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Despite recent struggles, Dak Prescott is still playing solid ball

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The QB Scho Show #37!

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Dallas Cowboys v New York Jets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It might pain me to write this as much as it might pain you to read this, but Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott is playing solid ball. Pro Football Focus grades him only behind Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Carson Wentz among quarterbacks that have taken 50% of their teams’ dropbacks.

Dak’s PFF grade drops to 14th in the league if you isolate the last three weeks against tougher defenses, where Dak has thrown only two touchdowns to his four interceptions. There’s a lot of reasons for that, including Kellen Moore turning into a pumpkin and a league leading 10 drops from his targets in that span, but if we’re talking about “tougher defenses”, the Philadelphia Eagles aren’t that. If there’s an opportunity for a “get right” game, this not only feels like the spot for one but also where it needs to happen to keep the Cowboys’ playoff chances viable.

A big reason for Dak’s success throughout the season is due to him being particularly productive in third and long situations, which is an improvement over last year.

Third & Long - Dak Prescott:

2017: 51/74 (68.9%), 7.6 YPA (13th), 94.7 QB Rating (7th), 21.4% Conversion (20th)

2018: 13/20 (65%), 12.4 YPA (1st), 107.7 QB Rating (4th), 45% Conversion (1st)

(data via Pro Football Reference)

Believe it or not, the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense has fared well in these situations (16.1%, 6th), often resorting to their trusty “picket fence” defense that has been reliable since it’s transformation last season. That’s not to say their aren’t concerns with the pass coverage overall, as the Eagles started out the Vikings game by allowing a back-breaking 3rd & 13 conversion that eventually led to a touchdown.

Where Prescott has struggled has been when he’s under pressure. And he’s been under pressure a lot lately. He’s been under duress on 44% of his dropbacks last three weeks (3rd most) as opposed to only 21% over the first three weeks (2nd least). Per PFF, his “kept clean” QB Rating of 121.7 (2nd) is a far cry from his under pressure performance (62.3, 20th).

Now, you’re probably saying, “Mike, you idiot, pressure doesn’t matter if the coverage is bad”. You’d be right, especially about me being an idiot but especially with the Eagles this year. Jim Schwartz has often mentioned the disconnect between the pass rush and pass coverage, for which he should shoulder a good deal of the blame. It’s of note though that per Pro Football Focus the Eagles are forcing a 62.0 QB Rating when they get to the quarterback, right around Dak’s poor mark for 2019.

How can the Cowboys keep Prescott from getting drilled all game? A return to their play-action game would be a start. Using max protect, moving the pocket and utilizing Dak’s legs in conjunction with the Eagles’ selling out to stop the run would keep Dak clean and give the Cowboys opportunities for shot plays and open windows. It’s been a problem for the Eagles all year, who stack the box more than any team in the NFL and flow hard to run action.

There’s also the matter of Dak’s newfound aggression down the field, which John Owning detailed in his piece for SportsDay Cowboys:

The Eagles have been plagued by coverage busts, especially when dealing with multiple downfield targets at once.

Luckily for the Cowboys, Prescott is exactly the kind of quarterback who should take advantage, as he’s been throwing deep (20+ yards downfield) on 14.7% of his passes – which is, by far, a career-high and seventh among QBs with at least multiple starts this season, per Pro Football Focus - for a 64.5 adjusted completion percentage, another career-high and fourth in the NFL.

We dig more into Dak Prescott’s game with thoughts on Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold and more on The QB Scho Show #37! Listen on the media player below or click here if the player doesn’t load. New to podcasts?! Check out our guide on how to listen to BGN! FLY EAGLES FLY!