If you are looking for answers in what has been the difference in production for the Dallas Cowboys offense the past two games compared to the first five games of the season, look no further than the play of quarterback Dak Prescot.
Or as coach Mike McCarthy so aptly put it, they “cut Dak loose” from some conservative early-season game plans.
“I think it was more just getting to concepts and doing some things we haven’t done yet, really cutting Dak loose,” McCarthy said. The ball distribution, we hit our average. If you look at playcalling as when you throw it you’re more aggressive, then we’re more aggressive.”
Not only are the Cowboys throwing it more, which is a good thing when receiver CeeDee Lamb is your best weapon on offense, but they have also unleashed the best part of Prescott’s game: his feet.
Three years after Prescott suffered a gruesome fractured ankle five games into the McCarthy’s first season as coach in 2020, resulting in two surgeries to heal, the Cowboys are encouraging him to use his legs and be a dual-threat quarterback again.
Prescott has never been a running quarterback similar to NFL legend Michael Vick was or even Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
But running and passing are part of his quarterback DNA going back to his college career at Mississippi State and it was a big part of his game early in his career with the Cowboys.
After returning from the injury in 2021, he was admittedly conscientious about being smarter and not putting himself in harms way.
He rushed for six touchdowns in his each of his first three seasons and three in his next two. Prescott has totaled one rushing touchdown in each of the past two seasons with the his rushing yards and attempts lower than than any year, save for the injury shortened season in 2020.
Through seven games in 2022, Prescott has rushed 23 times for 104 yards and a touchdown and is on pace to meet on pass his pre-injury numbers.
And according to Prescott, it was unleashing that was born out of the frustrations of the 42-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers three games ago.
“I’ve made the effort, been conscious about it throughout the week watching film,” Prescott said. “That was something that I took away from that game as I’ve got to get that going. It just benefits everybody. I mean, it benefits the offensive line, they’ll start rushing different, make blocks easier on them, gets guys open off of their breaks. And so yeah, I’ve been very conscious of it.”
Prescott has rushed 11 times for 59 yards and an 18-yard touchdown in the past two games against the Chargers and Rams to complement a passing efficiency and accuracy that has seen no equal during that time span.
Prescott has the second-highest completion percentage (68.8 %) in the NFL when throwing outside the pocket and ranks fifth in passer rating (103.3) outside the pocket.
He completed 21 of 30 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown in the 20-17 victory against the Chargers and a a sizzling 25 of 31 passes for a season-high 304 yards and a four touchdowns in the 43-20 victory against the Rams.
When it comes to Prescott using his legs, it’s not about the quarterback runs, it’s about him using his legs to extend the plays to complete passes down the field or run for first downs.
“That’s an extension of the play and really the second play begins,” Prescott said. As long as they’re given me lanes as long as long as that’s happening, that’s me listening to my feet as we’ve talked about, and just yet playing the game so it’s a little 50/50.”
McCarthy said the Cowboys are not going to call a bunch of quarterback runs.
But he says Prescott’s legs are a big part of what they need work for the offense to go.
“The scramble phase is really the part how I believe the position needs to be played,” McCarthy said. “So his ability to play in the pocket — the time clocks, the footwork and the things that we’ve changed and adjusted moving into this year and how it transitions into the scramble. Now obviously the rush lane discipline and the focus of the pass rush will be heightened because of his production in that phase, particularly the last two weeks. For me, it’s more about how the position is being played.
“But called quarterback runs and things like that, I’m not real interested in calling 10 to 12 quarterback runs where it’s a run it situation for the quarterback. That’s not a big part of our offense.”
The Cowboys, however, will use the zone and quarterback runs when necessary, especially in the red zone.
But the bottom line is they are encouraging Prescott to use his feet whether it is to scramble or run for the first down, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said.
“I think it’s a huge part of playing quarterback in this league,” Schottenheimer said. “Pass rushers are really talented and coverages have become so complex that they’re going to take away things that you have planned and so the quarterbacks ability to play above the 2.3 seconds [of the initial phase of the passing game], whether it’s running for the first or running for positive yards or getting out is huge.
“So yes, we absolutely talk about it as finishing the play with the second part of the passing game.”
Schottenheimer said using the quarterback’s feet is a natural progression of the NFL game from the days when teams all the quarterbacks to be drop back, pocket passers like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
It an extension of what is happening in the college game and it’s no longer discouraged by NFL teams.
Defensive linemen are too good and too athletic. You quarterbacks who can move.
“Change by necessity because the defensive line has become so good now,” Schottenheimer said. “There’s so many $12 and $15 million pass rushers out there that are just elite players. It’s just the width that they play with. They play so wide now like my three technique like we we learned was literally on the outside eye of the of the guard and now it’s like on the inside, maybe head up on the tackle. So I think it’s a change for necessity. I think it’s what people are using a lot of in college football. You see any spread offense and they want to take advantage of putting a great athlete in space.
“So I think it’s here to stay.”
And so is dashing Dak.