I’ve been fascinated by Dak Prescott all season long. Mainly with his ball placement and whether or not Tony Romo will retake his job, but this time my intrigue has nothing to do with him actually throwing the ball.
One quarterback skill sometimes go unnoticed is ball handling. Part of that ability is to sell a fake to get the flow of a defense moving in the opposite direction of where the play is going. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has dialed up numerous plays requiring a sell from Prescott. On many occasions Prescott has fooled the defense and ended up with a nice gain to keep the chains moving. In a balanced offense like the Dallas Cowboys have, Prescott’s ability to handle the ball allows Linehan to get creative, causing confusion for opposing defenses.
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It’s 1st and 10 for Dallas on their own 45-yard line up 14-3 on Cleveland with 5:49 remaining in the 2nd quarter. The Cowboys are in 12 personnel with Jason Witten (#82) and Geoff Swaim (#87) lined up to right side of the formation. With Dallas running 40% of the time on 1st down, 3rd in the NFL to the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers, Linehan calls for a fake to play off their tendency.
Prescott motions Swaim and the ball is snapped once Swaim is set. Prescott then fakes the handoff to Ezekiel Elliott (#21) with Swaim crossing the backfield and right guard Zack Martin pulling to help sell the weak side run. With the play action, Prescott has both linebacker Cam Johnson (#57) and safety Derrick Kindred (#30) leaning in the wrong direction of the play. Johnson is now late in his pursuit of Prescott allowing the Mississippi State product to deliver a pass to a wide open Witten for a gain of 15 yards.
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Prescott’s best sell of the season thus far came on Sunday Night against the New York Giants. The game is tied 0-0 in the 1st quarter with 4:51 remaining on New York’s 31. On 2nd and 10 Dallas lines up with 11 personnel in a trips formation to the left with Brice Butler (#19), Vince Mayle (#16), and Terrance Williams (#83). Prescott motions Mayle into the wing position behind Tyron Smith (#77). This indicates a running play to that side. The ball is snapped and the entire offensive line shifts to the left while Prescott fakes the toss to Elliott. With the line acting as if it’s a toss to the left along with Prescott’s sell, the entire defensive flows toward Elliott. This allows Prescott to roll and throw to a wide open Terrance Williams (#83) for an easy touchdown.
The key to the entire play is how Prescott holds the fake to make the defense think about where the ball is going. The result is the defensive flow all going toward Elliott including key secondary defenders like safety Andrew Adams (#33) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (#41) who was frozen by the fake. Adams biting on the fake allows Williams to freely run across the field behind New York’s coverage for an easy touchdown.
Prescott is improving as a passer displayed by his strong late-season performances against Tampa Bay and Detroit, but what makes him dangerous is how well he compliments the Cowboys rushing attack. Linehan is able to call plays off of Dallas’s strengths to fool opposing defenses and keep them guessing. I’m expecting Linehan to use Prescott’s strength of handling the ball heading into the playoffs.
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 struggles of the New York Giants offense.
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All film courtesy of NFL GamePass.