The major talk in Dallas this week focused on whether or not the Cowboys quarterback is having a meltdown after two straight wins. This isn’t to downplay the Cowboys’ offensive struggles, but it does provide significant context to the severity of the team’s issues relative to wins and losses.

Dallas is in very good shape right now. After the Cardinals lost Monday Night Football to the Rams, the Cowboys are just one game away from first place in the NFC, although there are plenty of tiebreaker calculations to be made. They can also clinch their split this week if a few different things go right, and are still the heavy favorite in the split. Plus, analytics suggest Dallas is one of the teams to beat in the entire conference.

Cowboys efficiency at a glance

Inasmuch as DVOA DVOA Ranking DVOA ranking previous week Weighted DVOA Weighted DVOA Ranking
Inasmuch as DVOA DVOA Ranking DVOA ranking previous week Weighted DVOA Weighted DVOA Ranking
Offense 13.4% 6th 9th 11.3% 7th
Defense -15.2% 2nd 1st -19.1% 1st
Special teams 2.2% 6th 5th 4.4% 5th
Globally 30.9% 1st 1st 34.8% 1st

Despite their recent struggles on offense, the Cowboys climbed to third place by total DVOA and for the second week in a row they are in the top 10 in all three phases. No team could say that last week, and only the Colts and Patriots can this week. No other NFC team has this distinction.

In a big surprise, the Cowboys’ offense is their least effective unit right now while the defense stands out as their best. Who could have seen that coming in the offseason? Obviously you want the offense back soon, but this is a team that has proven itself capable of winning games in a number of ways, an unusual experience for Cowboys fans this century.

NFL Team Tiers, Weeks 1-14 Courtesy of rbsdm.org

EPA-based team tiers aren’t as kind to the Cowboys, but they’re still among the best in the league. It’s interesting to see the Patriots now ahead of them considering Dallas was the last team to beat New England. It’s worth noting in this chart that Dallas ranks fourth in defensive EPA per play and has fallen quite far in offensive EPA per play. It bears repeating how unexpected this turn of events was, but credit goes to Dan Quinn and this defense.

Cowboys Offensive Efficiency

Inasmuch as Class Rank
Inasmuch as Class Rank
Offensive DVOA 13.4% 6th
Pass DVOA 31.7% 6th
Run DVOA -4.0% 13th

Is the offense broken? Is Dak Prescott in crisis? Is Emperor Kellen Moore not dressed? All of these questions are natural to arise when a once-dominant group stagnates, but it’s important to remember that the Cowboys offense is still ranked in the top ten by DVOA. Most teams would kill for that.

Still, Dallas needs to find answers. The simplest answer is probably that everyone needs to be healthy enough for this offense to play a few games together. Sunday’s victory over Washington marked the first time this year that Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup have all played more than two-thirds of the snaps in a game, although next week’s game will see Tyron Smith out while neither Ezekiel Elliott nor Tony Pollard are perfectly healthy. The running game saw a slight increase in efficiency this week, but the burden of that offense will fall on Prescott’s shoulders.

The effectiveness of Dak Prescott

Inasmuch as Class Rank
Inasmuch as Class Rank
QBR 54.9 9th
APE 85.8 7th
CPOE 2.2 T-5e
DVOA 21.2% 3rd
DYAR 1379 3rd

Prescott hasn’t been playing his best football lately, and it’s impossible to ignore that. But until this week, we’ve seen it stay near the top of league value metrics like DVOA and DYAR, as well as completion percentage versus expectations. This trend suggested that even though Prescott was no longer igniting the league, he was still playing very well.

That changed after the game against Washington; completing less than 60% of your passes and throwing two interceptions will. Prescott has seen a considerable drop in the aforementioned three metrics as his QBR slips to levels unprecedented for him. It’s by no means time to press the panic button as Prescott has a much larger sample of great footballers throughout his career, suggesting that these later games are a statistical outlier and all. should back to normal soon.

