When the Dallas Cowboys entered the 2019 offseason following another promising season that abruptly ended in the NFC Divisional Round, they knew with absolute certainty they had their franchise quarterback of the present and future in Dak Prescott. They'll say they knew before 2018, but the reality was there were still questions about if he could take the next step to elite status in Year 4, and maybe even hit an MVP level.
After all, there were still issues with his footwork that continually impacted his accuracy, and he hadn't yet proven he could be THE reason the Cowboys win games.
Needless to say, that's all changed now, and for a variety of reasons. The first was the decision to part ways with longtime offensive coordinator Scott Linehan in January, followed by the risky decision to promote quarterbacks coach (after one season in this role) and longtime backup signal-caller Kellen Moore to the post. The club then hired a familiar face in former quarterback Jon Kitna to coach up Prescott on his fundamentals, and that was a bit of a coup in and of itself.
Kitna had already accepted the job as offensive coordinator for the San Diego Fleet of the Alliance of American Football, but the Cowboys were able to convince him to return to North Texas instead -- where he spent four seasons as a player. The decision was as fortuitous for him as it was the Cowboys, because the AAF imploded shortly thereafter, and in a spectacularly bad fashion.
The promotion of Moore and the hiring of Kitna proved head coach Jason Garrett and the team's front office were all-in on seeing if Prescott could prove himself worthy of a massive contract extension in 2019, and the two proverbial slot pulls have paid off in a sizable jackpot. While All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott has proven he can still be the central force of the Cowboys offense, Prescott has effectively taken the reins as the straw that stirs the offensive drink in Dallas. Teams have been selling out to stop Elliott for three seasons heading into 2019, and though mostly unsuccessful in their efforts, they've been quite transparent about their disbelief in the ability of Prescott to win games.
Well, the Cowboys currently own the No. 1 offense in the NFL with an average of 444.6 yards per game, and 312.7 (also No. 1) of that average is in the air. Prescott leads the league with 3,221 yards passing, and his 21 passing touchdowns are tied for second with Kirk Cousins and fall only two short of MVP frontrunner Russell Wilson. His accuracy is nearing a career-high of 67.8%, and while he has nine interceptions, two were products of a hail mary -- in Week 4 and Week 10, respectively -- and a third came on a tipped pass by Amari Cooper that would've been a walk-in touchdown in the eventual loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 5.
All told, extrapolating for execution errors by his receivers, Prescott would have roughly four or five INTs only, and his accuracy would already have surpassed his career-best. He still couldn't crack into the MVP conversation though, mostly because the Cowboys defense continued to falter and combined with aforementioned execution issues, and then poor coaching as of late, to force the team into a 5-4 record -- no player on a team one notch above .500 will garner MVP consideration.
With the club now at 6-4, Prescott should justifiably be injected into the conversation though, and not simply because the Cowboys are two games above .500 -- but instead because he's the reason they should be 9-1, and is equally the reason they're not far below the .500 mark heading into Week 12. This point is truly driven home by his 444-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Lions that helped overcome another subpar defensive outing, and one that overcame an early fumble by Elliott that put Detroit in position to take a 7-0 lead.
Elliott failed to get going on the ground for the second game in a row, but Prescott caught fire and has now passed for 841 yards combined the last two contests -- setting a franchise record in the process -- and Elliott wants it to be known just how well his QB is playing.
"When we're at our best, everyone on this team is contributing," Elliott said following the victory in Detroit. "That's what happened [against the Lions]. Dak spread the ball around. Dak's playing the best football I've ever seen him play.
"He's definitely taken his game to the next level. The things he's been able to do -- coming up to the line and changing plays, getting us to the right place in certain looks... He's ramped up his preparation, and I'm not saying he wasn't prepared before -- he's always prepared very well.
"But just ramping up his preparation and, I don't know, man. Something's clicking there. Something's clicking. He's throwing the hell out of the ball."
With that, let's take a look at the quarterbacks in the MVP conversation entering Week 12, and how Prescott weighs up against them.
|Name||P/Yards Gained||P/TDs||INT||Avg||Rating||Sacks||W/L||Bad Throw %*|
|Tom Brady||2,752 (6th)||14 (t-17th)||5||275.2||90.1||16||9-1||17.4%|
|Aaron Rodgers||2,718 (9th)||17 (11th)||2||271.8||102.7||22||8-2||17.8%|
*per Pro Football Reference
Each of these signal-callers belongs in the race for MVP, but there are some very intriguing takeaways here.
