The regular season has come and gone and the Dallas Cowboys are just a couple of days away from their Wild Card round matchup with the Seattle Seahawks and the most important player on the field for America's Team is playing his best football heading into the postseason. As Dak Prescott mentioned yesterday when speaking with reporters, it's this time of year where quarterbacks are judged -- whether fairly or not that's fair is a solid debate-- and it seems that Prescott is prepared to put on a show this postseason.
Whether it was the Giants game in the finale or the second Philadelphia Eagles game, we've seen a quarterback in Prescott who has unleashed those big quarterback games that you dream of. The Drew Brees, Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning 300 and 400 yard games. He's come up big over the last half of the season and has been a big reason why the Cowboys are in the playoffs. If you look at his last five weeks, there may not be a quarterback playing as well as Dak Prescott heading into the postseason.
Pro Football Focus keeps tracks of how a quarterback performs under pressure, and Dak Prescott has been good in this regard over the last five weeks. In fact, among quarterbacks with at least 114 drop backs in that time frame, no quarterback has a higher passer rating under pressure than Dak Prescott's 112.4. Now, some will tell you that passer rating isn't a great stat, and I admit that it has its flaws, but of the 10 best quarterbacks in passer rating under pressure over the last five weeks, only three aren't in the postseason: Matt Ryan, Baker Mayfield, and Jameis Winston. Under pressure, Prescott's thrown for six touchdowns in that same time frame. Only one quarterback has thrown for as many: the Dallas Cowboys opponent on Sunday, Russell Wilson. DeShaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes are the only quarterbacks to have thrown for more yards under pressure than Dak Prescott.
The Cowboys have needed Prescott to take more deep shots and be better throwing the ball deep and he's responded. Over the last five weeks of the season, Prescott ranks sixth in the NFL in adjusted completion percentage, which factors in drops and has Dak completing 41.7% of his passes greater than 20 yards down the field. Prescott wasn't nearly as good in the first 12 weeks of the season, posting a deep adjusted completion percentage of only 36.4%, which was 21st in the NFL over that span while having the fewest attempts in the NFL during that stretch of the season. Over the last five weeks of the season, Dak is tied for seventh in deep passing attempts. It's paying dividends.
Dak Prescott's completion percentage over the last five weeks is 72.1% good for third in the NFL in that stretch and as we just discussed, they aren't all dump offs or check downs to Ezekiel Elliott or Cole Beasley. He's taking more deep attempts than he did earlier in the season and his completion percentage has gone up from 65.2% over the first 12 weeks of the season, which was 23rd in the NFL.
Completion percentage and passer rating not doing it for you, well how about this, Dak Prescott has thrown for nine touchdowns over the last five weeks, which is four fewer than Patrick Mahomes 13 and only one fewer than Tom Brady, Baker Mayfield, Russell Wilson, and Ben Roethlisberger. In passing yards, Dak ranks sixth in the NFL over the last five weeks. Only four quarterbacks in the top 10 in passing yards since week 13 are not slated to play in the postseason this year: Nick Mullens, Baker Mayfield, Jameis Winston, and Matt Ryan.
Dak Prescott is doing all of this while throwing the ball far more than he did in the early part of the season. He ranks fourth in the NFL in attempts since week 13 and is eighth in the NFL in yards per attempt at 7.7. Weeks 1-12 of the season, Prescott ranked 19th in passing attempts and 19th in yards per attempt at 7.2.
How's Dak doing on the money down (3rd down) since week 13? Well, Fun Fact Specialist Mark Lane from The Texans Wire and WFAA.com has you covered.
Fun fact: Over the final five weeks of 2018, among starting QBs, #Dak had the absolute best third down passer rating at 124.9, a full 6.5 points better than second place Patrick Mahomes.
Third down is by far the most important down in football. How well a team produces on third downs is a solid indicator of how well they do scoring points. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense has been excellent over the last five games at sustaining drives and giving their team an opportunity to score. We've seen a lot of long drives, even if they haven't always come away with points. However, if the last eight games are any indication, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys are rolling. Over the first eight games of the season, the Cowboys averaged 19.25 points per game and since week 10 have averaged 23.12 points per game. That 23.12 points per game includes the shutout loss to the Colts and the 13 they scored in the win against the Saints.
