Week 10 Film Review - 'Improbable Dak Prescott'
A few weeks ago, I took a look at Deshaun Watson after I saw him go viral by explaining the ins-and-outs of a defense and what went wrong when he played against the Carolina Panthers. It is fun to look at the film when you’ve been told what to expect, because you go through it looking for certain things, and then when you find it you can see that it’s accurate, which is cool.
This week I saw a tweet from the NFL’s Next Gen Stats Twitter account (@NextGenStats) which said something really interesting about Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and his performance on Sunday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings.
Even in the loss, Dak Prescott consistently defied the odds against the Vikings, completing +6.5% of his attempts above expectation.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 11, 2019
5 of Prescott's 10 most improbable completions of the season came in tonight's game, including 3 to Amari Cooper.#MINvsDAL | #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/AZYuQujdnm
The tweet suggested that Prescott ‘defied the odds’ with some throws, and after watching the film I agree.
I set out to find some of these ‘improbable completions’ and work out what happened – it wasn’t hard to find them. The Cowboys really did have some absurd plays on Sunday Night, and we’re going to look at the five highlight reel plays that I found.
As was mentioned in the tweet from Next Gen Stats, these crazy plays aren’t all just Dak doing something insane, his partner in crime – wide receiver Amari Cooper – played a big role in these plays, including the first one.
In the second quarter, Cooper made a nice catch on the sideline, and ‘improbable’ is just about right.
This is one of the weirdest throws and catches you’ll see this season. The ex-Oakland receiver is tasked with running an out route from a wide alignment, to the wide side of the field. This shouldn’t even be a thing, for most QB’s, but Dak throws it.
When Prescott throws the ball, he’s actually stood just on the other side of the opposite hash mark, and Cooper is just a couple of yards from the sideline. This throw is the type that should be reserved for Brett Favre and basically nobody else, but Dak goes for it.
Admittedly, he probably only attempted this pass because it was 3rd and 12, but it worked.
This play was first chronologically, but it’s also a great place to start, because it accurately demonstrates my hypothesis – sometimes Dak Prescott does stuff that is good, the other times, Amari Cooper does it for him.
This ball was thrown over the top of the defender who undercut where the ball should have probably gone, allowing for Cooper to make a catch in a spot that was as difficult to defend as it was unintentional.
The next wild play that Prescott made was one that you can give him some more credit for, but is equally ‘improbable’.
On this play, the Cowboys came out five-wide and their empty set was met with a high-pressure Cover 0 look before the snap, rushing all six of the 4-2 front – which is actually exactly what they did.
The play design was nothing special, just four vertical routes and a single underneath, with three verts on one side, to Dak’s right. Running vertically against man coverage has two primary things of note: 1. The defender can’t see anything coming. 2. If they can keep up, they often don’t have to see the ball to make it much harder for the receiver.
On this play, Dak made a pretty wild throw to find Randall Cobb as the Vikings got home quick with their man-advantage up front.
This throw is what I’d call a bit of a ‘rainbow’. Sensing the pressure, quickly, Prescott decided to give Cobb more time to get his eyes to the ball and make a play by throwing it with a huge arc and putting it over the top of the defender with the high trajectory, and in towards the back of the end zone.
Once again, an outrageous outcome, but this time because the throw was absolutely ridiculous, and this adjustment and catch was another great effort by the receiver.
Now it’s time to get about as ‘improbable’ as is physically possible. Let’s take a look at Amari Cooper’s third-quarter touchdown.
This play is the origin of my hypothesis, because to put it lightly, both Cooper and Dak play part in this one, the most absurd of the whole match.
What a touchdown.
Somehow my favourite thing about this play wasn’t the snazzy catch, I enjoyed the set up – they came out in a wildcat formation with Ezekiel Elliot behind the centre in a three-threat backfield, none of which were Prescott, before then shifting to a more normal formation to run a play action rollout concept. While it didn’t technically change anything about the play, it visibly put the defense off balance (watch how much they’re communicating on the second camera angle in the video above).
The weird and funky play design didn’t really ‘work’, the play action hardly gave Dak any time/space, and Cooper wasn’t open – and yet, they made the play.
As Prescott rolled out right, he looked and saw nothing, but he patiently waited for Cooper to do what he does best, and that’s when the star wideout broke away from his defender and improvised his way to a toe-tapping catch.
The catch is stunning, and the throw – an absolutely perfect ball, without slowing down or setting his feet – was just as good.
This play is yet again one where Dak Prescott does something far from expected, and you have to question how he made so many plays like this and lost the game.
The next snap we’re going to look at is similar to the last one, in an equally impressive play from the Cowboys signal-caller, albeit less spectacular.
On this play there is even more pressure than before, with Prescott having to almost immediately avoid a sack. This forces him to evade and move out to his left, away from his throwing arm (unlike on the TD).
As Prescott is flushed out to his left, he keeps his eyes downfield, looking for an opportunity to throw, and opts for Amari Cooper once again. He squares his shoulders, while still on the run, and off his back foot he is able to create enough torque to throw a catchable ball back towards the middle of the field.
Like I said, this isn’t as flashy and it wasn’t for a touchdown, but this is a work of art, seriously. People who have never played QB won’t begin to understand how difficult it is to roll away from your hand and then smoothly – while still running – deliver a ball back downfield towards the direction you came from.
Prescott isn’t a world-beater on his own, but he is a miracle-worker. Next Gen Stats was on to something.
The last play I want to look at is one that ties up the bow with the one last thing I wanted to see from Dak. There’s been escaping acts, weird and wonderful (but mostly weird) ball-placement, and throwing on the run – but now, it’s time to see him make a stunning throw from the pocket.
This play, from the Cowboys long final drive provides exactly that. This is what we need to see more of from Dak. There’s no luck or randomness involved, on this one.
Stood in the shadow of their own end zone, the Cowboys start the drive with a mirrored vertical concept with go routes on the outside and then the two slot routes are a variant of a post route which stays skinny after an outside release to expose the seam. The receiver opens outside to widen the safety and create the threat of an outside-breaking route, and then breaks back in towards the middle of the field after they’re behind the linebackers.
Against the Cover 2 that Minnesota is running, the window in the intermediate seam is not very wide, but Dak made an aggressive throw on the first play of the drive and it was a bullet.
Look at this absolute laser beam of a throw.
This coverage is decent, with hardly any space to fit this in, but Cobb paces himself perfectly to linger in what lane there is for just a moment, and his quarterback puts the ball on his numbers in traffic.
This one isn’t ambiguous, either, no question about it – this was a fantastic ball on a decisive, fast read, against good coverage.
All of these plays are impressive when you first watch them. Whether he’s scrambling, or standing tall in the pocket, about to get hit, or rolling the wrong way… Dak Prescott made endless plays in this game.
Even though they couldn’t come out on top, this was a performance full of ‘improbable’ plays from Dallas, and you have to acknowledge a simple possibility.
Maybe it really is Dak that’s making it happen.
A graduated Journalism student, Tyler also writes for Read American Football and Gridiron Hub. He played Wide Receiver and eventually Quarterback for his university team at DMU, and is now using his knowledge and passion for learning to dive deeper into the analysis of X’s and O’s in the NFL.
Image credit: USA Today