Greg Cosell's Film Review: A deep dive into Dak Prescott's rookie season

Shutdown Corner

Quarterback Dak Prescott has been the surprise story of the NFL this season. The rookie fourth-round pick has played so well, he relegated a healthy Tony Romo to backup status for the Dallas Cowboys.

Prescott has undeniably done very well, and I wanted to take a long look at what has gone right and what he should still be working on, as the Cowboys prepare to take on the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving.

Mostly what I see from Prescott is he is executing a basic, run-first offense that’s not particularly multiple in regards to personnel and formations. And he’s executing that basic offense with great efficiency. He’s an orchestrator and a distributor. What the Cowboys ask Prescott to do isn’t that much different than what the Denver Broncos ask of Trevor Siemian. Prescott, however, has far more talented offensive players around him – particularly a fantastic offensive line and running back Ezekiel Elliott – but both Prescott and Siemian are complementary pieces to their offenses.

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The Cowboys aren’t putting too much on Prescott’s shoulders. He’s not the foundation of the offense. In turn, he has executed his role very well. Let’s look at various aspects of Prescott’s rookie season, now that we’ve had 10 games of film to break down. I’ll also refer back to my notes from studying his tape at Mississippi State.

Arm strength/accuracy

When I watched Prescott’s college tape, I liked his arm strength. He showed a live arm and the ability to make all the necessary throws. At this point I don’t think Prescott has a great arm for NFL standards (his mechanics are still a bit off at times, which we’ll talk about that later in the post), but he throws with good velocity.

What does stand out is most of the time he delivers accurately. He sees things with clarity on the move, throws accurately on the run and from the pocket. He’s actually much more consistently accurate as a rookie than he was in college.

This 14-yard pass to Cole Beasley last week against the Ravens is a good example. On a play-action bootleg, Prescott made a great throw to Beasley on a back-side crossing route. He had a defender bearing down on him so he had to throw earlier than he wanted to, but Prescott’s throw got just past linebacker C.J. Mosley’s outstretched arm. What I really liked was that Prescott set his feet and delivered on balance.

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Here’s another example of Prescott delivering a challenging throw with accuracy. Against the Green Bay Packers in Week 6, Brice Butler beat cornerback LaDarius Gunter on a fade route. This is an excellent throw by Prescott for a 20-yard touchdown.

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Running ability

Another part of Prescott’s skill set is his ability to run. You could see that in his college tape. He adds an element to the Cowboys offense, especially in the red zone, that Romo couldn’t. Here’s a 7-yard touchdown on a read-option run in Week 8 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Defensive end Connor Barwin crashes hard inside to play the handoff to Elliott, and tight end Jason Witten was the lead blocker after crossing the formation to account for filling safety Rodney McLeod. This is a well-designed and executed play in the red zone. Prescott’s legs make it even harder to defend Dallas’ offense.

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But what I really like about Prescott is he doesn’t use his athleticism as a crutch. He plays from the pocket. He does not break down and leave the pocket unless it’s absolutely necessary. That’s a great sign, especially for a rookie. Here’s a play from the Packers game in which he showed his ability to move within the pocket but still maintain his poise and not look to run. Edge pressure by Julius Peppers forced Prescott to move, but he climbed the pocket, stayed with the route concept and hit an open Terrance Williams later in the down. So many young quarterbacks, especially ones with Prescott’s running ability, might have looked to take off running. Instead, Prescott hit a 15-yard pass.

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Pocket play

First and foremost I look for pocket play out of quarterbacks. You can’t be a high-level NFL quarterback if you can’t play from the pocket. At Mississippi State I had questions about Prescott’s ability to be an anticipation thrower from the pocket. He has been good from the pocket as a rookie in the NFL, though there are still a few moments when you’re reminded he’s a young quarterback.

On this play against Green Bay, he didn’t do a good enough job eliminating what wasn’t there quickly enough. He didn’t isolate where he needed to go with the ball. There was a front-side read with a three-level stretch concept and a complementary back-side dig route with Brice Butler. Witten was open, so you have to throw it to him, or come back side to Butler on the dig. He was also wide open. Prescott got stuck in the pocket, made no throw, and then when he moved he fumbled the ball.

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That’s OK. Prescott is still a rookie and that’s a good learning play for him.

Prescott has mostly been good eliminating what’s not there and isolating where to go with the ball. He is generally decisive with his reads and throws. You could see his decisiveness in a two-minute drill last week against the Ravens. In particular, he made a nice throw on a 26-yard play to Dez Bryant. Bryant ran a slant route, and the timing of the throw had to beat the unblocked blitzer off the edge. Prescott understood where to go with the ball and was decisive on his throw. This is a fine play by the rookie.

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Here’s the view from the end zone:

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Coaching

In the introduction I wrote about how Prescott and Siemian aren’t that dissimilar, in what they’re asked to do by their respective coaches. For the most part the Cowboys have done a good job giving Prescott defined reads, or designing plays that open things up for him. A great example was an 83-yard screen pass touchdown against the Steelers, which we broke down last week.

Here’s another example of the Cowboys running a well-designed play to get a receiver open. Against the Packers, the Cowboys faced third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter. With six offensive linemen and two tight ends, Lucky Whitehead (13) motioned across the formation behind the sixth offensive linemen Joe Looney. There was run action to Elliott, and Whitehead released between Witten and Looney. Cornerback Gunter had his eyes in the backfield because of the formation and run action, and he was late to react to Whitehead, who got 35 yards.

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The Cowboys have done a nice job devising an offense to make things easier for Prescott and play to his strengths.

Mechanics

One area in which Prescott is inconsistent is his lower body mechanics. I had issues with this part of his game at Mississippi State too. This is from my pre-draft notes on Prescott:

“Prescott has significant issues with his footwork that must be cleaned up at the NFL level or he’ll have problems, has a tendency to drift and throw off-balance.”

I’ve seen that in the NFL from him, too. Going back to Week 8 again, Precott missed a third-and-12 throw early in the game because of his mechanics. He had time in the pocket to make this throw with proper footwork and balance, but he fell away from the throw and the pass had no energy. It was well short and incomplete.

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Sometimes you’ll see that from Prescott. His feet won’t be settled and he’ll drift without setting his feet. I’ve seen that he sometimes doesn’t engage his lower body and has a tendency to lock his front leg on delivery, which turns him into an arm thrower. He has a good arm but you don’t want to fall into bad habits.

That just means there are some things to work on. As good as Prescott has been, it’s important to remember that he’s a rookie and will have to continue to develop. But what we’ve seen from him so far obviously sets a good base going forward.

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.

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