It seems like during this past month or so, it has been in fashion to pick apart young Dak Prescott to identify how he is not the best quarterback you have ever seen. It was once fashionable to wonder if he is the next franchise quarterback, but with the worst three-week span of offensive play in memory, the questions of his future were increasing along with those waxing nostalgic for a time when Tony Romo could sit in a kitchen chair without his back locking up.
It is true, by the way. There are some things Prescott cannot do like Romo could. There are some things Prescott cannot do that Troy Aikman could. Or Roger Staubach. But perhaps we could concede that no two players are exactly alike, and that there are probably things Prescott can do that Romo absolutely could not.
And maybe there is more than one way to skin a cat, too.
On Sunday, Prescott killed the blitz of the New York Giants. He did it so much that people were wondering why the Giants would continue to do something that was damaging their situation so badly. That doesn't happen much against young quarterbacks -- blitzes failing so badly that the defensive coordinator comes under fire for not realizing he is being taken advantage of by the kid -- but that is what happened Sunday.
The Giants would blitz, then Prescott would find the correct hot read and destroy him. It wasn't that hard, partly because the Giants do not have one-on-one personnel that can handle their business these days, and partly because Prescott nearly had a perfect day from a mental standpoint.
He has had a near-perfect season. Would you believe that since they installed this statistic in 1991, this is nearly the best season in Cowboys history?
According to our friends at STATS, the 2017 version of Prescott is exceeded only by the best year of Romo's career. And, for that matter, considering that we are talking about 27 different seasons of Cowboys quarterbacks -- many of them run by Aikman and Romo -- Prescott has already registered two of the top four in the first two seasons of his career. Based on the fact it took Romo until the 2014 season to fully master the blitz, would it be OK to give Prescott credit for this?
It would seem in this NFL world that this is a rather important component. Prescott destroyed the Giants' blitz on Sunday and, by the looks of it -- as he sits as the career leader against the blitz with a passer rating of 105.0 (Romo at 90.0, Aikman at 86.2, Drew Bledsoe at 83.9 at and Quincy Carter at 62.6 are the four other Cowboys quarterbacks with 200-plus throws against the blitz in their careers) -- he has done this since Week 1 of Year 1 as a Cowboy.
You may remember Bill Parcells once telling Romo a paraphrase of this: "Someday, you will want them to blitz you because that is when you will get those big plays."
It appears that Prescott -- whether you know it or not -- is already at a level of performance where his numbers indicate he has a mental acuity that is very, very good.
I would argue it goes back to his calmness. That reminds me of another Parcells-ism from his quarterback rules that were posted on the locker of Romo once upon a time:
"Don't panic -- when all around you is chaos, you must be the hand that steers the ship. If you have a panic button, so will everyone else. Our ship can't have panic buttons."
The Cowboys were in a real fight Sunday, but the quarterback's ability to kill the blitz was how Dallas won the game. And in a season when Prescott has been blamed for quite a bit, I think it is worthwhile for his critics to be informed of this attribute, where he seems to take a backseat to almost nobody who has ever worn the shirt. You will not blitz him continuously and find success.
WEEKLY DATA BOX
Sunday was the second-biggest yardage day of the year (at San Francisco was No. 1) and the biggest yardage day through the air. Another solid day on third down, and those yards per attempt at 11.1 is ridiculous. But they had three 50-yard passes to really inflate the production nicely. Also, average yards to go on third down was way down at 4.8, which is the second-best mark of the season (also behind the San Francisco road game). This is all good across the board, which is hard to believe since this was a 10-10 game midway through the fourth quarter.
DAK PRESCOTT THROW CHART
The Cowboys took more shots Sunday and the receivers let their quarterback down, but overall, you will take that over the throws not being good enough. On a tough day, Prescott responded well and stuck with it. Then his receivers started making the plays, too.
I really am interested in how 13 Personnel (one running back, three tight ends and one wide receiver) is more and more becoming the offense on early downs. They like the matchups. Below we will look at what it provides, because they ran some different variations of the set that are worth discussing.
