The chatter this week has centered on the coaching staff taking the ball out of Prescott’s hands and feeding Zeke. The media and fans alike have roasted the Cowboys’ coaches for the second and third-down plays on the second last offensive series.
It is easy to second guess with perfect hindsight. What has been lost in this conversation is what Prescott did on first down and didn’t do on fourth down.
On first down from the Vikings 19-yard line, Prescott threw an eight-yard slant to wide receiver Amari Cooper. What’s wrong with this? Vikings corner Mike Hughes was torched by Cooper and every other Cowboys receiver all night.
Cooper won the route on his third step after the snap. He established an inside position against Hughes which Dak quickly noticed. By the time Cooper made his break, Prescott had determined Cooper was his target and the ball was on its way.
When the ball was released, Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr was at least seven yards away from Cooper and Hughes was clearly shielded by Cooper. Yet Prescott’s throw from a clean pocket was low forcing Cooper to break momentum and fall to the ground to make the catch.
The biggest knock against Prescott, the passer, is his accuracy. If the ball to Cooper was on target like his touchdown pass to Cooper the previous week then Amari makes the first down if not more.
Hughes is the closest defender but he is still two yards away. Cooper’s forward momentum would have carried him past the nine-yard line if Hughes was able to make the tackle.
If Cooper was able to stay ahead of Hughes, he might have scored. Vikings safety Harrison Smith was covering tight end Jason Witten. Smith had his back to the play and was six yards away when Cooper caught the ball.
The other safety, Anthony Harris, was playing center field and would have had the best chance to stop Cooper. Harris was twelve horizontal yards and ten vertical yards away at the time of the catch.
Rather than a first down or even a touchdown, the play netted eight yards and set up a second and two. The second and third-down plays have been scrutinized enough. Let’s jump to fourth down.