The good, bad and ugly from Dak Prescott on Sunday Night Football

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 11: Quarterback Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates rushing 1 yard for a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in the second quarter during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on November 11, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 11: Quarterback Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates rushing 1 yard for a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in the second quarter during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on November 11, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

The Dallas Cowboys saved their season on Sunday night by beating the Philadelphia Eagles, but how big of a factor was Dak Prescott?

Dak Prescott’s performance on Sunday Night Football summed up his entire 2018 season. At times, Prescott looked rattled and frustrated. He was spinning backward in the pocket and fumbled the ball once without being touched. He missed wide open receivers, and for most of the first half, the offense struggled to move the ball.

But in typical Prescott fashion, he made enough plays to keep the Cowboys in the game and ultimately led them on a game-winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. It was Dak Prescott’s 11th career game-winning drive, the second-most of any quarterback since he entered the NFL.

Through nine games, it’s hard to get a bead on what to think about Prescott and his season. On the whole, he has scored 14 touchdowns and has thrown just five interceptions and has a passer rating of 90.8. But at times, he leaves you wanting more. It’s been quite the rollercoaster of a season for Prescott. Today, we are going to dive into the film to see how Prescott played versus Philadelphia, where he struggled and where he excelled. Let’s first start with the negative.

When Prescott was a rookie, the Cowboys’ offensive line was so dominant that he could play a conservative style of football and still put up big numbers. He didn’t have to take many chances, and it was the reason he had such a tremendous touchdown-to-interception ratio.

But in 2018, their offensive line hasn’t played anywhere near that level. In turn, the Cowboys are relying on Prescott to do more of the heavy lifting on offense. That often forces Prescott into situations and decisions that make him feel uncomfortable. That was the case for most of the first half against the Eagles.

A perfect example of this is on a throw to Michael Gallup in the first quarter. Gallup was lined up on the left side of the field and ran a corner route against zone coverage. The play and route should have worked as Gallup found a big hole in the zone. It was also one of the few times that the protection held up long enough for the receiver to get open. However, Prescott held onto the ball too long and it resulted in an incompletion.

On the surface, it appears that Prescott held onto this ball and he lacked the anticipation to make this throw, and that was the case that NBC was trying to make. However, that’s not the case. Prescott was reading the underneath defender, Rasaul Douglas. As Prescott was holding the ball, he was waiting for Douglas to decide which player he is going to cover; Ezekiel Elliott in the flat or Gallup on the corner route. Ultimately, Douglas gets caught in no man’s land, and both receivers are open.

However, because Prescott didn’t make a decision earlier, the throw ended up being late, and the defender was able to force Gallup out of bounds. If Prescott were a more aggressive passer/quarterback, he would have tried to throw the ball over the top of Douglas, to the sideline. But that’s not Prescott’s strength. A more seasoned, veteran quarterback should be able to make this throw 99 times out of 100 with a clean pocket. But given Prescott’s conservative nature, he decided only to make the throw once it was too late.

One thing that made Prescott a star as a rookie was his ability to make throws on the run, especially on third down. Dallas converted over 43 percent of their third downs in 2016 and that’s dropped to 35 percent this season. Part of the reason is Prescott’s accuracy. Too often, he is missing easy throws like this one to Cole Beasley on third down.

Beasley is wide open on this play. There is no reason Prescott can’t make this throw. He doesn’t need to fire this ball into his receiver. But that’s precisely what happened. Prescott didn’t even give Beasley a chance to make a play on this ball, and the Cowboys were forced to punt. Their lack of success on third down is becoming a big issue in Dallas.

However, Dallas’ biggest problem this season is that they aren’t able to create chunk plays down the field. For a variety of reasons, Prescott and his receivers just haven’t connected down the field very often. That was true again on Sunday, even with Amari Cooper in the lineup. Cooper created separation down the field a few different times, but Prescott and he were just never able to connect.

On this throw below, Cooper won easily off the line of scrimmage and created instant separation from cornerback Rasual Douglas. However, Prescott overthrew him as he never stepped into this throw. He didn’t get hangtime on this ball as he threw it too flat and the result was an incompletion.

Even if this ball were thrown behind Cooper with a little more air, it probably would have drawn a pass interference call. Instead, it ends as an incompletion. Instead, it was another missed opportunity for the Cowboys in the passing game.

So what positives can we take away from Prescott on Sunday night?  After studying the type, the thing I was the most impressed with was his toughness.

Against the Eagles in Philadelphia, Prescott was hit nine times. That doesn’t even include a few vicious hits that he took in the run game as well. On the season, Prescott has been hit 60 times, the third-most in the NFL. To put that in perspective, Prescott was hit 60 times during his entire rookie season. Prescott is getting hit (and sacked) at an absurd rate due to injuries on the offensive line.

However, Prescott has managed to find a way to make enough plays to keep the Cowboys’ alive. His drive before halftime was one of the best I’ve ever seen from him in his career. Allow me to set the stage. Dallas got the ball with1:33 left in the second quarter and just one timeout after the Eagles had just kicked a field goal to tie the game. Prescott proceeded to lead the Cowboys on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in a little over than a minute to take the lead before halftime. Let’s take a look at a few of those throws from that drive.

Prescott’s best throw of the game came on a corner route to Cole Beasley. The protection finally held up, and it allowed him to step up into the pocket and drive the ball to the sideline to a fairly well-covered Beasley. This was arguably his best throw of the season as he put the ball in a spot where only the receiver could make the play.

Two plays later, Prescott found receiver Allen Hurns on another corner route which led to a touchdown on the very next play. Much like the previous throw to Beasley, Prescott was able to step into his throw, and it resulted in an A+ throw to his receiver. These were back-to-back big-time throws by the Cowboys’ franchise passer.

That drive allowed the Cowboys to take a 13-6 lead, heading into halftime. Considering the punishment Prescott took in the first half, that was an awfully impressive drive on the road against one of the better defenses in the NFL.

But Prescott wasn’t done. After the Eagles scored the game-tying touchdown, Prescott was able to answer late in the fourth quarter with a touchdown drive of his own. Once again, it was an eight-play, 75-yard drive by Dallas that eventually won them the game. Prescott hit two big passes on the drive; a 24-yard pass to Amari Cooper and then this 23-yard throw on 3rd and 8 to Allen Hurns.

The Dallas Cowboys are in an odd spot with their franchise quarterback, and I’m not talking about whether or not the team should choose to pay him. What I mean is that Prescott is at his best when he is running an up-tempo offense, rather than playing in a ball-control scheme. On both of those touchdown drives by Dallas, the Cowboys played at a quicker pace, and it benefited Prescott. Just like it did last week against the Titans and in many other previous games.

However, Dallas has built this offense to play one style of football and it doesn’t match the quarterback’s skill set. Eventually, Jason Garrett and the rest of the coaching staff will figure that out or the next head coach will.

In the meantime, Prescott can still be maddingly frustrating at times. However, he does seem to have the ability to make the big plays when the Cowboys need them. It may not always be pretty, but this is clearly a quarterback who brings a toughness to the rest of the roster.

Over the last several weeks, Prescott has seemed to play better even though the offensive line is falling apart around him. His passer rating in the previous six games is 98.3, and he’s scored 12 touchdowns and has thrown just three interceptions. With by far the worst offensive line play of his career, Prescott is still finding a way to be successful. That, in itself, is encouraging.