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Film study: The Vikings will have their hands full with Dak Prescott, Cowboys

By Derek Wetmore

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Dak Prescott is a cog in a highly-effective machine. The rookie quarterback has scored 23 total touchdowns with only eight combined interceptions and fumbles in 11 games so far this season. Prescott gets to play behind the best offensive line in the league with the best running game in the league and one of the best wide receivers in the league. He wouldn’t be having the kind of season he is having if it weren’t for the pieces around him.

All of those things are true but it’s also true that Prescott has been very impressive so far this season. It’s also true that Prescott as an individual player is incredibly difficult to defend. He’s a poised passer with the patience to get the most out of his pass protection and the acumen to diagnose coverages both before and after the snap. He regularly audibles into the right play and offers a rushing threat that indirectly opens up the running game even if he directly doesn’t contribute huge yardage.

Prescott is a safe passer. He won’t force the ball into tight windows unless he needs to force the ball into tight windows. He isn’t going to give Dez Bryant every opportunity to make a play on the ball downfield but he will consistently feed Cole Beasley and Jason Witten underneath before taking a shot to Bryant if you leave him open.

There aren’t (m)any similarities between Prescott and the quarterbacks the Vikings have most recently faced. There won’t be that aggressive streak that leads to big play opportunities for both teams.

When compared with Carson Palmer and Matthew Stafford, the only real similarity for Prescott is to Stafford. Both quarterbacks have a similar level of mobility. The Vikings had major problems with accounting for Stafford’s mobility on Thanksgiving. It will be even tougher against Prescott because of his supporting cast.

Stafford rushed four times for 30 yards. Not huge numbers but the raw numbers aren’t as notable as how they impacted the down-and-distance. His first rush came in the redzone on 2nd-and-9. The Vikings’ pass rush was aggressive because of the down and distance. Tom Johnson beat the left guard past his inside shoulder while Everson Griffen was aggressive going around the outside shoulder of the left tackle. This naturally created a running lane for Stafford to step up and through. Stafford had to recognize it to attack it but once he did it was a relatively easy play to make. He gained six yards to create a manageable third down.

The Vikings didn’t necessarily need to rush contain, purposely slow down their pass rush to avoid leaving running lanes, on this play but they should have shown more cohesion in how each individual tried to get to the quarterback.

On this 3rd-and-10 play the Vikings should have been rushing contain. They were playing Cover-2, two safeties deep, with man coverage underneath behind a four-man pass rush. This means that the only defenders who had their eyes on the quarterback were 30 yards downfield when Stafford dropped back. Stafford recognized this immediately, saw the running lane open in front of him and immediately ran for a first down. You play Cover-2 because it forces the quarterback to hold the ball, but with a mobile quarterback you have to understand that the quarterback scrambling is a big threat in these situations.

Basically the same thing happened on a 3rd-and-15 later in the game when Stafford converted by rushing for 16 yards. Conceptually the same problems existed but this time the Vikings played Cover-1 and sent five rushers after the quarterback. Stafford saw a running lane quickly and outran everyone to the sideline.

Getting the Cowboys into 3rd-and-Longs will be very difficult. Giving up first downs this easily if/when you do will be inexcusable.

Prescott isn’t really a running quarterback. He’s closer to Stafford than he is Robert Griffin III in his prime or Russell Wilson right now. What makes Prescott tougher to deal with than Stafford is his added size. They are officially listed at the same weight but Stafford is slightly taller which makes him more slender against contact. They move at about the same speed but Prescott has the ability to throw defensive backs off his body and fend off linebackers when he has a leverage advantage in space.

Against Washington last week, Prescott ran eight times for 39 yards and a touchdown. For his longest run of the game, an 18-yard play in the second quarter, the Cowboys offense initially came out with five receivers spread across the field. Before snapping the ball, Prescott motioned one of his receivers into the backfield so he could run a read-option play. The Washington defense wasn’t confused by the shift and actually defended the play perfectly from a scheme point of view. The problem was the defender responsible for Prescott couldn’t get him down once he got into position. Prescott was just fast enough to get outside and strong enough to not be taken down when contacted on his lower leg.

Once he got past the first defender he was able to extend the play even further against a second by being a violent runner.

Prescott’s rushing ability supplements the running game and makes it tougher to defend him as a passer. He will recognize opportunities to scramble but he won’t repeatedly cost his receivers opportunities to make plays downfield by running too often or too early. If you rush contain, he will sit in the pocket and wait to pick you apart. He’s a big reason why this offense has turned into a machine that overwhelms defenses every week. He’s a big reason this offense is almost impossible to contain.

Much of the success defenses have had against the Cowboys so far this year has been failures from the offense rather than something the defense could replicate snap to snap. It’s why this team is 10-1.

The post Film study: The Vikings will have their hands full with Dak Prescott, Cowboys appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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