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Kellen Moore, Dak Prescott and Travis Frederick show up in the quarter-season awards.
Why wait until the end of the season to pass out awards? Don’t you know we demand instant analysis? In that spirit, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell is handing out his quarter-season awards. We have made it through Week 4 of the 2019 NFL season, so there is enough material to make some observations across the league. Three different Cowboys show up in Barnwell’s awards where he names third-place, second-place, and first-place winners in ten different categories. Defensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Coordinator of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Acquisition of the Year, Miscalculation of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, and Most Valuable Player.
Let’s take a look at the Cowboys representatives on the list:
Coordinator of the Year
It has to be Moore, right? Even after a rough night against the Saints in New Orleans, the Cowboys rank second in offensive DVOA and are virtually right in line with the Chiefs. This same core — sans returning center Travis Frederick — ranked 24th in offensive DVOA a year ago. As much as Ezekiel Elliott’s role in the offense has been fetishized, his carries per game and yards per carry are both down. The offense has gotten significantly better as Elliott has played a smaller part.
Moore has been able to take Dak Prescott to a new level, and while Prescott has played his tail off through four weeks, the Cowboys have made it easier for their star quarterback to succeed. Dallas was 11th in play-action rate last season; this season, it is all the way up to third, and Prescott has a league-best 97.6 Total QBR on play-action passes. Of course, the fourth-year quarterback is a lowly second-best in the league when the Cowboys don’t use play-action, too. We still have to see the Cowboys excel as their schedule gets tougher, but Moore is an easy pick here.
Barnwell is unconcerned with one bad outing last week against the Saints, but takes a more holistic view and notes the Cowboys rapid rise in DVOA. He also points to a couple of other items; the Cowboys relying less on Ezekiel Elliott to drive the offense, and Dak Prescott’s improvement in his fourth year, especially when using play-action. He does bring out one note of concern, Prescott’s low performance when he doesn’t use play-action.
Through three weeks, there was little doubt about the job Moore had done. Week 4 was a caution light, and the eyes of the Cowboys fanbase will be on Moore in Week 5 to see if he returns to the form from the first three weeks, or if improved competition is hindering his ability to get the most out of the Cowboys’ offense.
Most Valuable Player
I had Prescott as my MVP pick after three weeks, but a 22-of-33 for 223-yard performance in his first game against a competent defense soured me a bit on nominating Prescott as my top choice. Some of Dallas’ issues against the Saints weren’t Dak’s fault, notably the two fumbles, but the Cowboys weren’t able to strike for a big play against a defense that has historically been susceptible to throws downfield.
I mentioned how Prescott has blown away his expected completion percentage, and it’s staggering, actually. Prescott is averaging just over 10 air yards per pass attempt this season, which is third-most in the NFL behind Matthew Stafford and Jameis Winston. Over the past decade, we’ve seen 19 instances of a starting quarterback averaging 10 or more air yards per pass in a season. Only one of those passers — Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2018 — has completed more than 65% of his passes in such an offense. Prescott is at 72.4%.
The difference between Prescott and the quarterback at the top of this list is turnovers. Prescott has three interceptions, although he hasn’t fumbled after leading the league with 12 fumbles a year ago. The guy in first place has zero interceptions, which makes him hard to top given his ability to do just about whatever he wants on a football field.
For Barnwell, Prescott only comes in behind Patrick Mahomes in the race for Most Valuable Player. The numbers of Prescott averaging over 10+ air yards per attempt while completing over 72% of his throws are staggering. The idea of Prescott checking down all the time falls by the wayside, and the idea he can’t throw deep accurately also takes a big hit. Prescott gets dinged for his interceptions, although one of them came on a desperation heave at the end of the game last week.
Boy genius Kellen Moore may have had his lunch money stolen by Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen this past Sunday night, but that shouldn’t detract from Prescott’s sterling September. Banking on himself like Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco, the Cowboys’ QB1 leads a suddenly potent Dallas attack that ranks second in yards per play (6.9), passing yards per attempt (9.0) and big plays (33, as defined by runs of 10 or more yards and receptions of at least 20 yards). Prescott has turned the second half into his own personal showcase, misfiring on just one third-quarter pass in the first three games. He’s seeing the field with a clarity that was missing prior to last November.
One more Cowboys player shows up in Barnwell’s awards.
Comeback Player of the Year
I don’t think it’s realistic to pick anybody else. Frederick’s recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome didn’t have the familiar time frames and rehab markers that players can rely upon in recovering from broken bones and muscle tears. While athletes in other sports have suffered from the rare disorder, Frederick was the first prominent player to suffer from the ailment during an NFL career. The Cowboys initially believed he could come back quickly after being diagnosed last summer, but their star center ended up missing the entire season.
Thankfully, Frederick made his way back to the team and has been something close to his usual self during Dallas excellent start to the season. His pass block win rate is at 88.4%, which isn’t far off from the 92.6% mark he posted during his last healthy season in 2017. The Cowboys’ pivot also hasn’t committed a penalty during the first four games.
Kudos to Frederick for making it back, although even he will tell you that last week against the Saints was a disaster for him and most of the rest of the offensive line. They need a bounce-back game against the Packers as desperately as Kellen Moore. Barnwell mentions Frederick as the first prominent NFL player with the disease during their career, but Mark Schlereth said he had it and even offered to help Frederick in dealing with it.