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Football

Dak Prescott Is Playing His Best Football In Five Years. Here’s How.

He isn't the only reason Dallas looks rejuvenated. But he is the most important one.
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Prescott torched Seattle in one of the best regular-season games of his career. Tim Heitman, USA Today Sports.

Maybe the Cowboys should play all their games on Thursdays.

For the second straight week, Dallas welcomed its opponent to AT&T Stadium for a midweek game—and showed its hospitality by dropping a 40-burger on it. This version of the Cowboys can hang with any team in the NFL. Both the offense and the defense can dominate their opponent, which is especially helpful when one side has an off-day, as we saw against Seattle. The usually dependable defense struggled to slow Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, who spent all night getting the ball out too quickly for the pass rushers to get to him. 

But the offense covered for them in this one by scoring points on eight of its nine drives, half of which ended in a touchdown. CeeDee Lamb deserves a healthy slice of credit for playing like the best receiver in football. But once again, the most impressive player on offense was the quarterback. The rumblings that this could turn into an MVP season for Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott are not without merit, and one number shows how he proved his mettle against a stubborn Seahawks defense: 60.

In what was a wild and closely contested game, the Cowboys’ win probability fluctuated a great deal. But on plays where Prescott dropped to pass or kept the ball and ran it, Dallas’ win probability jumped 60 percentage points. That’s Prescott’s 10th-highest total win probability added in a game in his 115-game career (postseason included). The one thing everyone could count on against Seattle was that when Prescott touched the ball, the odds that Dallas would win the game were about to increase. This isn’t just one tool of his, it’s the whole package—he can throw the quick, short passes, shoot the mid-range jumpers, and toss it deep as well as anyone. And when he does, his team’s odds of winning improve.

Prescott’s successful outing was emblematic of his play in the six games since the Cowboys came back from their Week 7 bye. Since then, he has been arguably the best quarterback in the NFL, completing more than 60 percent (there’s that number again) of his passes for 8.5 yards per attempt. To add more context to his success, look at his EPA per play over this stretch. This metric quantifies the value of every play based on all sorts of context, including down, distance, and field position. When looking at the most successful quarterbacks by this metric, in this time frame, Prescott and 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy stand alone, leaps and bounds above the rest.

The gap between Prescott and third-place Joe Burrow is about the same as the gap between Burrow and 13th-place Jared Goff.

Against the Seahawks, Prescott posted another stellar EPA per play of 0.35—nearly identical to his value over the past six games. As mentioned above, it’s tough to poke holes in his game right now, which makes it tricky to pin down what specifically is making him so successful. He’s performing well under pressure, and on plays where he has to move to his second read—maybe better than anyone else. But he’s also unleashing something that was noticeably absent from the first few weeks of 2023: the deep ball.

Prescott threw five passes that traveled at least 15 yards through the air last Thursday. He completed four of those passes for 74 yards and a touchdown. That raised his completion percentage on throws of this type this season to 57 percent, the fourth-highest mark in the NFL. What’s more, there’s evidence he’s one of the unluckiest quarterbacks on these throws this year. As Daniel Houston pointed out, no quarterback has had more incompletions on catchable deep balls toward the end zone than Prescott.
According to data charted by FTN Data, no quarterback has a higher rate of catchable passes thrown 15-plus yards downfield than Prescott, and only C.J. Stroud has a lower rate of interception-worthy throws on these plays.

No quarterback has been placing the ball better on downfield throws than Prescott, and he’s doing it while avoiding the turnovers that plagued him in 2022.

Throwing a mean deep ball is just one of the reasons Prescott’s MVP odds have skyrocketed in recent weeks. His ability to keep the offense moving, even when he’s under pressure, has repeatedly put the Cowboys in a better position to score points and win the game. That tool, alongside a turnover rate that’s his lowest since his rookie season, has played a large part in his recent success. With another stellar performance on Thursday, his rolling EPA per play is now approaching the other best stretches of his career.

We’ve seen this level of success from Prescott, but not since early 2019. The question is whether he can maintain this pace over the final five weeks of the regular season as the schedule toughens up. Dallas doesn’t have the elite offensive line it used to boast (the unit ranks 19th out of 32 teams, per Pro Football Focus) and the secondary receiver behind CeeDee Lamb might be a sophomore fourth-round tight end. But sometimes none of that matters for a quarterback with the skills that Prescott possesses—he’ll simply will his team to victory whenever the need arises. Adding 60 percentage points of win probability on Thursday exemplified that. And the best part about it is that it’s not only sustainable, it also has room to grow.

Author

Dan Morse

Dan Morse

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Dan covers the Cowboys for StrongSide. He is a Pacific Northwest native & self-described nerd who has been covering the…
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