Consistency is arguably the most important quality a quarterback can have. The best teams in the NFL year in and year out generally have a steady hand under center. While Dak Prescott has had a great start to his career, his performance has been too up and down at times. There are specific areas of his game that are responsible for this.
Vision, coverage recognition, progression reading from the pocket, and anticipation – These skills are all tied together. Master these, and tight coverage or small windows turn into open receivers. Unfortunately for Dallas, these are skills that Prescott has struggled to regularly display.
By and large, Prescott is not an anticipation passer. He has to see it to throw it. This is a reflection of his level of ability to quickly decipher the coverage and react. Take this near disaster throw from the Cowboys’ Divisional Playoff loss to the Rams last season.
That was a pretty straight-forward zone-blitz look that the Rams showed Prescott. He did not recognize it, though, and he threw what should have been a pick-6.
Anticipation is critical to consistently completing passes at the intermediate levels of the field. To be an effective anticipation passer, you have to be able to understand where the coverage is going to be in relation to your receivers’ routes. You have to be able to quickly read the field and move through your progressions. Prescott has not been stellar in this aspect of his game.
The below play from the same game against the Rams is a great example. This was 3rd-and-7. The route to focus on is Cole Beasley’s dig from the slot.
The Rams rotated to cover-3 here and the circled safety dropped down underneath Beasley’s route. This deterred Prescott from attempting to hit Beasley. It should not have.
Prescott did not anticipate Beasley’s route coming open behind the safety. Instead, he attempted to dump the ball off to a shallow crossing route and missed an opportunity to keep his offense on the field.
From the end zone angle, you can see that there was a window to attempt this pass. Beasley’s route (the yellow arrow below) was about to enter that window right as Prescott was about to throw.
This wouldn’t have been an easy throw necessarily. It would have required timing, anticipation, and precision.
However, this is open in the NFL, and these are exactly the types of passes you have to be able to make when you’re in a hostile environment in the playoffs with your season on the line. These are exactly the types of plays you have to hit when your offense hasn’t pissed a drop in two quarters, and the opponent has scored 17 unanswered points to take a two-score lead, as was the case here. These are exactly the types of throws you have to be ready and willing to pull the trigger on when facing 3rd-and-7. Playoff defenses are generally not going to allow safe throws underneath on 3rd-and-longs to turn into first downs. They are going to make converting in critical situations difficult for the offense, and the quarterback has to be willing to accept the challenge.
None of this is to say that Dak Prescott isn’t a good quarterback. He’s a physically gifted player, makes plenty of great throws, and has had some outstanding moments in his young career. However, he won’t come close to being worthy of a huge contract until he becomes more consistent as a passer.