Don’t let the narratives dictate your opinion of Dak Prescott

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The jury is still out on Dak Prescott. The second year quarterback was oft-maligned towards the end of last season and as the Cowboys derailed towards the end of 2017 much of the blame was put upon his shoulders. While many remember that Prescott was without 2016 rushing champion Ezekiel Elliot, who was suspended for 6 games in the latter half of the season, the narrative surrounding him seems to ignore the absence of future hall of fame offensive tackle Tyron Smith.

The quarterback ranked fourth in the league in passer rating in 2017. His numbers seemed to get worse as the season went on and his play declined without his best two teammates in the lineup.

The Dallas offense is devoid of talent in the skill positions when Elliot is out, leaving Prescott in a situation to fail. His offensive line was awful at times, as I highlighted in a breakdown from late last season.

One of the biggest criticisms regarding Prescott is that he is a “dink and dunk” quarterback. He has a reputation for taking easy check downs instead of taking more aggressive options downfield, similar to that of Alex Smith. His reputation is born out of some truth but the conservative nature of the Cowboys offense can be more attributed to play calling rather than the quarterback himself.

Dallas loved running concepts that would scheme their receivers open on shorter routes such as flats, quick outs, digs and curls.  In the play above, the vertical route the outside receiver runs on the play side is used only to screen out the defensive back in front of him. Prescott got a majority of his completions on shorter routes because that’s what the play calling usually gave him.

The quarterback did seem overly eager to take easy check downs rather than spend an extra second in the pocket and find another man a little more open downfield as things break down. He occasionally will check down a pass ignoring receivers who either are or just are about to break open for a bigger gain.

It’s hard to faults the Cowboys for being so conservative, though. Dallas’s receivers were awful at getting open downfield last season. Dez Bryant, who may not be on an NFL roster in 2018, is an awful route runner. Slot receiver Cole Beasley rarely finds himself more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and the rest of the Cowboys 2017 receiving corps were a who’s who of the NFL’s bottom feeders.

None of the Cowboys receivers were great route runners, and even when the Cowboys put Prescott in motion to help make a difference it wouldn’t be enough.

Prescott’s accuracy could have helped his receivers make more plays, though. Some of his back shoulder passes, balls used to help free a smothered receiver, could have been much better last season.

He badly missed a lot of shorter, routine, passes as well.

The quarterback’s inconsistency and occasional missed passes became an issue at times. He seemed to lose confidence in himself late in the season. As the team around him seemed to break down Prescott saw his play decline and made mistakes you would rarely expect him to make early in the year.

While he has the occasional bad game, Prescott looks like a star at times. Early on in the season he was one of the better quarterbacks in the league. When the Cowboys had their full supporting cast he was an incredible playmaker and made many of the tight window throws that you’d expect from the best of quarterbacks.

Prescott is also incredibly mobile, and when he is locked into the game can pull off great escape acts to avoid the pocket pressure he was often under late last season.

He is not scared to test defenses downfield and is an exceptional playmaker. Many of the issues he suffered with towards the end of last season can be attributed to the little help around him. Prescott is inconsistent at times, and in certain games last year (Broncos, Falcons, Eagles) he seemed to get off to a slow start and was mentally never able to recover. His confidence seemed to be shot late in 2017 and there were definitely a few mental hurdles he had trouble getting over. With another season of experience and an offseason to put the woes of last year behind him, there is no reason to believe that Prescott can’t bounce back with a strong 2018.

Dallas may not have done enough to help him this offseason, though. They should return a top tier offensive line, but the receiving corps still provides many questions. Allen Hurns was brought it from Jacksonville to replace Bryant. They also added rookie Michael Gallup out of Colorado State, but neither seems to be enough of an upgrade to really fix an awful unit. Long time tight end Jason Witten retired, leaving Prescott and Elliot with the responsibility to carry the offense once again.

 

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Taco Charlton had a rough introduction to NFL football

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The Dallas Cowboys drafted Michigan’s Taco Charlton with the 28th overall pick of April’s NFL draft earlier this year. Charlton was only a one year starter in Ann Arbor, but his size, length and athleticism give him the physical tools necessary to be a weapon on the Cowboys defensive line one day.

There are also many question marks surrounding Charlton entering his rookie year, though. He did not play much for the Wolverines during his first few years with them, which leaves many asking why. When he did start in his senior year he showed flashes of brilliance, but also tended to disappear at times. He did not use his size or length to his advantage as much as he should have and even got bullied at times by some of the better tackles he faced.

He got his first taste of NFL action last Thursday during the league’s annual Hall of Fame Game against the Arizona Cardinals in Canton, and it was a little rough.

Charlton played for almost the entire first quarter and into the second quarter. Both teams benched many of their key players and the rookie was lining up across the Cardinals backup offensive line. He played on both the left and right defensive edge.

He was held at bay for much of the game on both sides of the line by the Cardinals linemen.

On all three of the above plays he got little to no defensive penetration. He was simply out-muscled repeatedly. Charlton has a habit of just lazily diving into a blocker and just trying to shove him off instead of using his longer arms and athleticism to his advantage. Despite his 6’6”, 280lb frame Charlton still does not have the strength to just bulldoze an NFL offensive lineman. He does not leverage his weight well, and it leads to him getting pushed around while defending both the pass and the run.

He did manage to make good use of his spin move that was one of his most feared tactics while at Michigan.

Charlton does a good job balancing his weight while approaching the man blocking him. He squares himself then leans into the block with one shoulder. The rusher then quickly swings his hips and whips around to spin by his man. If done correctly, like Charlton did in the plays above, it can leave a blocker being left in the dust.

If Charlton does not leverage his weight well and fails to really get his feet planted before going into his spin then the move becomes ineffective.

On this play, he comes off the snap and instantly tries to beat the tackle around the edge. He is held at bay, and decides to try to spin back towards the inside to get around him. Charlton stumbles through the spin though, and loses his footing. The tackle is easily able to deal with his spin and force him around the quarterback, removing him from the play.

Charlton was unable to get his footing in the first place because he was simply outmatched by his opponent. It looks like he tried a rip move towards the beginning of his rush, and almost entirely whiffed. He never truly settles his feet or even squares himself and stumbles the entire way while getting bullied by a backup offensive lineman.

The NFL is a much stronger and faster league then anything Charlton has played in the past. Many of his struggles on Thursday can just be attributed to the fact that he is not accustomed to playing at that speed yet. This is an issue many rookies face, and one that he should probably be able to put behind him a few weeks into the regular season if he gets regular playing time.

Arizona tested him late in the first quarter, and Blaine Gabbert left him in the dirt.

The Cardinals are running a read option with Gabbert and running back Kerwynn Williams. They let Charlton run free into the backfield. He initially seems to bite on the fake to Williams, but quickly realizes that Gabbert kept it and is scampering towards the sideline. His mind seems to react, but his body can’t keep up. He can’t get fully turned and ends up losing his balance and just falls to the ground untouched in the Cardinals backfield.

He clearly read the play properly, but got too far ahead of himself and could not adjust in time to chase out Gabbert. The play went for minimal gain anyways, and he did do a great job recovering as he would have been the first man to the ball carrier had Gabbert not just stepped out of bounds.

Charlton did not impress much in his first NFL appearance. It could have gone better, but he did show some flashes of the potential he was drafted on. He has around a month left before week 1 to work on his craft and adjust to the higher level of play. He should only get better from here, and Cowboys fans should keep close watch on his development over the next few weeks of preseason.

 

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