Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott burst onto the scene as a rookie. Taken in the fourth round, the Cowboys got a steal when they drafted the quarterback out of Mississippi State. Prescott would go on to win the NFL’s Rookie of the Year but has been up and down ever since.
Prescott took a step back in year two as the Cowboys missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. A big reason for that was Prescott’s drop-off in play. In the 11-game stretch from Week 7 of 2017 to Week 1 of 2018, Prescott threw zero touchdown passes and 181 or fewer yards in 7 of those 11 games.
His stretch of five games with more than 25 attempts in each game while still throwing for less than 200 yards in the fifth-longest streak in NFL history.
Next, we’re going to play a game. I’m going to list quarterback stats: Player A and Player B. One will be Dak Prescott, and the other will be another quarterback.
Player A: 11 games: 2,004 yards, 8 Touchdowns, 11 Interceptions
Player B: 11 games: 2, 262, 11 Touchdowns, 18 Interceptions
Player A is Dak Prescott, and Player B is the final 11 game stretch in 2015 when the Cowboys had Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassell, and Matt Moore at quarterback.
Player A: 13 games: 2,396 yards, 10 Touchdowns, 11 Interceptions
Player B: 13 games: 2,326 yards, 11 Touchdowns, 12 Interceptions
Player A is Dak Prescott over the 13 game stretch of Week 7 of 2017 to Week 3 of 2018 and Player B is Brock Osweiler in his last 13 games ending on September 23.
Player A: 7 games, 1,089 Yards, 5 Touchdowns, 7 Interceptions
Player B: 7 games, 1,330 Yards, 6 Touchdowns, 9 Interceptions
Player A is, of course, Jared Goff in the first seven games of his career (final seven games of the 2016 season) and Player B is Dak Prescott over the last seven games of the 2017 season.
Those are pretty similar stats. See how narratives can change?
Because Jared Goff started his career with the worst seven-game stretch of his career, he has yet to break the top-15 quarterbacks in the league among media members. Meanwhile, Prescott had arguably the worst seven-game period of his career in year two, and some argue that he’s a top-10 quarterback
Prescott was without a No. 1 wide receiver, and his No. 1 weapon in Ezekiel Elliott served a suspension on and off. Meanwhile, Goff had one of the worst offensive lines in football, didn’t have a No. 1 wide receiver, and had a first-time offensive coordinator to go with a head coach that didn’t understand the offense.
That’s not to say Goff is a top-5 quarterback or that Prescott isn’t a top-15 quarterback. However, it does mean quarterbacks shouldn’t be judged based on seven games and that you have to paint the full picture.
If Goff starts his career with McVay and his sophomore year becomes his rookie year, is he labeled a system quarterback? Given that Prescott is a fourth-round selection, if his sophomore year is his rookie year, is he the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys moving into year two?
Put Goff in Prescott’s shoes and Prescott in Goff’s shoes for their careers up to this point, and you might get the same results flipped.
After trading for Amari Cooper following Week 6 this season, Prescott saw an immediate uptick in production. In Cooper’s first game, Prescott threw for a season-high 273 yards.
In Weeks 1-6, Prescott averaged just 190 yards per game and had seven touchdowns to four interceptions. After Cooper joining the team, he averaged 274.1 yards per game while throwing 15 touchdowns to four interceptions.
That’s a huge difference. If it’s anyone who can understand the difference having that trust a receiver can have, it’s Rams fans as Goff dealt with that after losing Cooper Kupp last year.
The offseason is a great time to look back at a player’s season. While we live in a ‘quick to judge’ society, leaving some time to reflect after the season allows you to hit the film with a clear mind. This allows us to take a step back and look at the season as a whole rather than from a week-to-week basis.
This will be the second part of my “under the microscope” series. Last week I looked at 15 throws that defined Jared Goff’s season. Over the next few weeks, I will take a look at Carson Wentz, Russell Wilson, and Jimmy Garoppolo. I include Wentz and Prescott because they will always be linked to Goff because of the 2016 draft. Wilson and Garoppolo will be worth watching because not only are they great passers, but they are in the division.
