The one big change that could get Dak Prescott back on track
Opposing defenses have figured out how to beat Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ offense.
The book on how to do it is in the public domain.
The good news for Dallas is that it takes a preponderance of defensive talent and plenty of discipline to execute the game plan.
The bad news is that those are two characteristics that every true Super Bowl contender should have in the postseason.
They’re also characteristics that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will bring into Sunday night’s game in Dallas.
The Cowboys’ passing game has been terrible over Dallas’ last two contests against Minnesota (139 yards passing) and the New York Giants (165 yards passing) and that has led some to call for Prescott to be benched in favor of Tony Romo.
The calls to bench Prescott for Romo make sense, in some ways — Romo is a master of this Dallas offensive system, and now that the going has gotten tough for the rookie quarterback, it’s logical to want to bring in an old, steady hand. There’s a lot on the line for the Cowboys this year.
But the Cowboys shouldn’t bring in Romo — he would have likely experienced the same problems in the last two games.
And now that the book on how to slow down — or shut down — the Cowboys passing offense is readily available, it’s actually Prescott that has the best chance to right the ship for Dallas.
Romo might be the more accurate passer and experienced player, but he can’t physically do some of the things that Prescott can do, particularly with his feet, and it’s Prescott's running ability that can help the Cowboys get their passing offense back on track.
Over the last two games, two of the best pass rushes in the NFL have relentlessly and almost superfluously blitzed the rookie quarterback, particularly with A-gap pressure.
The pressure up the middle is tough for all offensive lines, but it’s been particularly difficult for the Cowboys’ zone blocking scheme — it can leave one o-lineman to block two pass rushers, while on the other side of the line, three blockers are taking on one guy.
As a result, Prescott’s pocket hasn’t been as clean as it was in early weeks of the season, though it’s not that the Vikings and Giants figured out something others weren’t able to deduce — they were just able to execute the plan better.
That’s because both teams were able to pressure Prescott without the blitzes, too – three and four-man rushes were effective in both games.
That Cowboys offensive line that looked so stout early in the year isn’t looking as good in the passing game anymore.
The other key to the Vikings and Giants’ successes against the Cowboys’ passing game was exceptional cornerback play.
Both teams played physical press coverage with their All-Pro-caliber corners, taking away a lot of short routes that the Cowboys’ West Coast-style passing game needs to be effective.
The way to soften that coverage up is to hit the defense over the top, but that’s hard when:
1. Cornerbacks are able to win one-on-one against receivers, allowing safeties to play back on passing downs and up on rushing downs
2. There isn’t much time to throw anything downfield — whether the safeties are back or not — because of the pass rush.
It sounds impossible, but it’s actually doable, just ask the Seattle Seahawks.
The Cowboys need to take a page out of the Seahawks’ playbook and get Prescott out of the pocket often Sunday and beyond.
Seattle has a woeful offensive line, and that creates the same problems the Cowboys are experiencing right now — it takes away passing-game options and forces quarterback Russell Wilson to be almost perfect with his throws in the pocket.
So the Seahawks roll out Wilson, a lot. If he can’t throw from the normal pocket, create a new pocket, right?
Prescott has a lot of similarities to Wilson — especially with his ability to throw on the run. It’s probably one of the reasons that both players weren’t top draft picks: The NFL wants guys who can stand tall in the pocket and make throws downfield — that’s the 6-foot-5, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco, Jared Goff prototype (it’s working out great in L.A.…) — and while both Wilson and Prescott can certainly make those throws, their brilliance comes when they’re playing something that looks like backyard football.
Remember, against Minnesota, the Cowboys’ only third-down conversion came when Prescott scrambled to the right — he made a play with his feet.
It's not about scrambles through — it was really only when Prescott improvised with his feet or was rolled out of the pocket on a play that the Cowboys picked up anything in the passing game against the Vikings.
Yet against the Giants, the Cowboys only had Prescott roll out (and create a second pocket, if you will) four times.
He was 3-for-4 with a touchdown and two first downs.
The play design of those three completions was excellent — that’s not up for debate — but Prescott made things happen outside the pocket in a game where the Cowboys weren’t able to get things done in the passing game. Why not do that more often, Dallas?
That’s the difference between Romo and Prescott — while the veteran has better accuracy and understanding of pro defenses, it’s Prescott’s athletic ability that adds another dimension to the Cowboys’ attack.
Four roll-outs against the Giants? That’s a terrible gameplan.
It’s easy to understand why people want Romo to start over Prescott — the Cowboys are still running the Tony Romo playbook.
It's time for the full Dak Prescott playbook to break out.
As soon as the Cowboys come around to the fact that Prescott can do more than Romo physically, and embrace the rookie's quirks, the sooner they'll get back into the win column. And then, not only can Dak get back on track, the Cowboys can get momentum going before the postseason starts.