What is wrong with Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott?

Dallas Cowboys

Dak Prescott took the league by storm for the Dallas Cowboys as a rookie, but things haven’t been the same since the start of 2017.

For the first 24 games of Dak Prescott’s career, he looked like a star. The Cowboys looked unstoppable and Prescott was slicing up defenses and had a career passer rating of 102.4. He went toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers in multiple different games and you could even make the case he was the better quarterback those three contests. He was the future of the quarterback position in the NFL.

But in his last nine starts, you could make the case that Prescott has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. His passer rating has dropped all the way down to 74.8 and has thrown just six touchdowns to nine interceptions. Prescott has looked like a totally different player than we saw to start his career.

So what has happened to him? What is so different from his first 24 games? Is it the poor offensive line play? Are the wide receivers hurting him? Have teams caught up to him? Today, we are going to look at a few different “issues” that seem to be hampering Prescott.

Issue No.1 – Prescott’s Failure To Throw The Ball Down The Field 

In the last three games in which Prescott has played, he has completed just two passes that have traveled at least 18 yards down the field. Worse yet, he’s not even trying to throw the ball deep. In those three games, Prescott has thrown just six passes beyond 18 yards. This is a quarterback/team that is just so against attacking defenses down the field.

Take a look at his passing charts in the last three games he has played, courtesy of NFL Next Gen Stats:

When an offense has a quarterback that fails to take chances down the field, it limits the explosiveness of the entire team. On Sunday, Prescott attempted just one pass beyond 20 yards.

Because defenses know that the Cowboys aren’t a team that will throw the ball down the field, it allows them to keep their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage. This, in turn, allows defensive coordinators the opportunity to put more defenders in the box to stop the run. We know that Dallas wants to run the ball and if they can’t do that successfully, then this entire offense won’t work.

Prescott’s inability to make plays down the field is causing the offense to suffer. Now, he has the ability to throw the ball down the field, but he has just been reluctant to do so lately. That needs to change.

Issue No.2 – Inconsistent Accuracy

There are two types of quarterbacks in the NFL; quarterbacks with pinpoint accuracy and quarterbacks with general accuracy. The quarterbacks with pinpoint accuracy (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees) can put the ball in places that allow receivers to make plays after the catch. The quarterbacks with general accuracy can still complete a high percentage of passes, but their accuracy may limit what a receiver can do after the catch.

Usually, I would characterize Dak as someone who is between those two. For the first 24 games of his career, his accuracy was impressive. But since then, it’s been a bit of a struggle. It’s now to the point that when there are receivers open, Prescott is just missing them.

Prescott had a few bad misses on Sunday, including one deep ball to tight end Blake Jarwin that should have been an easy 30+ yard gain. But his worst miss of the game came on a throw to Michael Gallup.

The ball was thrown in a spot where Gallup could have made the catch, but it certainly wasn’t ideal. If Prescott puts this ball out in front of Gallup, there is a chance this could turn into a 25 or 30-yard gain. This is the difference between being generally accurate and pinpoint.

If the Cowboys aren’t going to throw the ball down the field often (or successfully), they need to be highly efficient in the short to intermediate portions of the field. They need a passer who can not only hit open receivers at a high rate but a quarterback who can put their receivers in positions to make big plays after the catch. That’s just not something they’ve had as of late.

Issue No.3 – Missing Receivers

The final issue isn’t a physical one. It has nothing to do with his arm talent or accuracy. It doesn’t even have to do with the players around him. It’s about a quarterback’s ability to read a defense and find open receivers.

For most of Prescott’s career, this hasn’t been a problem. His ability to read a defense and get the team in the right play call has been a strength of his throughout his career. But over the past few games, his skill set here seems to be deteriorating.

On the team’s final play of the game, Dallas should have had a big gain to Cole Beasley. But for whatever reason, Prescott moved off his first read and didn’t let Beasley even get to the stem of his route before he lowered his eyes and looked elsewhere.

If Prescott just remains patient and sticks to his first read, Beasley easily picks up the first down and likely much more. On a game-deciding play, missing a receiver like this in the middle of the field is devastating.

Dak Prescott isn’t a bad quarterback, but he does look like a player who has lost confidence in himself, the offensive line and the coaching staff. We know that Prescott can be an effective quarterback in the NFL. Actually, he can be better than that. We know that he can play at an elite level. But getting him back to that player we saw in 2016 is going to take some time.

How can the Cowboys’ help him? The first idea would be to give him more “lay-ups” early in games to help him establish a rhythm. On Sunday, the Cowboys were in too many negative down and distances due to their rushing attack. If Prescott can get into a groove earlier in games, I believe you will see a better and more confident player.

If the Cowboys have any hopes of making the playoffs this season, they are going to need their franchise quarterback to play better. He will have a great chance to quiet the doubters this week on Sunday Night Football against the division rival New York Giants. Dallas needs him to be great, so it will be fascinating to see what changes he and the team make heading into Week 2.

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