With Watson having been shut down by the Baltimore Ravens as Jackson went on to bludgeon the Texans into the planet's core, it gives Watson the same win-loss record as Prescott, but he trails in both Passing Yards Gained and Passing TDs, along with having a lower passer rating. What sticks out like a sore thumb is how no one on this list has been sacked as often as Watson, who is still able to keep the Texans in a position to win most games, and it's his usually superhuman talent that justifiably keeps him in the MVP race -- nothing to be taken away from how he has the entire City of Houston on his back.
Still, if Watson remains in the race, and he will, arguing Prescott should not be is disingenuous. The same can be said for Brady, whose offense is struggling as of late and has been inconsistent all season if not for the insane number of takeaways reeled in by his defense. The Patriots are 9-1, though, and Brady's is top 10 in yardage, but he's admittedly bringing up the rear at the moment. And then there's Rodgers, who defeated Prescott and the Cowboys and have the Packers at 8-2, making for a seriously robust chase for the crown in 2019.
There's objectively no quarterback in the above table who should be ousted from the conversation, and Prescott could've been added sooner, truth be told.
Mahomes is the reigning league MVP and is putting up strong numbers yet again in 2019, despite having battled an ankle injury early in the season and missing time with a dislocated knee cap. Wilson continues to flash his clutch gene and carries the Seahawks to victory far more often than not, and that includes downing the undefeated San Francisco 49ers in overtime on their own field with a key final drive to seal the deal.
And then there's Jackson -- boy oh boy -- who is an absolute terror to all who would dare oppose him. The uniqueness of Jackson is in his ability to take over a game with his legs as well as his arm, currently leading the Ravens in rushing while having also posted two perfect passer ratings of 158.3 already this season. As a matter of fact, Jackson is top 10 in the league in rushing with 788 yards on the ground, and that's more than Carlos Hyde, Kenyan Drake, Alvin Kamara, Todd Gurley and more -- including his own teammate Mark Ingram.
Good grief, Charlie Brown.
This is why Jackson remains the frontrunner to land the honor, with Wilson's breath hot on the nape of his neck. From there, you could argue Prescott has as good a shot as any at pushing Mahomes and Watson out of the picture if the Cowboys continue to help him stack wins as opposed to forcing him into losses. As you can see above, Prescott is not only leading the pack in passing yards and passing touchdowns, but he also has the lowest percentage of bad throws through 10 games, adding concrete evidence to the earlier point regarding his number of interceptions not fully being accountable to him.
As you can see below, the Cowboys receivers have trouble holding onto the ball -- causing a scale-back on Prescott's potential -- and while they're helping him when they do catch the ball with yards after the reception, the unit is only fourth-best on this list of the top seven quarterback MVP candidates. In other words, as you can see in Air Yards per Completion, Prescott is doing most of his damage downfield, and it's also the highest tally of any quarterback in the NFL -- debunking the dink-and-dunk narrative.
In Year 4, he's successfully airing it out better than anyone in football through 11 weeks, while his receivers drop more balls than those assigned to the other candidates.
|Name||Air Yards per Completion||Yards After Catch||Drops by Target||Drop %|
per Pro Football Reference
There's a slew of additional numbers I could heave in your direction to justify why each of these seven quarterbacks deserves a shot at landing NFL MVP in 2019, but you get the picture. For Prescott, a player who just tied the incomparable Joe Montana for most games in a season with at least 375 passing yards plus two or more TDs in a contest (four in 1990) -- putting him on pace to take the all-time record away from Peyton Manning (6 in 2013) -- it's clear he's been a qualifier for MVP the entire season.
Had the Cowboys been able to continuously mount an impressive defense to match his elite play, and if his potential could truly be realized statistically by a reduction in receiver drops, and if Moore and Garrett allow him to win games when the defense has shown they can't stop him; Prescott would've found his name routinely mentioned with the best in the sport far before Week 12. His biggest test yet looms by way of taking on Brady and the Patriots, and while a loss shouldn't eliminate him from the MVP race, it would definitely solidify a case for it.
As has been the case all season, though, he'll need everyone around him to do their job, so that how well he does can finally be appreciated.