Today we continue with Prescott
7 Great Snaps From Prescott’s 2018 Season
Week 4, vs. Detroit Lions – 1Q – 5:45 – 2nd-and-3
Prescott has often been portrayed as a game manager. However, a game manager doesn’t make this kind of throw. Game managers don’t take risks, and this is quite a shot down the left sideline.
This play comes before the signing of Amari Cooper. Michael Gallup is covered heavily by the cornerback with the safety coming over the top. This is just a well-placed ball by Prescott.
Week 7, at Washington Redskins – 4Q – 0:59 – 3rd-and-10
Fourth quarter, down by three, the game on the line, and Prescott does this. He stands in the face of pressure and gets the ball deep down the left sideline perfectly to Cole Beasley.
Prescott doesn’t panic when the Washington defense collapses the pocket. He stands calm and delivers a strike. The Cowboys would lose this game on a missed field goal with time expiring, but this was the beginning of “New Dak.”
Week 11, vs. Washington Redskins – 4Q – 14:20 – 3rd-and-5
This is when Dak Prescott is at his best. When he can scramble make plays with his feet, he is almost impossible to defend. He’s so elusive and so difficult to bring down. Leading 24-13 early in the fourth quarter, Prescott puts the game away with this touchdown.
Week 13, vs. Philadelphia Eagles – 4Q – 7:52 – 2nd-and-5
This is a big throw from Prescott. The Cowboys offense has been stagnant and unable to score a touchdown. With the game tied, 9-9, he throws a huge touchdown pass to put the Cowboys in the lead. He gets a nice pocket, but to be able to deliver this ball to the corner of the end zone where there isn’t a lot of space with this much accuracy is not easy to do.
Week 15, vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 1Q – 10:54 – 3rd-and-12
This is another play on third down that Dak Prescott delivers a bullet. The long-out is one of the most challenging plays to make as a quarterback. Prescott delivers this ball perfectly to Gallup between the cornerback and the safety.
Week 16, at New York Giants – 3Q – 5:10 – 3rd-and-3
With the Cowboys leading, 14-10, Prescott puts this game seemingly out of reach. Again, you can see how special he is on the move. When breaking down Goff, you can see he is capable of throws like this, but Prescott can do it consistently. The Cowboys quarterback throws this under pressure and to Blake Jarwin who is covered between two Giants defenders.
NFC Wild Card, vs. Seattle Seahawks – 4Q – 2:33 – 3rd-and-14
When you talk about quarterbacks putting a team on his back to win a football game, queue up this play. The Cowboys are leading, 17-14, late in the fourth quarter. Due to an illegal shift penalty, it is now 3rd-and-14.
At this point, the Seahawks feel confident about holding the Cowboys to a field goal and giving Russell Wilson the ball with one last chance to go down the field and win the game.
Similar to Goff making the play to send the Rams to the Super Bowl, Prescott makes the play to win a playoff game at home. The Cowboys quarterback recognizes the hole and takes off running. He picks up 16 yards and then scores one play later.
This play turned a 20-14 game into a 24-14 game with less than two minutes left. Wilson would indeed take the Seahawks down the field to score, but because of Prescott, it was 24-22, and a Cowboys onside kick recovery ended the game.
3 Not So Great Snaps From Prescott’s 2018 Season
Week 1, at Carolina Panthers – 4Q – 3:23 – 2nd-and-15
Prescott too much relies strictly on his arm talent. Yes, Gallup should catch this ball, but the placement isn’t where it needs to be either. This is a game that the Cowboys are trailing, 16-8, and have some momentum for a potential game-tying drive.
If Prescott hits Gallup in stride rather than throwing the ball behind him, forcing the receiver to do a complete-180, the rookie has 20-yards of open field in front of him. Instead, the Cowboys face third down.
