How the Patriots Defense Should Attack Dak Prescott, Cowboys Offense
Let's leave any preconceived notions of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and his play over the last few years at the door. Prescott has improved dramatically from last year. He is developing into a star quarterback in this league and will be one of the best quarterbacks the Patriots play this season. In fact, the way he is playing right now, he and Mahomes are battling for the best pocket quarterback the Patriots will play on their regular season slate.
It all started coming together for Prescott when Kellen Moore was promoted to offensive coordinator and when Jon Kitna snagged the quarterback coach job this offseason. Both Moore and Kitna played quarterback for the Cowboys and closed out their playing careers there. Now, they find themselves wearing a head set and wielding a clipboard to help Prescott change his public persona and make a name for himself as an elite starting quarterback.
Prescott certainly did not hurt his stock last week, in a game where he took the Lions to town. He stepped back to throw 46 times, completed 29 passes, threw for 444 yards, 3 touchdown passes, and 116.6 passer rating. Not too shabby to say the least.
So, point being - how should the Patriots attack a red-hot Prescott and a really good offense to compliment him?
Well, let's first talk about Prescott's strengths and weaknesses and then get into the gameplan.
What does Prescott do well?
Let's start off with what coach had to say about him.
Building off those sentiments, one thing Belichick mentioned that really popped out on tape especially was his vision and his ability to get his eyes downfield and make big plays in result.
The offense is set up well for him. He has some great mentors calling plays for him. He has all the time in the world to throw, as he is operating behind a premier offensive line. His No. 1 receiver, Amari Cooper has mastered the NFL route tree and would make a second grade lineman throwing the football look good. Not to mention, if no one is open, Prescott's safety valve to dump the ball off to is running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Thus, as long as Prescott stays patient and makes the right reads, success will likely follow.
That is exactly what Prescott has done this season. He has found the open guy, dissected and picked apart holes in zone coverages, and his receiving core has helped him out by taking his passes and turning them into big plays. Prescott has also prioritized proper technique this season and that has helped improve his accuracy.
The emphasis on technique, his developing football IQ, and his excellent supporting cast has helped Prescott continue to blossom each and every snap he takes.
Oh, and just when you thought the complimenting was done - he can run too. Much to Belichick's dismay.
The Cowboys, like the Ravens and Eagles the last two games, run a variety of RPOs and zone read options. Like Lazar states, they do not run it that often. However, New England has struggled with stopping that style before and it might appear to attack this Patriots' defense.
Where are the holes in Prescott's game?
One of Prescott's negatives also has been a positive for him this season - his new-found aggressiveness. A once rare risk taker is now slinging the ball all over the yard and sometimes hitting big, sometimes missing bad.
Another area where Prescott has struggled has been when his first read is blanketed and he has to find an alternative place to throw the football. Prescott has been one of the best passers in the league when hitting his first read. However, if you can get him to hold onto the ball and hit secondary guys, you might be able to limit his production. A good day by this Patriots' secondary will be imperative to force Prescott to do things such as this.
How should the Patriots attack him?
Again, a good day from the secondary will be imperative. New England will need to do their best to take away Cooper, since Prescott really seems to feed off of him.
Therefore, Gilmore will need to be on his A-game against Cooper and be ready for all the comeback routes and different moves this Pro Bowl receiver will try to pull on him.
Michael Gallup has also been a great, emerging piece to the Cowboys' offense and he will likely be covered by JC Jackson. Gallup is a strong deep ball receiver and Jackson can cover a deep ball guy like Gallup better than any other corner on the roster, besides Stephon Gilmore.
The third guy is Randall Cobb. Jonathan Jones has been lights out lately and the Patriots can feel confident and comfortable with the matchup against Dallas' slot receiver.
Tight, man coverage is the name of the game against Prescott and these Cowboys. Make Prescott hold on to that football and bring pressure in his face, and a bad decision should come from the QB.
Prescott does like to run and the Cowboys will try to bring some option plays into the game to try and shift the focus of the game. However, as good as a runner Prescott may be, he is not going to beat the No. 1 defense in the NFL with his legs.
A spy would not hurt New England to try and take away that middle of the field, which the Cowboys will try to attack on RPOs, etc. The spy would also prevent Prescott from gaining much yardage on the ground. It could also mediate some of the screens they use to try and get the ball into the hands of either Elliott or Tony Pollard.
Thus, look for tight man coverage with creative blitzes from the Patriots defense to get in the face of Prescott. Then, potentially a spy on some occasions.
Prescott is a very good quarterback and Moore is a good coordinator. They should have some new things up their sleeve to attack the Patriots as the game progresses. But Belichick, who has made a career out of in-game adjustments, will have to keep an eye out and work with his extremely adaptable defense, much like last week against Philadelphia.