Breaking Down Dak’s Debut

Dak Prescott dazzled in his debut in the Cowboys preseason opener vs. the St. Lou… Er, Los Angeles Rams on Saturday. Was Prescott’s performance truly praiseworthy or is it overshadowing some defects in the rookie QB’s play?

In the interest of full disclosure, I evaluated Prescott in the pre-draft process and I saw a quarterback who had an immense physical skill set but lacked the ability to get through a progression. He was a QB who both survived and succeeded because he was so physically gifted, but in my opinion, lacked the polish in the pocket to be a good NFL QB – at least initially.

With that being said, Prescott displayed a lot of these characteristics in his first NFL preseason game. The one thing that stood out was that Prescott didn’t seem outmatched at all at the higher level. His poise and wherewithal in the pocket was much better than anticipated as evidenced by this 32-yard dime for a touchdown.

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 12.48.48 PMPrescott hung in the pocket and delivered a strike down the sideline over a defender knowing he was going to get hit. It helps that the rookie QB is 6’2″ and pushing 230 lbs. His big body can take the blow and recover.

But not every throw was a shot down the field. Out of Prescott’s 12 throws, 4 were at or behind the line of scrimmage and 6 were within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Those numbers shouldn’t take away from the impressiveness of Dak’s throws down the field that he completed, but it’s important to note that half of his throws (and both incompletions) were on throws 5-yards and in. Two of the throws that Prescott made were 50/50 balls to Dez Bryant along the sideline. Prescott had good placement on both balls that allowed Bryant to adjust, and he did a good job of identifying the mismatched coverage.

It’s also important to note that the Rams defense wasn’t exactly throwing a lot at Prescott in terms of complexity or aggressiveness. Check the video above again and watch the linebackers drop deep into coverage on nearly every throw. Prescott didn’t face the type of pressure or disguised/mixed coverages that he’ll face in a regular season game.

Here are just a couple of the “coverages” that Prescott threw into. The first is a 2nd and 34 that the Rams are playing a prevent defense. The second is on 2nd and 9 with the Rams rushing a cornerback from 5 yards off the line of scrimmage. Prescott does a good job of throwing in behind the blitz but the blitz is both late and picked up well by the offensive line.

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 1.15.07 PM Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 1.10.17 PM

Prescott didn’t face a ton of pressure due to both the quality of the Dallas offensive line and the lack of aggression from the Rams defense. When he did, he stood tall in the pocket and delivered the ball well. He had a couple poorly placed balls but he mostly put the ball where it needed to be.

The one glaring element that I kept seeing from Prescott that concerns me is that most of his throws were 1-read and throw. Only on 2 of Prescott’s throws is there a clear progression through more than 1 read. There is one other throw where Prescott checks the safety in the middle of the field and holds him there for a second before a deep throw down the sideline that he connected on.

Overall, it was a solid performance from Prescott. He did a lot of the things that he did in college – both good and bad – but he also did them against a vanilla defense that didn’t throw much at him. He utilized his matchups well, delivered the ball with confidence, and used his physical gifts to his advantage. But I would take this performance with a grain of salt. Don’t let the hype get too big and raise the expectations above the level that they should be for a rookie QB that showed the same issues identified in his college game that he’ll need to correct before he is ready for the NFL.


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