Week 3, at Seattle Seahawks – 4Q – 0:53 – 3rd-and-10
Prescott can do a lot with his legs and sometimes that bails him out where other times it hurts him. Early in the season, Prescott held on to the ball too long, tried to do too much, and forced the issue.
This play is an excellent example of that. Outside of the game being out of reach at this point, the Cowboys are driving. You can see the tight end coming across the middle wide open. Instead, Prescott tries to roll to his left and runs directly into a pass rusher. At this point, he’s trying to bail himself out and gets sacked for a 12-yard loss. There are times when Prescott needs to take what’s there or get rid of the ball.
Week 13, vs. Philadelphia Eagles – 3Q – 6:17 – 2nd-and-15
Prescott’s deep ball accuracy struggled last season, and he tends to miss high when he misses. Here you can see a perfect example of that. He attempts to push the ball down the field and throws the ball right over the head of Gallup. This play sparked an Eagles comeback. The Cowboys hung on to win, but this throw got the Eagles back in the game.
What Does This Mean For Goff?
When it comes to Dak Prescott, both have similar, but very different career paths. Goff started slow and finally found his groove, whereas Prescott was the 2016 Rookie of the Year, regressed as a sophomore, and then became the quarterback many were used to seeing the second half of last year.
Which quarterback is better is very subjective. Goff can do things and make throws Prescott can’t and visa-versa. The plays Prescott makes with his legs, and on the run, Goff is not able to do.
That doesn’t mean we won’t try. When it comes to the quarterback position there are six clear indicators of what makes a good one in the NFL: Accuracy, Vision, Improvisation, and Pocket Awareness and anticipation
Basing this off of just basic completion percentage, Prescott holds a slight edge at 67.7% to Goff’s 64.9%. However, last season, Goff averaged 8.4 yards per attempt (YPA) to Prescott’s 7.4, meaning the Rams quarterback and scheme demanded that Goff push the ball down the field more often. Obviously, the farther the throw, the less of a chance of completion.
Completion percentage is far from a true depiction of accuracy. If you want to use the completion percentage, you should actually use an adjusted completion percentage which accounts for drops, batted passes, spikes, and throwaways.
Here it’s much closer as Prescott edges Goff 76.6% to 75.9%. But while an adjusted completion percentage removes factors that the quarterback can’t control, it still doesn’t tell the whole story. If a quarterback is taking more shots or has a higher YPA, his completion and adjusted completion percentage will still be affected.
Pro Football Focus has a metric that takes that into account. They take into account the depth of every target thrown by a quarterback and compare them to what the expected completion percentage should have been.
In this metric, Goff added 3.3% to his system while Prescott added less than half of that at 1.3%. Goff’s expected completion percentage was 72.6% and his actual adjusted completion percentage was 75.1%. Meanwhile, Prescott’s expected percentage was 75.3% whereas his actual adjusted was 76.6%.
To go with this, Goff was much more accurate than Prescott farther down the field. Goff’s 48% adjusted completion percentage on passes 20 yards or more down the field was almost 10% higher than that of Prescott’s, which was 38% and below the league average of 41%.
However, anything under 20 yards, both quarterbacks were pretty similar. Prescott edged Goff 69% to 65% in the 10-19 yards range. In the 0-9 yards area, both quarterbacks were nearly identical with Goff having an adjusted completion percentage of 83% to Prescott’s 82%.
What PFF doesn’t take into account, however, is the openness of receivers. If a receiver is wide open, no matter how far down the field, a quarterback should complete that pass. Here is where Prescott comes out on top in NFL.com’s Next Gen stats as he leads Goff 65.6% to 63.9%. Taking the relative difference of the actual completion percentage, Goff added just 0.7% to his offense while Prescott added 2.1% to his.
The final metric that we’ll use to show accuracy is how open the receiver was when the ball was thrown. As mentioned earlier, if a receiver is open, the quarterback should make the throw. PFF broke this down as well into “tight” coverage (<1 Step), Step (1-2 steps), and open (>2 steps).
