Dak Prescott On Two: Progressions

Like any good researcher, Mark Schofield despises a small sample size. Unfortunately, prospect evaluation is almost always too early, or without all the information necessary. Thus, we have our series: On Two, in which Inside The Pylon examines two plays from a quarterback that address traits that scouts are talking about.

Dak Prescott enjoyed Heisman hype during the 2014 season, when he and Mississippi State got off to a very hot start. But when the Bulldogs lost three of their last four games, including losses to Mississippi in the Egg Bowl and to Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, the shine came off the season. Prescott and his team looked to contend again in 2015, but early losses to LSU and Texas A&M ended their playoff hopes quickly. However, the senior quarterback enjoyed a solid season statistically, completing 316 of 477 passes for 3,793 yards and 29 touchdowns, with only five interceptions.

Prescott is a very interesting evaluation from a trait-based perspective. When reviewing his game film, one of the aspects that stands out is his ability to work through progressions. The Bulldogs build in a number of reads on each play, often based on the packaged play concepts that they are running. Prescott is also tasked with making half- and full-field reads. His ability to be patient and work through the play design is a good indication of his ability to transition to a pro-style offense.

On One

On this play from 2015 against Texas A&M, the Bulldogs trail by 14 early in the game, facing 3rd and 6 on their own 29-yard line with 12:14 remaining in the second quarter. The football is on the left hash, and Prescott stands in the shotgun formation alone with 02 offensive personnel on the field. The Bulldogs line up with a tight end in wing alignment to each side of the field,. They put two receivers to the right and split a single receiver to the left.

The Aggies deploy a 4-2-5 nickel defense and show two high safeties before the snap. Both cornerbacks are in press alignment on the outside, with the nickelback giving about five yards of cushion over the slot receiver to the right. Just prior to the snap the cornerback to Prescott’s right starts to drop, while the safety to the left of the quarterback begins to roll forward. This is an indication to Prescott that the coverage will be rolled at the snap:PrescottOnTwoOneStill1

On the left side the WR releases vertically while the tight end runs a quick out to the flat. From the three-receiver side, the wing TE stays in to help with pass protection before releasing to the flat. To the outside, the middle receiver runs a deep in cut and the outside receiver runs a deep comeback route. Prescott reads this play from left to right, first checking the vertical route on a “peek.” If he can get a quick play in the vertical passing game he will take his shot, otherwise he will come to the middle of the field on the deep in cut from his WR. If this is covered, his third read is on the right, and the deep comeback route:PrescottOnTwoOneStill2

They roll into a Cover 3 Buzz look with a matching concept to the three-receiver side. On the right side of the defense, the safety drops into a robber technique while the CB stays with the receiver on his vertical release. To the other side, the cornerback drops to the deep outside while the safety stays in the deep middle. The nickelback stays in man coverage on the middle receiver: PrescottOnTwoOneStill3

Off the snap Prescott opens to his left, to peek at the vertical route. He then identifies the safety dropping down into the robber technique. This prompts the QB to come off this read:PrescottOnTwoOneStill4

Prescott moves his line of sight to the middle of the field, where he finds the nickelback locked in tight man coverage on the dig route. Also, the free safety is lurking ‒ as is the linebacker to that side, who is reading the TE as he leaks to the flat. With three defenders in the throwing lane, this second option is a no-go for flight:PrescottOnTwoOneStill5

Prescott moves to his third option ‒ and given the information available to him ‒ knows there is a single defender to contend with on the outside, who dropped into a Cover 3 technique. The receiver on the right running a deep comeback is a very effective route against this scheme. Prescott trusts that he can make a play to the outside. He climbs the pocket and delivers a strike, releasing the football just as the receiver makes his cut back toward the line of scrimmage:

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The pass is perfectly placed as well, leading De’Runnya Wilson (#1) toward the sideline. With the football thrown low and to the outside, the WR gains additional separation after his cut, and when he secures the catch Wilson is in great position to pick up additional yardage. Progression reads, good timing, and perfect ball placement add up to a big third-down conversion for the offense.

On Two

It is great when a QB can work through progressions and make a big play down the field, but to sustain drives and win football games it is just as important for a quarterback to recognize when coverage dictates that the checkdown route is the wisest course of action. These plays are certainly not sexy, but they move the chains, keep an offense on schedule, and lead to scoring drives.  

On this play from Mississippi State’s 2014 game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the Bulldogs face a 2nd and 7 on their own 23-yard line early in the third quarter. The visitors trail 19-3, and line up with 11 personnel on the field with a bunch to the left and a single receiver split to the right. Alabama has their 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game and they show Cover 2 with both safeties deep and the cornerbacks down in press alignment to each side of the field:PrescottOnTwoOneStill7

Prescott has a single receiver running a straight go route, which will be Prescott’s first read. The quarterback will again peek at this route, and see if he can make a big play in the passing game. If the coverage is solid, he will move to the left side of the field and the bunch formation:

The Bulldogs run an NCAA concept. This passing combination puts together a post route, a dig route, and an underneath crossing route. This is usually seen from both sides of the field, with the post route on one side and the two in-cuts coming from the other side of the field. The goal is to create a high-low on the single-high safety, forcing him to commit to either the post or the dig, with the QB then throwing to the other route.

Here, the Bulldogs run all three patterns from the same side of the field, giving the Crimson Tide a different look at the route structure. This is a high-to-low progression read for the QB, who will first look at the post, then the dig, and finally to the underneath route. Prescott’s final option is the running back, who swings to the right, the single-receiver side of the formation. Prior to the snap, the QB sees an indication that the coverage will roll. Cornerback Eddie Jackson (#4) starts to drop on the single receiver side, as does CB Cyrus Jones (#5) over the bunch:PrescottOnTwoOneStill10

Alabama rolls into a Cover 3 Buzz, dropping the cornerbacks and the free safety, and rolling safety Landon Collins (#26) down toward the line of scrimmage over the single receiver side of the formation. Prescott takes the snap and opens to his right, to quickly check the vertical route to that side:PrescottOnTwoOneStill11

But with Jackson dropping into Cover 3, this option is off the table. The CB is in good position to take away the go route, so Prescott continues through his reads, moving his head to the other side of the field. There he sees the free safety maintaining depth in the middle of the field, Jones and nickelback Geno Matias-Smith (#24) with leverage on the dig route and both linebackers underneath in position to take away the shallow:PrescottOnTwoOneStill12

Now Prescott needs to come back to the right side of the field for his fifth option, the RB on the swing route. But for good measure he takes one last look at the vertical route, because with the free safety in the middle of the field waiting for the post route, this means that the CB does not have help on the vertical route, and if the WR has erased the cushion, perhaps the big play is still available. But the coverage is still sound, so Prescott makes the smart decision and checks the ball down:

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The QB dumps the ball off and the running back cuts inside of Collins and then outside of the linebacker and picks up the first down with a nice gain on the play.

This still, taken shortly after the release, shows why Prescott came off the vertical route for a second time. As you can see, the coverage on the outside by Johnson was tight:PrescottOnTwoOneStill13

These two plays are a great indication of Prescott’s ability to process information and understand coverages, route schemes, and game situations. They also illustrate his ability to make full-field reads on plays, including the ability to work from one side of a field, to the other, and back within the construct of a single snap. While Prescott is not a perfect quarterback – few are at this point in their career but some of the traits on display here point to a player who can function in a pro offense.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy draftbreakdown.com.

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