Effectiveness of the Cowboys offensive line

Inasmuch as Class Rank
Inasmuch as Class Rank
Line Yards Adjusted 4.80 2nd
RB sites 4.68 5th
Adjusted bag rate 5.6% 9th
Pass block success rate 58% 23rd
Run block success rate 73% 6th

So the offensive line has a problem. It’s easy to suggest that their pass protection issues are the real reason for Prescott’s declining numbers, but even if you don’t buy into that theory, pass blocking has been a concern. Dallas has consistently been near the bottom in pass block success rate all year, though they’ve generally been able to avoid sacks despite that.

At the start of the year, Tyler Biadasz and Terence Steele were the biggest pass protection problems. But Biadasz has made huge progress, not allowing even a single push in several weeks, while Steele appears to have finally been supplanted by La’el Collins, although he will likely play left tackle in relief for Smith. The biggest culprit recently has been Connor McGovern, who has struggled a lot at left guard. He’s been one of the worst in the NFL for pass block success rate since taking over from Connor Williams, and Pro Football Focus has him with the third-highest pass block rate. negative-rated run across the NFL since Week 10.

McGovern isn’t the only one to blame, just as Biadasz and Steele weren’t isolated issues either. Pass protection issues have been a constant issue all year, but they’re only just starting to negatively impact the offense. Whatever the answer, Joe Philbin will have to find out sooner rather than later.

Cowboys Defensive Effectiveness

Inasmuch as Class Rank
Inasmuch as Class Rank
defensive DVOA -15.2% 2nd
DVOA Defense Pass -20.5% 2nd
Execute DVOA Defense -7.1% 16th
Pass Rush success rate 42% 12th
Run stoppage win rate 31% 14th

The Dallas Cowboys are an elite defensive football team. It’s weird to say but it’s true. They are in the middle of the pack in quick pass completion rate and save win rate, but Quinn has demonstrated a deft ability to organize pressure with various blitz packages. Recovering DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore only deepened his bag of tricks.

It should be noted here that the Cowboys now lead the league in DVOA pass defense. I don’t have enough time to check the numbers and find out when it last happened here, but it’s been a very long time. The Cowboys have been stellar against the pass lately, which is huge in a league that’s getting more pass-happy every year.

Cowboys pass cover

Inasmuch as Targets Achievements Completion rate Authorized setter rating ADOT when targeted Overhead Yards Allowed Yards after catch
Inasmuch as Targets Achievements Completion rate Authorized setter rating ADOT when targeted Overhead Yards Allowed Yards after catch
Trevon Diggs 103 54 52.4% 55.8 10.4 496 411
Anthony Brown 122 65 53.3% 78.4 12.2 518 318
Jourdan Lewis 76 52 68.4% 93.4 8.5 381 305
Kelvin Joseph 17 8 47.1% 82.7 6.8 14 75
Jayron Kerse 65 40 61.5% 77.5 6.8 179 237
Damontae Kazee 25 13 52.0% 85.8 14.2 135 70
Malik Hooker 28 16 57.1% 80.8 9.6 59 90
Donovan Wilson 14 6 42.9% 57.1 8.1 39 26
Keanu Neal 38 30 78.9% 97.1 3.8 109 169
Leighton Vander Esch 38 27 71.1% 87.9 1.8 37 226
Micah Parsons 36 22 61.1% 71.5 3.1 37 123

Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs now have an almost identical completion rate allowed. Number 30 has come a long way since Antonio Brown grilled him in Week 1. His performance would make him the top corner on most teams, but the Cowboys have Diggs too.

Diggs was turned off against Washington, stopping budding star Terry McLaurin and making things even tougher for the football team’s quarterbacks. It may have been Diggs’ best game all year, and it went without a single interception.

Another note before signing this week. In recent executive summaries, I have pointed out how poorly covered Leighton Vander Esch has been lately. Maybe he saw that, because the Wolf Hunter had a great performance on Sunday. He only allowed one completion on three targets and was only charged one yard after the cleared catch. Vander Esch was also solid on the run defense, not missing a single tackle all day. If he can replicate that performance over the next two months, that defense could become even more unstoppable.