Dak Prescott can be accurate, but is he an accurate passer?
By Richard Ball
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is having the best season of his career. Has he shown enough to be considered an accurate quarterback?
Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman has gone on the record that current Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott needs to improve his accuracy. To his credit, Prescott realizes his accuracy is holding him back and he took steps in the offseason to work on this part of his game.
The Pro Football Focus 2019 Quarterback Annual is a 341-page document that dissects almost every aspect of all 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. The document devotes nine pages for each quarterback and PFF’s short summary on Prescott is that he is a below-average quarterback when measuring accuracy.
Dallas made a few coaching changes designed to help Prescott develop. The team fired former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and promoted his replacement from within naming quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore his successor.
Maybe Dallas’ best move of the offseason was hiring former Cowboys backup quarterback Jon Kitna to teach Prescott the position fundamentals. Prescott quickly noticed the attention to footwork and the mechanics of throwing that Kitna brought from his days learning from former NFL coach Mike Martz.
So far, the Kitna and Prescott duo is working. Through nine weeks, Prescott sits second behind Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson in the ESPN QBR metric which is a comprehensive measure of quarterback play.
The Amari Cooper touchdown in the Week Nine win over the Giants is a perfect example of the growth Prescott has made. Prescott took the 3rd and twelve yards to go shotgun snap from the Giants 45-yard line.
Cooper was on the left side of the formation lined up against Giants rookie Deandre Baker. Prescott quickly realized the mismatch.
While retreating to the Cowboys 45-yard line, Prescott had a quick look at the right side of the play knowing that he was coming back to Cooper. By the time he finished his drop back, he had Cooper in focus.
He took a step up in the pocket and aligned his feet perfectly with his back foot perpendicular to Cooper and his front foot pointing exactly where he wanted the ball to go. Prescott released the ball from the Cowboys 46-yard line and threw a 29-yard strike to Cooper at the Giants 25 yard line.
Cooper easily beat Baker who didn’t even know the defensive call as he was the only Giant playing zone coverage. By the time the ball reached Cooper, the closest Giant to Cooper was safety Antoine Bethea who was five yards away.
Prescott’s pass hit Cooper right between the one and nine allowing Cooper to not even break his stride and outrace the rest of the Giants secondary for a score just inside the right pylon. The score essentially sealed the victory for the Cowboys.
The throw from Prescott was perfect. It clearly shows that he is capable of finding the right receiver and then making an accurate throw. The maddening part is that he doesn’t do this the majority of the time.
Tight end Blake Jarwin had to make a difficult catch below his knees despite being just as wide open as Cooper on his 42-yard touchdown. Had there been a Giant even a bit closer, Jarwin’s loss of momentum reaching down to catch the ball may have been enough to limit the catch to eight yards and not a touchdown.
The Cowboys torched the Giants on all three Prescott touchdown passes with yards after the catch. Cooper had 25 yards, Jarwin had 34 yards and wide receiver Michael Gallup and an acrobatic eight-yard run after the catch for his score.
Yards after the catch are indicative of a quarterback putting the ball in a spot where the receiver can continue to gain yards. It is a reasonable indicator of quarterback accuracy.
The Kansas City Chiefs lead the league in yards after the catch. The Los Angeles Rams are second. With two quarterbacks throwing the ball for the Chiefs, I’ll share the PFF Quarterback Annual assessment for Rams’ quarterback Jared Goff.
PFF measures quarterback accuracy with nine locations for ball placement on the receiver. Goff had good or very good results on six of the nine measures. Prescott had average, below average or poor on eight of the nine measures.
For the 2019 season, Prescott and his receivers have not been very productive with yards after the catch. The Cowboys are averaging 115 yards after the catch per game. This ranks 20th overall.
The teams with fewer yards after the catch are Tennessee, Carolina, Tampa Bay, New York Jets, Denver, Buffalo, Washington, Chicago, and Miami. That is as good a list of undesirable quarterback situations as you can find in the NFL.
To be fair, some name recognition quarterbacks have fewer yards after the catch than Prescott. This list includes Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, and Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz.
So Prescott has the ability to be an accurate quarterback and when he does, the Cowboys have success. But until he can be more consistent with his accuracy he will be limited as a passer.