Dallas Cowboys: What REAL stats tell us about Dak’s performance

Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

What do quality statistics tell us about Dak Prescott’s performance with the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday? That it may have been his best game yet.

What a way to head into the postseason. Dak Prescott led the Dallas Cowboys to another come-from-behind victory on Sunday and rode into the playoffs on a very high note. Say what you want about the logic (or lack thereof) of playing the starters in a meaningless football game, but this game was just what this offense needed.

To say the offense has been under-performing is an understatement. The Dallas Cowboys have been struggling at turning yards into points most of the season, and most of the blame has fallen on the anemic passing game.

Without Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott took full control of the offense and charged them up and down the field to the tune of 36 points. And if we look at the film and follow the statistics (the RIGHT statistics), we are left with the conclusion this was one of the best, if not THE best, game(s) of Dak Prescott’s three year career.

First, we need to look at what statistics are good statistics and what are bad statistics. Because as my old stats professor taught me, “You can use statistics to prove any point you want to make– even boldfaced lies.” I think we all know stats can be used for good as well as evil. We can all think of cases in which statistics were used to lead people to the wrong conclusion. The best example that comes to mind is this doozy:

The numbers indicated one hell of an efficient day. That’s because the numbers used, operate completely outside of reality and willfully ignore all context and weight.  That’s basically how counting stats work.

Completion percentage, yards, and passer rating are garbage statistics. They lack context and stand to be widely misleading to unsuspecting readers. Considering a perfect passer rating is 158.3, Mariota’s 147.7 score indicates he was operating on the cusp of perfection.

Never mind the fact he rarely passed past the first down sticks, he routinely went for the easy play rather than the needed play, he accumulated most of his yards on two big plays and in garbage time, and never once really threatened to win the game.

Inside the Pylon called attention to this and Dave Archibald penned a nice little article on this very thing and pointed out all of the things which led to Mariota’s “victory” in the BS stat column.

So why this talk of Mariota when the article is supposed to be about the Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Dak Prescott?

Because for far too long we’ve been letting garbage stats lead us (and mislead us) to our conclusions on the young man. And while no stat or advanced metric is flawless, there are plenty that do a much better job of telling the REAL story about a quarterback’s performance (e.g. EPA and QBR).

Using these stats are particularly important when grading Dak Prescott’s weekly performances. That’s because Dak isn’t as easy to grade as many traditional pass-happy QBs we so often compare him to.


EPA (Expected Points Added) and QBR (or Total Quarterback Rating) are all about context. For instance:

  • It’s 3rd and 8 and QB1 completes a 7-yard pass. Does he deserve a positive grade?
  • Now let’s say it’s 3rd and 4 and QB2 completes a 6-yard pass.

Who deserved the better score?

Passer rating and yardage totals both say the first guy (QB1) is better. Reality (EPA and QBR) tell us the truth. They say QB1 actually hurt his team, therefore he will receive a negative expected points and a negative QBR score for the play.

EPA and QBR aren’t new things; those in the know have been using them for quite a while. ESPN even makes it available to all of us (holding proprietary ownership of the exact formula, of course) with different teams and statisticians keeping their own similar tracking system to judge performance.

Explains Sharon Katz and Brian Burke:

"“For each play, QBR begins by asking: How successful was the play for the team, given its context.Context for each play includes the down, yards to go for a first down, distance to the end zone, and time remaining in the half. All of these factors can be used before the ball is snapped to estimate the future net score advantage the team currently on offense can expect. This estimate is known as ‘expected points’. After the play, the change in those factors lead to a change (positive or negative) to the team’s net point advantage. That change in the expected points caused by the outcome of the play represents the play’s value, or it’s Expected Points Added (EPA), given all the context.”"

QBR grades on a 1-100 scale with a 50 score signaling an average NFL QB performance. Not surprisingly, Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees reside at the top of the list this season with regular season scores of 81.6 and 80.8 respectively.

How Good is Dak?

On Sunday, Dak scored a 89.9 QBR. An absolutely brilliant score. Over the entire season he has a 58.6, which ranks him No. 17 in the NFL. This isn’t overly surprising since he had a couple stinkers weighing his average score down (four games with a QBR below 25). But outside of those bad games, Dak’s been a borderline Top-10 QB in this league (the fringe that many of his supporters like me like to put him).

Week 17 was his second best QBR score of the season (Jacksonville was his highest)  and he’s posted two of his best consecutive scores the past two weeks. So he’s trending up the league list while others are trending down (Jared Goff).

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Sunday’s game in particular may have been Dak’s best performance of the season (or even career) considering he was without his normal offensive line and without the offense’s strongest weapon (Zeke).

Dak Prescott is always going to polarize the fanbase because he’s not the traditional passer we’ve grown accustomed to here in Dallas. But arguments for him and against him should probably come from reality rather than those BS counting stats everyone so eagerly throws around to poorly back up their argument.

Yes, Dak misses open receivers sometimes and all too willingly checks down a bit too often. But so does nearly everyone else. Luckily, even those issues are tackled in EPA and QBR grading so it’s not like they’re being ignored like those counting stats tend to do.

So according to the traditional counting stats like yards, completion percentage, and passer rating, Marcus Mariota had a nearly flawless day, right? Well, his QBR was much more in tune with reality by giving him a 46.7 score (25th amongst his peers in Week 12).

Next. How multiple sacks are the EPA equivalent of a turnover. dark

Dak Prescott played one of his best games for Dallas Cowboys and moves into the postseason in a groove. Some will still disparage the young man and heck, some of it is admittedly warranted. Regardless of which side you’re on be sure to use the right stats because context matters, and counting stats are devoid of context and subsequently worthless.

  • Published on 01/01/2019 at 14:02 PM
  • Last updated at 01/01/2019 at 14:02 PM