Dallas Cowboys: Are Dak Prescott’s bad throws too memorable?

Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

Perhaps the criticism of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is born out of a few heavily-weighted bad passes…

It’s no secret there’s a divide in Cowboys Nation regarding Dak Prescott. There’s the side that appreciates Dak Prescott and what he brings to the Dallas Cowboys and there’s the side that’s wrong (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist).

With each side of the debate yelling past each other, it’s difficult to hear the other side’s argument. As someone who’s seen all the qualitative data there is to see and dissected 100% of the All-22 coaches film, it’s increasingly harder for me to see what the heck the other side is seeing. How on earth can someone think Dak Prescott is anything but a top-10 QB in the NFL?

At this point I would normally start listing stat after stat, explaining the value added by Dak all in the proper context, and how that stacks up against the rest of the NFL. But I’ve done that a million times before:

light. Related Story. The Curious Case of Dak Prescott Hate

I’ll never convince a certain outspoken segment of Cowboys Nation Dak is anything but evil, so I’m going to focus on the decent and otherwise knowledgeable segment of Dallas Cowboys fans who don’t think Dak is a franchise quarterback: The ones who think Dak’s a good guy and want him to succeed, but just can’t can’t see anything but average play from him.

The Eye-Test

An instant punchline in the analytics community is the infamous “eye test”. When neither the film grades nor the numbers support an argument, the only thing left is the inherently unprovable eye test.

With a little help from the advanced stats department, we may be able to find some legitimacy in an otherwise false statement. The statement that Dak Prescott isn’t accurate.

Dak Prescott has put up elite numbers from an accuracy perspective. Haters originally blamed his great completion percentage on dinking and dunking. This fallacy was debunked almost instantly by looking at average depth of target along with QBR and EPA numbers which are based on game context and value added (rather than raw numbers and passer rating). Check out the related article above for more on that. 

Basically any throw beyond the sticks was gold for Dak. QB Data Mine even found Dak to be the most accurate QB in the NFL on 3rd-and-10+ throws that went beyond the marker. He had all the big plays. So what’s causing the failure of the eye test? I suspect two things:

  1. Unrealistic expectations
  2. Bad misses on easy throws

As with all good advanced stats, context is important. If we only break down film on one player we don’t have proper context. How can we decide what’s good and what’s bad if we don’t know how others are performing?

Perhaps it’s confirmation bias and our need to support our priors or perhaps it’s just what we happen to value in a QB.

Intolerance towards Dak’s mistakes may just be born out of unrealistic expectations. It’s easy to forget every QB makes bad throws here and there. Look no further than the Kansas City Chiefs  Super Bowl run. Patrick Mahomes, arguably the best QB we’ve seen in a decade, had some bad throws in every postseason game. Nearly half of the time he looked like an average NFL starter.

We all know he turned it on eventually and reminded us why he’s the best. But the bad throws were part of his run and cannot be ignored. Even the best QBs on the planet threw some head-scratchers here and there. For whatever reason, Dallas Cowboys fans don’t always see it that way.

What we can learn from the chart above is that Dak Prescott delivered some brilliant passes last season where the degree of difficulty was quite significant. We can also see he missed a few crazy-easy throws that you expect from a franchise QB. Could those bad misses be the illusive “eye test” his doubters cite but can’t actually prove? I suspect so.

It’s hard to forget those wide open throws into the turf. They weren’t commonplace but it’s undeniable they happened. Some people hold onto those bad throws more than they probably should and don’t care what the big picture says about his accuracy – the easy misses were just unforgivable. That’s why they see an otherwise accurate QB as inaccurate. Perhaps it’s confirmation bias and our need to support our priors or perhaps it’s just what we happen to value in a QB.

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I remember arguing Troy Aikman‘s greatness years ago saying, despite less highlight throws, he’s better than Brett Favre because he was consistently accurate all over the field while Favre had greater variance in his peaks and valleys. Dak may be more Favre than Aikman and that may be tough to accept for certain Dallas Cowboys fans.

The takeaway for both sides is that Dak Prescott makes some bad throws. He also makes some brilliant throws. Overall he’s a very accurate passer but some people may be applying extra weight to those easy opportunities that were missed. What do you think? Are you an open-mined Dallas Cowboys fan who wants to like Dak but for whatever reason can’t? Could this be the failed eye test everyone speaks of?

Related Story. The Salary Cap may drop in 2020 making Dak's contract extra challenging. light

Next. Cowboys: Yes, you can win the Super Bowl with a top-paid QB. dark

Note: The above chart from Anthony Reinhard notes dropped balls count against the passer here, indicating Dak was tagged for some misses that were actually drops. And in case you’re wondering the Dallas Cowboys led the NFL in drops last season.

  • Published on 05/26/2020 at 11:01 AM
  • Last updated at 05/26/2020 at 11:18 AM