.0 15.9 6 20
Stephon Gilmore 47 25 53.2% 83.0 10.8 234 139
DaRon Bland 47 22 46.8% 29.1 11.4 170 61
Jourdan Lewis 28 20 71.4% 136.5 7.6 149 114
Jayron Kearse 23 20 87.0% 85.9 7.4 139 67
Malik Hooker 9 7 77.8% 118.8 11.1 78 76
Donovan Wilson 14 11 78.6% 132.1 5.4 35 52
Leighton Vander Esch 7 5 71.4% 87.2 0.4 -1 44
Markquese Bell 26 21 80.8% 93.1 1.0 9 156
Damone Clark 21 17 81.0% 88.9 0.3 -14 126

First, the positives. DaRon Bland continues to play at an elite level, securing his fourth pick-six on the year and tying the NFL record for most in a season. On Sunday, Bland was targeted four times and allowed just one completion on the day. His passer rating allowed of 29.1 is the best mark among all corners by a wide margin; the second-best grade is 41.3, quite a ways away from Bland.

Now, for the bad. Jourdan Lewis had another bad day in slot coverage, giving up completions on all five of his targets. Four of those came in coverage against Adam Thielen, who finished the day with eight catches on 11 targets. Lewis hasn’t looked like himself as he continues to recover from a career-threatening injury suffered last season, but it’s worth wondering what the Cowboys’ contingency plan is if Lewis can’t get back into form.

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