Monday, August 22, 2016

The Morning After: Prescott lights Up Miami

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) scores a rushing touchdown to make the score 20-7 in the second quarter during a preseason National Football League game between the Miami Dolphins and the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas Friday August 19, 2016. (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News)
Staff Photographer
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) scores a rushing touchdown to make the score 20-7 in the second quarter during a preseason National Football League game between the Miami Dolphins and the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas Friday August 19, 2016. (Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News)
What an unexpected pattern we have stumbled upon. After the first preseason game in Los Angeles, the only thing to do on the blog was to marvel and study the performance of rookie QB Dak Prescott. So, for the second game, I was ready to look elsewhere. Yes, there are plenty of other options again: Who is Shaneil Jenkins and why did Denver not want him? How good was Alfred Morris going to be in 2016 before the Cowboys drafted his replacement? Is Brice Butler ready to break out? But in the end, it seems to be trying too hard if you ignore how Dak took his unreal performance in Los Angeles and matched it in his first home game against the Dolphins.

Again, we will concede that it is just the preseason. Again, we will concede that defenses are not game-planning the Cowboys. Again, we will concede that the Cowboys wanted Connor Cook more than they wanted Dak Prescott and tried to go get Paxton Lynch if they could have agreed on a price.
All that is true. But dang, this kid is turning heads.
Using a spectacular combination of play-action passes, poised decision-making and his more familiar shotgun package that allows him to engage his feet, Prescott once again did nothing but raise expectations on what the future may be. It is still a long ways off, but we are starting to get to the point to where Prescott's 2016 preseason feels like it will be referenced for years and years.
And if the question is whether the Cowboys thought they had better address their backup QB situation, I believe they think it has been answered.
He has been really good. The other point, which makes 2015 so bewildering, is that the 10 other offensive players seem so solid that playing QB for the Cowboys should be as easy as it could ever be. If Romo was hurt last season but Dez Bryant was fully fit, we wonder what Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel or Kellen Moore might have accomplished. But Romo and Bryant were gone, and perhaps not enough is made of Bryant's absence.
Regardless, with Dez or without him, Dak showed us lots more on Friday (including a few moments of looking like a rookie). Let's review what he showed us:
First play -- the standard Linehan call -- roll out right and attack the levels of the defense with an isolation that makes the DB decide if he should get the guy in front of him or the guy behind him. His choice will be wrong, either way. This is a nice, safe confidence-builder to get things going. One thing you will see is that Prescott has his eyes up and is always looking for the bigger throw. He is not wired to check down, now that he has confidence.
Next throw: Play-action pass off a two-man initial route where Dez goes deep to clear out the coverage and Terrance Williams goes across the field underneath in the vacated area. He has Lucky on one side and (Actually, Alfred Morris) Gavin Escobar on the other if he wishes to take something under, but Williams is open for an easy first down. Move the chains.
End of the first quarter, switch directions. Now, the Dolphins are getting tired of a comfortable QB, so they start applying six-man pressure. This means there are five in the secondary to cover four Cowboys -- single-high/man coverage. The Cowboys know how to handle this, with Cole Beasley crossing underneath. Just like last week, Dak is confident in how to deal with a blitz. This may be his best attribute so far. He actually looks happy that you are blitzing him. We talked about this in our comparison piece in the spring with Tim Tebow. If there is one thing that a zone-read, dual-threat QB loves, it is man coverage. Easy reads and inviting run options with DBs with their backs turned.
And that sets up this next play. Look at the Dolphins defense. ...
Cowboys in shotgun 11-personnel, Dolphins showing press coverage with a single-high safety. Cowboys love to put Dez off by himself against this because you either give Dez a safety and leave the side with two WRs alone, or you do the opposite and help them, but leave your corner on an island against Dez Bryant?
Again, the theme is that you are never going to be right.
Dak never is going anywhere but to Dez. He is going to hold off the safety, but then he is going to give Dez a chance to make a play against his old friend, No. 41, Byron Maxwell.
I regret that we don't get All-22s in the preseason to see if the safety knew this, but you can see Dak is making his throw to the outside which tells you that he was at least a bit concerned with that possibility of leading his throw into danger. Dez makes an easy adjustment (for him) and hauls in the touchdown. But again, this is veteran-level decision-making from a rookie QB.
Now, No. 88 ends his evening, so it's on to the Brice Butler show.
First, a nice, easy slant against soft coverage. Prescott has demonstrated very good ball location on these throws, but when they are giving this much ground, it isn't required.
Here is a coach's preseason dream. The rookie is playing perfectly, but he finally gives you something to get on his back for. Prescott gets a mulligan for this poor decision as he was locked in on Butler on play action and the safeties in this league are too good to allow throws like this.  
Prescott did have Devin Street on the comeback at the sideline, but never really looked there. Instead, he threw the ball hopefully into danger and would have turned the ball over had he not been done a favor with a roughing the passer penalty that had nothing to do with the throw.
You may recall he also had another dangerous throw to Lucky Whitehead later in the second quarter, so our rookie has to remember to proceed with caution in the middle of the field. This play was doomed early, because the Dolphins were tired of falling for your play-action fake. Sometimes, kill the play and move on to the next one.
This play didn't count as they got Butler for offensive pass interference. I thought it was actually borderline and that Dez would not get called for this one. But either way, the throw is right where it needs to be. And Butler shows he has the size and ability to go get balls like this. I really love what Butler is showing here -- a very athletic and strong play.
So, third-and-10. Second-string offensive line means no protection. Luckily, Dak is used to running for his life in situations like this. He also keeps his head up because if you are in the secondary, he wants you to come at him and leave your guy open. So, as the DBs are trying to keep their guys covered, it turns out that Prescott's best idea is actually just to keep it. Again, this is his college game. In shotgun, he is going to be very comfortable right away because he has been doing this for years. If he breaks contain, you better have him spied.
Simply gorgeous stuff there.
Third quarter. First-and-10. Play action. Notice a pattern here?
Now, he reaches back and throws the ball from his 32 to the Dolphins' 6 and Brice Butler is waiting with a step on his man and the safety too shallow. I believe we call this taking the top off the defense, and Butler and Dak both showed that they are worthy of roster spots here.
And to prove it, they finished off the drive on the next play.
Again, you aren't going to put a safety out there? OK. Well, then we have the fade/back-shoulder fade combo. Play too far off, we throw it to the near pylon. Get up on him, we will throw to the back pylon.
Great job by Butler to get positioning, and then Dak hasn't missed this throw once. Not much of a window here, but the play looked pretty easy.
So there you have it. Prescott showed he was human, but also led six drives that led to six scores. He certainly was helped by a few short fields, but still.
And Butler? We may want to put him on the list of "2016 UFAs to re-sign" if he keeps this up.
Great stuff from an easy win over the Dolphins.

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