The Giants aren’t just taking on an 11-1 Cowboys team on Sunday, they’re facing the NFL’s MVP.
And I’m not talking about Ezekiel Elliott.
For all the buzz Dak Prescott has gotten about his impressive first season, most of the award talk around him has centered around the Rookie of the Year. Please. That should be in the bag for the Cowboys QB, who through three-quarters of the season has been the most valuable player in the entire league.
Why? In a word: efficiency.
Prescott’s precise play at quarterback is the top reason why the Dallas Cowboys are 11-1 and already have clinched a playoff spot. A win over the Giants on Sunday would officially secure them the NFC East title.
Obviously, Prescott’s passing numbers are exceptional. A 67.9% completion rate, 19 touchdowns with just two interceptions, 108.6 passer rating and adjusted net yards per attempt (a Pro-Football-Reference.com stat that incorporates touchdowns, sacks and interceptions into the regular yards per attempt stat) of 8.40. Both Prescott’s passer rating and his adjusted net yards per attempt are third in the league, behind Tom Brady and Matt Ryan.
But let’s get a little more advanced and look at ESPN’s expected points added (EPA), which provides a little more context. EPA is useful because it knows that a three-yard gain on 3rd-and-2 is a lot more valuable than on 2nd-and-12, and it also knows that if a 60-yard pass leads to a running back scoring a one-yard touchdown, the quarterback and receiver deserve most of the credit for the drive, even if the back scored the touchdown. And where is Dak Prescott in EPA per play among quarterbacks? First.
And you know one reason why? Because of his rushing ability — something that clearly has value but isn’t incorporated into his passing statistics. Ryan and Brady finish second and third, respectively, in EPA/P.
Oh and by the way, Prescott’s EPA total for the season (86) has almost already caught up with Tony Romo’s career best (87.7) from 2007.
So that’s the argument for Prescott, but I’ve heard two big knocks against Prescott’s case from folks who believe Derek Carr or Ryan or Elliott should be the MVP. Let’s take a look at those two supposed weaknesses.
Dak Prescott and the Cowboys face the Giants next.
(Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports)
1. Prescott plays behind the league’s best offensive line.
That’s probably true, but does he play behind the league’s best pass-protecting line? Don’t be so quick to assume that’s the case. Dallas ranks 10th in sacks per pass allowed this season and is ranked ninth by Pro Football Focus in pass-blocking efficiency.
For all you Carr fans: the Raiders are ranked first and second in those two categories respectively, so maybe it’s Carr, not Prescott who we ought to make an adjustment for based on how much time they have to throw. At the very least, we have to mention that this is a factor for both Prescott and Carr.
2. Ezekiel Elliott is more integral to the Cowboys’ success.
Which seems more difficult: running behind the Dallas offensive line or playing quarterback behind the Dallas offensive line? There’s a reason that we see new running backs put up big numbers every year and yet successful quarterbacks are few and far between. It’s just much harder.
Don’t get me wrong, Elliott has been exceptional. He’s a superb running back and has added plenty of value to the Cowboys. But he also has more rushing yards before contact (540) this year than Giants running back Rashad Jennings has rushing yards (414). Elliott leads the league in that category.
So I’m not buying either of those two supposed holes in Prescott’s case, even though I could see them holding him back in the actual MVP voting. At this point, Prescott as the MVP leader seems to be a minority opinion, so his shot of winning the award might be slimmer than the chances he ends up deserving it. One looming player could be Brady, who only has played in two-thirds of the games of everyone else so far but will raise that percentage to three-quarters by the end of the season, meaning he could become more of a factor.
And of course: there’s four games left, so plenty can change. And for Prescott, a big challenge is on the horizon in the form of Sunday Night Football against the Giants.
“Hopefully we come out there this weekend and hurt his case,” Justin Pugh said this week.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News