Statistics say that when Dak Prescott runs the ball more, the Dallas Cowboys’ chances of victory increase. Will Mike McCarthy use this great weapon more?
The big news in Dallas Cowboys world this week is obviously the firing of head coach Jason Garrett and the lightning hiring of Mike McCarthy as the new head coach. Apparently, one of McCarthy’s selling features was his extensive study of analytics over the last year.
Now, I’m not an analytics expert, nor will I pretend to be. But there is one statistic that has caught my eye over the last few years: Dak Prescott’s running numbers and their relation to winning.
Prior to this season, it was pretty clear that when their young quarterback ran the ball, the Cowboys were far more likely to win than when he didn’t. Indeed, it felt pretty dramatic.
During the offseason last year, one of the reasons I was guardedly optimistic about the hiring of Kellen Moore as the new offensive coordinator is that he made a few comments about running Prescott a little more. I liked the sound of that. Not that I care about the running itself…
Okay, I have to admit it’s fun to watch Dak run. He’s exciting on the move! Who can forget Prescott somersaulting in for a touchdown? (I’d mention the game, but he’s done it more than once.) But the important thing is that the more Prescott runs, the more likely the Cowboys are to win.
Then the season started, and Dak threw the ball better than he ever had before. And I kind of forgot about him running the ball. Unfortunately, so did Moore.
A few weeks ago, I finally noticed Prescott hadn’t run the ball much in weeks. Meanwhile, America’s Team suffered several strings of losses. Personally, I see a connection.
And then the Cowboys played the Rams. Dak ran the ball seven times, and the Cowboys won. See! I screamed to no one in particular.
Okay, just in case you don’t believe me, let’s look at the numbers. Over the last three seasons, Prescott has run the ball five times or more 17 times. The Cowboys won 13 of these games. That’s a success rate of 76.5 percent.
If that was over one season, Dallas would not only have made the playoffs, they’d be one of the favorites to go to the Super Bowl. Mapped season by season, here’s what we get:
- 2016 – Prescott ran five times or more – five games. The Cowboys won all five.
- 2017 – Prescott ran five times or more – four games. The Cowboys won three of the four.
- 2018 – Prescott ran five times or more – eight games. The Cowboys won five of the eight.
Naturally, I was curious about the record this year too. I wanted to see if I was right about my suppositions once again. So, I looked. In 2019, Prescott ran five times or more in four games. The Cowboys won all four of those contests.
Adding it all up, Prescott ran five times or more 21 times over the last four years. The Cowboys won 17 of those. That’s an 80 percent win rate!
So, why don’t the Cowboys run Prescott more? I’m sure part of it is that the front office wants to keep Prescott healthy. I understand that, but I’m not suggesting running Dak 20 times a game. Just five times. Seven or eight at the most.
For comparison’s sake, over that same time period, Prescott has run the ball four or fewer times, 43 times. The Cowboys have won 23 of those games. So, when Dak hasn’t run the ball much, the Cowboys have won 53.5 percent of their games. Compared to 80.9 percent when Dak runs more.
Incidentally, it doesn’t even seem to matter much if Prescott runs well or not. I looked at two games where Prescott ran poorly. On December 10, 2018, Prescott ran six times for 13 yards against the New York Giants. They won that game.
This year in their only win against a winning team, Dak ran seven times for only 12 yards against the Los Angeles Rams.
I’ve heard analysts comment that when Prescott runs, the defense has to adjust, and that opens up the passing game. That makes sense to me. But really, we don’t even have to understand the reasons. Whatever the underlying logic, a running Prescott equals more wins.
Again, I’m not an analytics expert. I only looked up these numbers because the difference in performance has been so obvious. If it hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have noticed.
But this is a massive differential. When Prescott runs, even a moderate amount, the Cowboys are overwhelmingly likely to win. When the team doesn’t run Dak much, the team is basically a .500 ball club.
I wish Mr. McCarthy luck in his new position as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. I sincerely hope he leads Dallas to a Super Bowl win. Hopefully, more than one. But to get there, the numbers say he should run Prescott more. And McCarthy will do that because he’s an analytics guy now. Right?