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.
LB Justin Phillips Making a Case to Become a Roster Lock With Cowboys
In Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys arguably have the best linebacker duo in the entire NFL. They also have some pretty solid backups in Sean Lee and Joe Thomas, but the depth behind those four is completely up in the air. That is excellent news for an undrafted LB like Justin Phillips.
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy LB signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent after the completion of the 2019 NFL Draft. To go from being an Oklahoma State Cowboy to a Dallas Cowboy must've been a dream come true, especially for a kid from Pearland, Texas who rooted for America's Team growing up. The dream probably won't be complete though unless a roster spot comes with it.
Surprisingly, Justin Phillips has put himself into contention to earn one of those coveted roster spots. The way he has played in the first two preseason games has caught the attention of quite a few people, which should make it extremely difficult for the Cowboys coaching staff when it comes to making roster cut decisions. Dallas Cowboys Staff Writer and former Scout Bryan Broaddus agrees…
"Justin Phillips is going to make it hard on this staff to put him on the street. Not only is his finish impressive, but the awareness he plays with in pass coverage is impressive. There is no way I thought he had a chance for that interception, especially with this initial step into the line, but his ability to turn and run to a spot saved him."
Here is the play/interception Broaddus is referring to:
The Dallas Cowboys have typically only carried six linebackers on their 53-man roster these past few years. With four spots already spoken for, Justin Phillips is doing his damnedest to lock down one of those final two up for grabs. That, of course, is easier said than done.
Phillips is likely competing with Justin March-Lillard, who led the team in tackles against the Los Angeles Rams last week and fellow undrafted rookie LB Luke Gifford. Gifford, of course, missed the game against the Rams with an ankle injury he sustained in Week 1 of the preseason against the 49ers. It was actually that injury that resulted in more playing time for Justin Phillips.
If you're doing the math here, that's three linebackers competing for two roster spots. March-Lillard probably has the upper hand right now over the two rookies, but I wouldn't say he's secured a job just yet. That leaves the door open for No. 44 (Phillips) and No. 57 (Gifford).
As much as I like Luke Gifford, and I do, I think the stars could be aligning for Justin Phillips to make it through roster cuts. He's playing really well right now, while all Gifford can do is watch from the sideline until he can get back on the field. Regardless though, it's a position battle worth keeping an eye on.
Do you think LB Justin Phillips has done enough to secure a roster spot?
How Kris Richard May Help CB Michael Jackson Make Cowboys Roster
Cornerback Michael Jackson, one of the Dallas Cowboys' 5th-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, has not been standing out so far in training camp or preseason. But despite the slow start, the influence of Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard could help keep Jackson on the 53-man roster this year.
While no team likes parting with their drafted rookies, it certainly happens. That's especially true for Day 3 players, even 5th rounders, and particularly when a team is as deep with talent right now as the 2019 Cowboys.
The cornerback position is one of Dallas' most loaded. They go four-deep with starting talent in Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis, which leaves just one or two roster spots for the remaining prospects.
Michael Jackson is in competition with veteran C.J. Goodwin and the intriguing Donovan Olumba. Both were with the team last year; Goodwin was a special teams contributor and Olumba was a valuable developmental asset on the practice squad.
So far this preseason, we've seen Goodwin shining on special teams and Olumba making plays at cornerback. Jackson hasn't stood out, unless you count jokes about thin he looks on the field.
In contrast, fellow 5th-round rookie Joe Jackson has been showing up at defensive end. Even if there were no suspension concerns with Robert Quinn and Randy Gregory, Joe Jackson has made himself very difficult to cut.
But despite not having that same momentum or energy around him yet, Michael Jackson may still find his way onto the 53-man roster. And that may have something to do with his position coach.
Since arriving in Dallas during the 2018 offseason, Kris Richard has quickly gained prominence beyond just his official role as the Defensive Backs Coach. He was working as the defensive play-caller last year and is expected to take over fully in 2020, assuming Rod Marinelli retires and Richard doesn't leave for a head coaching opportunity.
