One of the unexpected storylines at the quarter pole in the 2016 NFL season has been Dak Prescott’s performance for the Dallas Cowboys. Joseph Ferraiola breaks down one of Prescott’s impressive throws from Week 4.
After two straight victories the Dallas Cowboys were 2-1 entering their game against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 4. However, the last win against the Chicago Bears proved costly as wide receiver Dez Bryant suffered a hairline fracture in his knee and was ruled out prior to this game, and he might be sidelined another couple weeks, leaving the Cowboys offense without their top wide receiver, quarterback, and left tackle. Despite that, the offense has kept the machine rolling quite nicely with their “next man up” mantra.
Down 14-7 late in the first half, Dak Prescott led a game tying drive from the Cowboys own 42 yard-line thanks to a shanked punt from 49ers punter Bradley Pinion. After completing 7 of 9 passes on the drive, Prescott and the Dallas offense were now inside the 49ers’ 5-yard line with 16 seconds left in the half and no timeouts. It was 1st and goal, but without any timeouts it was going to be difficult to get another play off if the ball was caught in bounds, making it important that if the pass was completed it would have to be in the end zone.
The Cowboys have 12 personnel with Lance Dunbar (#25) lined up out wide at the top of the screen before Prescott motions him to the backfield. Brice Butler and Cole Beasley are stacked to the left side. The 49ers have nickel personnel in the game, with three linemen, three linebackers, and five defensive backs in for the play.
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When the ball is snapped, Prescott rolls out to his left, which is something that he’s been comfortable doing this season in the play action game. Dunbar and Geoff Swaim (#87) stay in to block, but the 49ers drop seven defenders back in coverage. With Prescott rolling to his left that is the side of the defense that is most important. There are three defensive backs, Tramaine Brock (#26), Jaquiski Tartt (#29), Eric Reid (#35) and a linebacker, NaVorro Bowman (#53) to that side of the field.
Reid is playing press against the stack with Brock lined up behind him. When Butler releases into his route he takes off past the outside shoulder of Reid. Reid lets him by and plays Beasley, who runs a route to the flat. Butler takes on Brock in the end zone and makes slight contact with the defender, extending his hands to gain separation as he breaks into the corner route. Tartt eyes Beasley drawing him closer to the flat, but then looks back at Prescott who is already in mid-throwing motion. Tartt settles where he is, but does not have the depth to help Brock cover Butler in the corner of the end zone. All he and Bowman can do is attempt to contest the throw in the air.
Prescott makes an accurate throw with velocity, while on the move, over two defenders and drops the ball into the hands of Butler for the touchdown before the end of the half. Prescott has made significant strides with his ball placement since being drafted and has even shown improvement from his regular season debut. Because of this and excellent play calling the Cowboys have had more success putting up points in the red zone. After scoring just one touchdown in three trips to the red zone in their loss to the New York Giants in Week 1, the Cowboys have scored a touchdown on 75% of their red zone trips in their last three games thanks to great play from Prescott and excellent play calling from the coaches.
Check out more of Joseph’s work here, including a look at Scott Linehan and the Dallas Cowboys’ Jet Sweep Screen, the offense Doug Pederson will run with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Stanford Cardinal‘s unbalanced run schemes.
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All video courtesy of NFL GamePass.