Here Prescott ranked 11th in tight coverage accuracy compared to Goff who hovered around league average at 17th. In “step” or “closing” passes, Prescott once again takes the cake, ranking ninth while Goff ranked 19th. Lastly, on open passes, Goff has a clear advantage, as he ranked 13th in open completion percentage whereas Prescott ranked 30th.
There really isn’t much of a gap here. Goff’s scheme does require him to complete deeper passes and his +3.3% completion percentage shows how value he is to his offense in doing so. However, Prescott slightly edges Goff or the numbers are nearly identical everywhere else. Based on the numbers, it’s hard to name a clear winner.
There isn’t a vision metric, but there are some numbers I would like to point out. Goff had a +3.6 in touchdown and interception percentage compared to Prescott’s +2.7. Prescott doesn’t turn the ball over often, but neither does Goff.
While the low interception rate of Prescott (1.5%) is appealing, he does occasionally miss reads and check downs while taking bad sacks. Prescott has a tendency to force throws or run into a sack when he doesn’t need to. Instead of taking the check down, the Cowboys quarterback, as seen in one of the plays above, will hold on to the ball and try to make a play with his legs which can lead to taking a bad sack.
Even though Goff will occasionally force a couple of passes here and there as seen in the game against the Chicago Bears, he’s much better pre-snap and post-snap and analyzing the field.
Prescott’s out of pocket vision is only beaten by Russell Wilson, but in the pocket is when Goff bests him.
Using PFF’s metrics, Both Goff and Prescott hit their first read around 65% of the time, with Goff slightly higher at 66%. However, Goff will get to his second read 15% of the time compared to Prescott 12%. This is still above the league average of 11%, but Goff clearly has the edge. Meanwhile, Prescott scrambles on 5% of passes and Goff scrambles on just 2%, indicating not only his ineffectiveness as a scrambler but also the fact that he doesn’t need to because he gets the ball out to his first or second read.
This is no contest. When it comes to making plays outside of the scheme, Dak Prescott is right up there with Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson.
Goff is much better within the structure of the scheme and in the pocket, whereas the opposite can maybe be said about Prescott. Prescott’s ability to make off-schedule plays is part of what makes him special.
Pocket Awareness and Anticipation
Like improvisation with Prescott, Goff takes this one. Goff was sacked just 32 times last season to Prescott’s 56. That’s an extremely high number for an offensive line of the caliber of Prescott’s. In fact, Pro Football Focus directly charged Prescott for 15 sacks in 2018 which was the most in the NFL. Goff meanwhile, was directly charged for eight.
Using a percentage method, Prescott was at fault for 26.78% of his sacks while Goff was at fault for just 24.24%. For Prescott, that means he was at fault for being sacked on 2.45% of his dropbacks to Goff’s 1.3%.
Prescott will hold on to the ball far too long and take sacks as already mentioned. Getting through his progressions and anticipating where his receiver is going to be is still a major weakness in his game. Prescott is a “see it, throw it” quarterback.
There is still a lot to improve on in this area and his pocket awareness is at times disastrous. He can get away with it due to his arm talent and it should be an area he’ll improve in, but it’s still a work in progress.
Goff’s pocket awareness was a disaster when he first entered the league, but it’s an area where there has been an obvious improvement. His ability to anticipate is also what helps him execute McVay’s scheme at the level in which he does. He’s consistently able to throw receivers open and hit his receivers on time in his progression. Goff does have a tendency to hold on to the ball too long at times like Prescott, but the Rams quarterback has a clear advantage in anticipation where the Cowboys quarterback lacks significantly.
Goff just edges Prescott 2-1-1. Accuracy could be argued either way, but the fair assessment is to give it a push. At the end of the day, both the Rams and Cowboys found their franchise quarterbacks in 2016 and have set themselves up well for the future.