By Lewis Gould
For sure there’s more to the Eagles-Cowboys Sunday match-up than just the quarterbacks.
But Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott get most of the attention.
Wentz was the rare small school quarterback prospect who was targeted by the Eagles who traded numerous picks to move up and select him No. 2 overall in the 2016 draft.
Prescott started for years at Mississippi State in the SEC, the most famous and competitive division in college football’s big leagues, the FBS. On draft weekend he lasted until the compensatory picks after the fourth round before Dallas rescued him.
Both were surprise rookie starters, as Tony Romo’s back injury opened the door for Prescott to move up from fourth on the depth chart in OTAs.
Wentz’ progress over that summer led the Eagles to trade away presumed starter Sam Bradford, expediting the rookie’s always-expected ascent.
Prescott won offensive rookie of the year while Wentz had a few difficulties. They both started piping hot as second-year starters, but Prescott’s progress was stunted and he began to show regression. Meanwhile Wentz was a leading MVP candidate until a late-season ACL injury ruined his season and he had to watch journeyman Nick Foles lead his troops to a Super Bowl victory.
As third-year players, Prescott’s malaise continued as Wentz continued to rehab his injury to start the season. Both have seemingly escaped the early-year doldrums, but neither has put to rest all of the issues that plague them.
And now, in Week 14, they meet for the second time in a month to determine who has control of the NFC East.
Wentz is 2-2 against Dallas, throwing seven touchdown passes against just one interception, sporting a 95.9 passer rating. Prescott is 3-2 against the Eagles, throwing four touchdown passes against four interceptions and sporting a 74.9 passer rating.
Each of their first two seasons, the Eagles have been the team sporting the lauded defense that makes the opposition cower in fear. Now it’s Dallas’ turn.
Prescott has avoided injury to this point of his career, and his recent skyrocketing completion percentage since the acquisition of Amari Cooper has bolstered his completion percentage when it had been precipitously falling this season.
While the two have relatively similar passing stats, the difference in what each brings to the table when running with the ball is monumental. Both players were seen as big, mobile QBs entering the NFL and while Wentz hasn’t run much since the ACL tear, there’s no comparison in how each impacts the game in this manner.
A surprising stat for Cowboys fans is that Wentz fumbles far more in far less games, despite Prescott’s recent propensity to cough the ball up.
Defensive-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) is a Football Outsiders metric which goes beyond the normal box score to give a better idea of exactly how a player or a team is performing.
Not all opponents are built the same and neither are all game situations.
If a player, going against one of the league’s better defenses, throws for 250 yards in the first half, builds his team a 20-point then throws for just 50 second-half yards, that’s a distinctly different performance than a QB facing a porous pass defense, throwing for 150 yards in the first three quarters, getting blown out, then throwing for 150 yards in the fourth quarter and still losing the game by 15.
The difference is astounding.
Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) translates DVOA into a yardage stat. It says how many more yards a QB has thrown for than if he was swapped out for a replacement-level QB.
Even with the addition of Cooper to the Cowboys passing game and his elevated completion percentage, Prescott has still thrown for 164 yards less on the season than a replacement guy. That’s just around 13.7 yards a game, but again, that’s less than a mediocre backup.
Effective Yards measures DVOA as well, but in a different context. If a player has less effective than standard yards (like Prescott, 2,398 to 1,861, a 537 yard difference) that means he’s playing worse than his standard stats indicate. Wentz has thrown for 2,637 standard yards, indicating he’s a hair (33 yards) better than his stats indicate.
Finally, Air Less EXpected Yards (ALEX) represents a key part of third-down conversions. When a team is in third-and-medium or third-and-long, it is imperative for the quarterback to get the ball beyond the yard marker. In other words, don’t put the onus on the receiver who catches the target to then also need to use yards-after-the-catch in order to get the first down.
Let the air yards, the actual distance the ball travels via the pass, gain the necessary yardage as long as the pass is completed.
Prescott is the worst in the league.
This final stat should be taken as just an interesting point, as some of the best QBs in the league (Goff, Luck) are right down there with Prescott, Eli Manning and Wentz. This indicates third-down success doesn’t have to come from throwing beyond the sticks, but it is an issue for QBs who are low here and their teams are bad at conversions, like Dallas.