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NFL Films/ESPN legend — and one of the best talent evaluators in the business — Greg Cosell has gone through a metric ton of 2021 tape to provide insights on some interesting players headed into the 2022 NFL season. Here, he brings you his raw notes and observations from those tape sessions.
It’s a chance to get inside the mind of one of the greats of the industry.
Today’s report is on Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, with an added focus on WR CeeDee Lamb.
Cosell watched all 98 of Prescott’s third-down dropbacks with 6 or more yards to go, and also all of the Cowboys’ first-down plays that gained 10 or more yards.
DAK PRESCOTT ON THIRD DOWN
Through the first quarter of the season, two things stood out on third down:The Cowboys OL struggled in one-on-one pass protection, and defenses were very aggressive with their multiple front pressure looks and multiple pressure concepts, including snaps of zero.
Through the first half of the season, the Cowboys faced a good percentage of man coverage on third down, both Cover 1 and Cover 2 man, with some robber.
The Cowboys’ spacing on their three-man route concepts was really good both versus man and zone coverage, That defined the reads and throws for Prescott cleanly and allowed his footwork to be in precise coordination with the routes.
The Cowboys on third down featured bunch out of 3x1 set. It was predominantly tight bunch. The Cowboys faced a lot of man coverage and it was a good tactic to attack man.
In their empty sets, the Cowboys featured a good amount of 4x1, and at times sent four receivers to one side of the field to overload zone coverage. Empty was a featured part of the Cowboys’ third-down package, especially in the high red zone. Prescott has been efficient out of empty sets.
Only six QBs had more empty drop backs than Prescott.
Cowboys featured 1x3 sets out of 11 personnel with TE Dalton Schultz the boundary X on the back side of trips. Schultz predominantly aligned in reduced splits.
What stood out with Schultz on third down was that he struggled to create separation versus man-to-man coverage.
Ezekiel Elliott continued to be outstanding in pass protection, with the recognition of whom to block, and the willingness and physicality to execute the blocks.
Prescott consistently had answers versus the blitz. He picked up his tempo and knew where to go with the ball. Prescott versus 3rd down blitz: 28-48, 58.3%, 8.48 yards per attempt, 8 TD, 0 interceptions.
Prescott has a stiff lower body that is not particularly flexible. There is no explosiveness or suddenness to his movement, but what consistently stood out was his clean footwork and firm base in the pocket.
Prescott was aware and decisive in the pocket on third down. He was calm and composed with a strong feel for where to go with the ball,l within the timing and structure of the play design.
What consistently stood out with Prescott was he was tough in the pocket. He stood and delivered in contested pockets knowing he was going take a shot.
Through his development in the NFL, Prescott has become a higher-level rhythm thrower with consistently good footwork who throws with a firm base and good balance. He is sturdy in the pocket and always plays with desired mental and physical toughness. There is a stability and solidity to the way in which he plays.
What Prescott is and has always been in the NFL is an efficient ball distributor. He is better now than he has ever been, but at his core he is a pocket QB who needs a foundational run game and a quality OL.
Prescott can play effectively and efficiently in any offense, whether it be a dropback passing team or a heavy focus on the play-action pass game. He is both decisive and patient in the pocket with the ability to work with timing and rhythm and make late-in-the-down throws.
COWBOYS 1ST DOWN PLAYS OF 10+ YARDS
What was apparent was that Cowboys faced a high percentage of zone coverage on first down. The Cowboys did an excellent job with spacing in their route concepts versus zone, including four receivers to one side to stress the coverage, both vertically and horizontally.
Overall, the Cowboys were outstanding with overload and flood concepts versus zone coverage. Spacing was clean, presenting defined reads and throws for Prescott.
11 was the predominant personnel grouping on first-down play action. But Prescott averaged only 7.15 yards per attempt on first-down play action out of 11 personnel.
The Cowboys had reps with Elliott and Tony Pollard in the Pony package, at times with Pollard detached and deployed as motion receiver: Lamb 22 yards versus Bucs on play action skinny post versus cover 3.
Lamb had 120 targets over all in 2021, with 48 coming out of the slot (40%). He predominantly lined up outside — 86 of Lamb 120 targets came out of 11 personnel.
Once Michael Gallup got hurt, Lamb got significant snaps at boundary X on the back side of trips. Lamb at times ran drive routes to become the fourth receiver in four-man overloads/floods versus zone coverage.
Prescott can make far-hash deep out throws. We saw that out of 12 personnel with closed boundary and twins to the field: This was a staple formation and route concept on 1st + 10 and it featured conventional play action. Lamb was almost always #1 to twins, running multiple routes and he was the primary read for Prescott.
Cowboys featured Lamb on deep outs, hitches, and dig routes off dagger concept (26 yards versus Cards) out of 12 closed to the boundary twins to the field.
Lamb’s 35-yard winning TD in OT versus Patriots came out of 12 closed boundary twins to the field, with Lamb the #1 ina reduced split running the deep crosser/over route off Prescott’s play action boot.
Prescott showed a good feel for the timing and rhythm of the pass game on first down. He was efficient with 3-step drop and 5-step drop timing.
Lamb’s 25-yard catch versus Washington Week 16 exemplified the issue you face defensively when you rush five and play 3-under-3 deep behind it. It is tough to defend the over route from the slot, since an underneath defender must run with it.