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.
Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke
It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?
This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.
if you can only pay one it should be
The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.
To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.
Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.
Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.
As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.
Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.
In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.
Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.
Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.
Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.
Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.
Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.
BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb
According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.
Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T
The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.
During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.
After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.
This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.
Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!
REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur
L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.
Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.
The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e
Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.
Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.
Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.
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