If you took what Prescott has done over the last five weeks of the season and projected those stats over 16 games, here's what they'd look like: 72% completion percentage with an average of 38 attempts per game for 4,666 yards, 29 touchdowns, two interceptions and three rushing touchdowns. This includes the Tampa By game where he threw for only 161 yards.
If the last five weeks of the season tell you anything, it's that we should completely get rid of the "Dak needs a great team to be great" narrative. The Cowboys have had an offensive line that has been held together by training tape as they've struggled with injuries to Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Xavier Su'a-Filo, while Connor Williams is still adjusting to the NFL game and La'el Collins has had ups and downs. All the while playing without probably the most important piece of the offensive line, Travis Frederick. The running game has been good, but it's not carrying this team like it did in 2016. Prescott's had to make plays to keep this thing going and he has.
The Dallas Cowboys look like a team that could do some damage in the postseason. They've got a defense playing at an elite level. They have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. And they have a quarterback playing his best football at the most important time of the season. As we've seen in years past, how you play heading into the postseason matters and right now few quarterbacks are playing as well as Dak Prescott.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
Breaking: Scott Linehan and Dallas Cowboys Part Ways
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan have mutually agreed to part ways following a tumultuous season that saw the Dallas Cowboys offense finish outside the top 12 three out of his four seasons in Dallas.
Sources: The #Cowboys are firing OC Scott Linehan. Taking their offense in a new direction. An announcement is coming.
Scott Linehan was brought in prior to the 2015 season and saw his offenses finish 31st, fifth, 14th, and 22nd in his four years as the Cowboys play caller. The 2015 season can be excused as the Cowboys rolled out Kellen Moore, Matt Cassell, and Brandon Weeden for 13 starts after Tony Romo was injured twice during the season, but the team 2-11 in those 13 starts and the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs despite a strong performance on the defensive side of the football.
The Cowboys saw an offense that finished fifth in the NFL in points in 2016 decline each of the last two offseasons and Linehan has been continually criticized by analysts, fans, and players as well.
Many believe that the reason that Dez Bryant and Brice Butler weren't brought back in the offseason was because of the public criticism of the offense and the play caller instilling the offense and that criticism has carried over to this season when Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper acknowledged that the Philadelphia Eagles were sitting on the slant routes that they had run all game. Dak mentioned that he changed Amari's route to a go route, which led to a 75 yard touchdown that helped open up the offense.
Cole Beasley has been frustrated with his role for much of the season and deservedly so. He was often non-existent in the offensive game plan until the final five minutes of football games.
In the running game, the offense had become too predictable and reliant upon jumbo formations that led to Ezekiel Elliott having to run against eight in the box anywhere from 25-30% of the time. For perspective, Todd Gurley only ran against eight-man fronts around eight percent of the time. Scott Linehan never looked to attempt to take players out of the box, instead insisting on motioning more players into the box for the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott to run against. It's amazing when you think about it, that Ezekiel Elliott was able to win the rushing title when facing loaded fronts as often as he did.
This was a move that needed to happen and the Dallas Cowboys didn't need to waste anymore time to make it happen. The offense had become stale and frustrating for the players as well as the fans. While Jason Garrett started the offseason saying he "didn't expect any changes," this was a move that absolutely had to happen for the offense to take a step forward. Below, you can read Jason Garrett's announcement on the move.
Cowboys have fired Scott Linehan
Even after the move for Amari Cooper, the offense looked better, but it still struggled at times to move the football.
The Cowboys have a young team with especially young players on the offensive side of the football. They have a quarterback who can throw from the pocket, but has excellent movement skills and capabilities of throwing the ball on the run. He's an excellent runner on designed runs. Despite us knowing all that, Scott Linehan looked reluctant to use him on designed quarterback runs that weren't read options or speed options. What you saw on designed runs in the Seattle game is what this team should be doing five times a game.
Now the question becomes, who should the Cowboys next offensive coordinator be? Our own, Staff Writer Brian Martin, laid out 5 Options to be the Next Offensive Coordinator earlier this week. I suggest you give it a read.
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
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