RSP NFL Lens: Dak Prescott: Poise and Strength Versus Pressure by Mark Schofield

In this week’s RSP NFL Lens, Mark Schofield examines the poise and play-strength of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott when he faces pressure in the pocket.

The football media world is filled with various cottage industries. As a New England Patriots fan and the host of the Locked On Patriots podcast, I am intimately familiar with the “Tom Brady is declining” crowd, as well as the “Jimmy Garoppolo, is the GOAT” crowd. I’ve also seen first hand other such wars and takes on the Twitter timeline. But no cottage industry displays as much fervor as, perhaps, the “Dak versus Wentz” battles.

Two young quarterbacks drafted in the same class, after attending the same Senior Bowl, into one of the league’s more heated rivalries. One coming out of the Southeastern Conference, the other from the Football Championship Subdivision, albeit from one of the FCS’ powerhouse programs. One hears his name called second-overall by a team that traded up for him, the other waiting until the fourth round when his new home misses out on another early-round prospect.

The “Dak versus Wentz” wars reached a fever pitch early in their rookie seasons, as Dak Prescott played himself into Rookie of the Year position as he led the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs, while Carson Wentz went through his rookie struggles and was being labeled early as a bust. Those roles perhaps flipped last year, as Wentz played like an MVP before his injury, while Prescott seemed to struggle.

My thoughts on these two quarterbacks are well-known and well-documented. My preference was for Wentz by a large margin in the runup to the 2016 draft, and I have been quite open and candid about my flaws in the evaluation process when it comes to Prescott. But prior misgivings and misses do not prevent me from appreciating good play by any quarterback, and Prescott is no exception.

On two plays against the New York Giants last season, Prescott flashed some traits – poise and play-strength – that make him a quarterback to watch in the years ahead.

Late in the season, the Giants and Cowboys squared off at MetLife Stadium. The visitors trailed before halftime 10-3 but had possession right at midfield facing a 2nd and 6. Prescott aligned in the shotgun formation with three receivers to his right, Dez Bryant to his left and a running back in the backfield. The Giants countered with a 4-1-6 defensive package, using Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and linebacker Kelvin Sheppard on the second level, and the home team showed Cover 1 in the secondary pre-snap:

As you can see the Giants show pressure as well, with both Sheppard and Rodgers-Cromartie in blitz posture. At this point, that gives the defense six potential pass rushers, but the offense has (with the running back) numbers to get the play blocked.

But the Giants are not done:

The defense then rolls the safety down into a blitz alignment as well, changing the equation. Now with seven potential rushers, the Cowboys do not have the numbers to block this play, so Prescott will need to make a quick decision if all seven rushers come.

Here is the offensive and defensive play art:

The Giants indeed send seven after Prescott, but they drop Sheppard into man coverage over tight end Jason Witten and send slot cornerback Darryl Morris on a blitz from the other side. Of course, by sending seven after the quarterback, they are forced to play Cover 0 in the secondary, man-to-man across the board.

Offensively, the Cowboys run a quick slant to Bryant on the left while employing a more vertical concept on the three-receiver side consisting of a curl, a post, and a go route.

This route concept calls for a three-step drop from the shotgun, as Dak will take a quick look at the slant route on the left before working to the three-man combination on the right. However, with the potential unblocked rusher now in the equation, Prescott cannot be slow here. Watch as he speeds up his process – including the footwork on his drop – to get this ball out:

You can see Prescott take the initial step back, then cut the next two short, to ensure he gets the ball out on time before pressure comes home. Here is another angle that also highlights the placement on this throw (an area of concern I had with Prescott before the draft and to this day) as well as the QB identifying one potential blitz pre-snap:

By speeding up his process and getting the ball out quickly, Prescott is able to connect on a big play before halftime.

In the previous example, Prescott beats pressure by using his mind and speeding up his process in the pocket. But as they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat. It’s just an expression, Presley. If you’re reading this do not fear, and I’ll feed you in a minute…

Later in the game, Prescott faced pressure off the edge, when Olivier Vernon was able to win on the edge. This time, Prescott relied on his athletic ability, namely his play-strength, to stay upright and somehow find his outlet to move the chains:

Prescott and the Cowboys face an uncertain future in the season ahead, as they look to move on in a post-Bryant and post-Witten world. These two plays show that while the young quarterback may continue to face struggles, his mind and his strength can continue to bail him out of some trickier situations.

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