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On Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, and best quarterback practices

Diff'rent strokes.

James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

In the spring of 1947, William Faulkner spoke to a creative writing class at the University of Mississippi. He was asked by one student to rank himself among his contemporaries; he put himself second, after Thomas Wolfe. He ranked Ernest Hemingway fourth, and noted his distaste for Hemingway’s work, which he found overly simplistic.

"He has no courage, has never crawled out on a limb," Faulkner said of Hemingway. "He has never been known to use a word that might cause the reader to check with a dictionary to see if it is properly used."

It took a few years for word to reach Hemingway’s ears; he was in Europe for plenty of 1948, and between Cuba and Europe for the next two years.

When Hemingway eventually heard what Faulkner said about his writing, it didn’t seem to bother him.

"Poor Faulkner," Hemingway said to his friend and fellow writer A.E. Hotchner. "Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"

There’s no one right way to do much of anything. Faulkner felt the need to challenge his reader. Hemingway wanted to lead his with simpler prose.

Carson Wentz throws five touchdowns in three games, and he’s doing everything right as a quarterback. He is our Faulkner, the talented showman.

Dak Prescott, our Hemingway, throws one touchdown in three games, runs for two, and wins two of his first three games a starter. Is he necessarily going about this whole thing wrong?

Of course not. Big wins don’t come directly from big touchdown figures. There’s merit to what both rookie quarterbacks have done in the first three weeks of their respective careers.

The two have both completed 66 passes in three games. Carson Wentz has thrown for 769 yards; Dak Prescott has thrown for 767. Both pretty good.

And yet, these are the Eagles and the Cowboys. These fanbases can’t let the other have any modicum of enjoyment, even when the two both clearly deserve it. So, naturally, the question arose from the cacophony: who has played better, Wentz or Prescott?

Based on surface evidence, most would say Wentz. The Eagles’ rookie has tossed five touchdown passes to just one from Prescott. Wentz has also led his team to three wins — compared to Prescott’s two — including a dominating 34-3 win over an exceptionally talented Pittsburgh Steelers team, easily the toughest competition either team has faced through three weeks.

A big reason for Wentz’s praise is the success he’s had on deep passes. According to Pro Football Reference, Wentz is 8 for 16 (50%) for three touchdowns on throws the site classifies as "deep" passes. Prescott is 7 for 18 (38.8%) on the same kinds of throws.

For a visual, let’s revisit Wentz’s pass to Nelson Agholor in Week 1, which is just about as textbook as it gets:

WentzAgsDeep1

Agholor gets a step on Joe Haden off the line, and he turns on the afterburners. Wentz recognizes it immediately and lobs a perfectly placed ball on the outside of Agholor's body, where has no chance to interfere with the touchdown. Perfect.

That’s not to say Prescott hasn’t had his fair share of solid throws:

PrescottDeep1

This toss, on a designed roll out to the left, is a great example of a well-placed ball by a quarterback on the move.

There have, however, been differences.

Here’s just one instance of Wentz doing something that Prescott didn’t.

On the first drive of Wentz’s career, he drove the Eagles down into the red zone and unfurled this pass to Jordan Matthews:

WJMD1

Wentz identifies Matthews as his first read early, and Matthews has a bead on his man, so Wentz tosses it right into Matthews’ hands, in stride and in the end zone for six points. The Browns’ pass rush didn’t force Wentz to do much in the pocket other than stand in and deliver, and he did.

Now, look at a very similar pass from Prescott in the Cowboys’ third game of the season, against the Bears:

PrescottDeep3

Chicago only brings four rushers, and the Dallas line keeps the pocket fairly clean. Cole Beasley beats his man off the line of scrimmage, which Prescott identifies in time. The only problem is, Prescott short-arms the pass, doesn’t hit Beasley in stride, and doesn’t score a touchdown on the play because of it.

It’s not necessarily a bad play from Prescott. He still gets the ball in his wideout’s hands on the play, and if I remember correctly, the Cowboys scored on the next play. The difference is, if Prescott’s pass is a B-, Wentz’s is an A+. Everything you want out of a franchise quarterback, Wentz executes on that play. Prescott’s throw is the kind of throw most any quarterback in the league, starter or backup, can make.

But guess what! There are things Prescott has done, statistically, better than Wentz.

For just one instance, Prescott’s been a much more efficient passer on third downs than Wentz. Through three weeks, Wentz is 15 for 26 (57.7%) on third down passes, while Prescott is 23 for 30 (76.6%) on third down passes. They’ve both thrown one touchdown on third down pass attempts, but Prescott has converted 16 first downs through the air, on four more attempts, while Wentz has converted just nine.

Prescott has also been better on third and longs. He’s 13 for 16 (81.3%) on third down and seven-plus yards to go, picking up first downs on half of those attempts. Wentz, meanwhile, is 11 for 18 on third down and seven-plus yards to go, picking up first downs on one third of those attempts.

I'm not going to keep going, because I think my point is clear. Do you see what this gets into?

The minutiae. The largely inconsequential differences between two players who seem to be doing their jobs differently, but each fairly well.

William Faulkner was a great writer, as was Ernest Hemingway. Sometimes, that’s all there is to it, and we'll just see what comes next.