Let's look at some tape:
A third-and-1 on the first drive of the game. The Giants roll out the Cover 0 blitz -- no safety available because you are blitzing Cole Beasley's guy, so Landon Collins has to roll downhill to get to him. I have no idea why you would try this on third and short, but the Giants are feeling lucky. I love that later the Cowboys will come back to this and are ready if the Giants try it again. Look at how easily Prescott sees this and how easily the third-down conversion is because, of course, Beasley needs just 36 inches to move the chains.
I am sure they said, "Next time, stay inbounds and make Collins catch you." It broke the game open.
Another third-and-short -- this time it is third and 3. Here, the Giants rush five, then drop a rat in the hole to sit on Jason Witten and Beasley underneath. So, Cover 1 -- Rat/Robber -- and this is where Prescott uses his escape to move the chains. Look at Rod Smith take out the blitzer. Beautiful stuff and fine awareness by Prescott. Also, notice the Beasley double-team. In-breaking routes always bring a second man on Beasley. He may not be helping your fantasy team, but he still is attracting a crowd.
Next play, 10:54 to go in the second quarter -- they are in 12 Personnel. They send Dez Bryant to pull a double-team to the post and slide James Hanna underneath on a rounded-off dig route. Prescott delivers a really nice throw, and they are marching.
As you can see, the Giants are blitzing, Alfred Morris has to pick up the guy off the edge and Prescott has to deliver a throw. This is when you got the feeling Prescott was trusting his arm Sunday. Burn another blitz and carry on.
Prescott's next throw is two snaps later. They're in 13 Personnel and have the Giants off balance here. Look at all of the traffic those three tight ends generate. Watch the congested middle, and then notice Bryant is one-on-one on the outside with a corner who is fresh off the practice squad -- No. 25, Brandon Dixon. There is nothing fancy here, as Bryant just runs right past him. The throw is fine and Bryant just drops it. Maybe he can't believe how open he is.
Bryant is having a frustrating season and wants to make dominating plays every week. Unfortunately, there have been a few plays he needs to make -- the touchdown against Green Bay, the throw down the sideline against Philadelphia and the pass here -- that have been 100 percent on him. He is much better than this, but this does demonstrate that when an offense goes south, there is blame to be shared by all parties.
Here is the very next play and Prescott again is playing very well. Look at this nice job of extending the play and then putting the throw right on Beasley to the sideline. But the sun makes the play for the Giants and the drive is killed. Two bad breaks end a really promising drive.
Full marks to Bryant for getting back on the horse. I am not sure why the Giants want to roll the bones again and blitz seven for another Cover 0, but the Cowboys are waiting. This is just too easy. Dixon is not tackling Bryant on a slant and if he misses high, it is over.
You can't miss high, sir. This will fail 10 out of 10 times. I blame the coaches for putting him in that spot, but he also should know who Bryant is. Walk-in touchdown.
But again, the score is just 10-10. Midway through the fourth. The Cowboys' past four drives have seen no blitzes and also have seen no points. But the Giants get antsy again.
Third and 2, 8:07 to play.
The Giants have been torched on each blitz they have tried. Not only do they blitz, but they send the house again? And they ask Collins to try to get to Beasley again? In space? I really wonder about the brain power of this Giants staff that made that call. Goodness gracious. The Cowboys were begging them to do something stupid, and they obliged. There is simply no chance Collins -- as awesome as he is -- can make this play.
The very next play, with no Collins on the field, the Cowboys roll out 13 Personnel again. They know the Giants are going to be watching Bryant -- remember the throw down the sideline on 13 that was dropped? -- so they have Witten run that seam route where he widens out his man to the sideline and then angles back in to gain leverage, leaving a spot for Prescott to drop a dime in there. He does, and this is a huge throw and touchdown to take the lead.
Finally, again, no Collins deep, the Giants' reserves are worried about Beasley and Bryant, which leaves a painfully slow backup linebacker on Smith in the open field. No blitz here, just a man trying to run with a man who is too fast with no help over the top. Intramural plays don't often work, but the Giants have nothing left for Smith, so this is a stat-padder for all involved.
Easy work, most against the blitz and some not. Prescott wins with his brain power and intelligence. If your strongest attributes are composure and intelligence, you can win with that.
Nice job against a reckless and undermanned Giants defense. Sound coaching would be to sit back and play conservatively when you don't have your guys. The Giants weren't doing that, and the Cowboys executed the plan wonderfully.