When Dallas selected Michael Jackson in the last draft, Jackson became the first cornerback or safety drafted by the Cowboys since Richard arrived. Given that it happened this year, with Richard's influence clearly high on the defense, one would assume that Kris had a big say in the decision to draft Jackson.
No, Richard certainly can't veto any decision made by the Joneses, Will McClay, Jason Garrett, or even Marinelli when it comes to roster management. But if he has any bias towards Jackson as his first draft pick in Dallas, Kris may fight for the rookie more than someone else.
We're all human; agendas come into play. Kris Richard may be more passionate about seeing Michael Jackson succeeding for a variety of reasons. He may pound the table for the team to keep Jackson louder than anyone else in the room.
That doesn't necessarily mean keeping Jackson over some other cornerback, either. The argument could be to go long at CB at the expense of another position; maybe only keeing two quarterbacks or eight offensive linemen to free up a roster spot.
This is purely speculative, of course. For all we know, Richard could be the first one who loses faith and votes to let Jackson go.
But given the situation and all factors involved, it's more likely that Kris Richard will be invested in seeing Michael Jackson succeed and sticking with the Cowboys in 2019. Hopefully, it's in the best interest of the team overall.
DL Kerry Hyder Impressive In Cowboys Week 2 Preseason Win
Kerry Hyder joined the Cowboys this offseason on a one year deal, and while the four-year NFL veteran has put up some solid tape in his time around the league, it was hard to project just what he could bring to the Cowboys defense.
Listed at 6'2" 270 pounds, Hyder is a bit of a tweener on the defensive line. Though the answer to "will he play tackle or end" seems to be "both" to this point in the preseason.
As he fights for his life on this deep defensive line, Kerry Hyder had himself a day in the Cowboys 14-10 victory over the Rams last weekend.
Hyder made an excellent play defending a screen pass in the first quarter, reading the play perfectly and reacting quickly to running back Darrell Henderson coming out of the backfield. Hyder also created some pressure on the quarterback, and finished with 3 combined tackles in very limited playing time.
Hyder's versatility is working well for him as he looks to make the final roster. Like a Tyrone Crawford type player, Hyder will be able to move inside and out depending on the situation. This allows the Cowboys to be flexible in how they structure their depth chart on defense, and in how they decide to rush the passer on third down.
A pass rushing package involving Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence on the edge with the combination of Hyder and Maliek Collins on the inside could turn out to be a very dangerous one for opposing offenses to deal with.
Rod Marinelli spoke to this versatility a couple of months ago, showing just how much he values what Kerry Hyder can bring to this team.
"Maybe you adjust him sometime, once in a while – in a one-on-one pass rush situation, stick him over a guard and start to get a feel for it.” - Rod Marinelli
Earlier this offseason, I wrote that Kerry Hyder could end up being Rod Marinelli's next great under-the-radar find on the defensive line. And if he continues to play with the hustle and awareness that he had on Saturday, he's going to make Rod look very smart in his evaluation.
Kerry Hyder is making it very difficult for the front office to let him go. And, at the end of the preseason, I do expect Kerry Hyder to find himself on the Cowboys' active roster. Especially considering how Mike White is playing at quarterback, and how his release could open up an extra spot at a different position group.
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Zeke Holdout: Remember, Owners Agreed to Renegotiating Contracts
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
5 Dallas Cowboys Backups Who Have Earned More Playing Time
Dallas Cowboys2 days ago
Michael Gallup Showing WR1 Talent in Amari Cooper’s Absence
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Line Looking Absolutely Stacked
Game Notes1 week ago
3 Studs and Duds From Dallas Cowboys Preseason Week 1 Matchup
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Roster Projection: Preseason Week 2
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Cowboys DT Christian Covington is a Player to Keep an Eye On
Game Notes1 week ago
Cowboys WR Jon’Vea Johnson’s Stock Drops After Preseason Opener