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Teams Now Have A Year Of Film On Dak Prescott To Study - And It Still Won’t Matter

The evidence continues to build that there will be no sophomore slump for Dallas’ second-year quarterback, Dak Prescott.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Minicamp Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It is a burning question for the Dallas Cowboys. Was the phenomenal debut of Dak Prescott a true sign of things to come, or was it a deceptive performance by an unknown quantity that will be nullified by wily defensive coordinators? The worry is that Prescott will fall into the dreaded “sophomore slump”. However, that may be as much a myth as anything.

For every player who has suffered through a down year in their second season, you can find a player who improved in year two. Russell Wilson didn’t just improve his statistics slightly in his second season with the Seahawks. He led the team to a commanding 43-8 Super Bowl win over the Denver Broncos.

Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012. He didn’t miss a beat in his second season and was named the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

We’ve all seen the reports about how prepared Prescott was coming into OTAs, and how he looks much better than he did a year ago (helped, no doubt, by now being the number one QB instead of mired in the third spot). The main argument against him having a successful followup to his debut is that idea of teams knowing how to counter. They have seen how he plays, and can now game plan to stop him.

But that may not really work. Football Outsiders’ analyst Scott Kacsmar took a look at how the performance of quarterbacks in the NFL was affected by pressure. And something about Prescott stood out in his analysis.

As for quarterbacks who did qualify for single-season rate records, only Colin Kaepernick and rookie Dak Prescott managed to avoid throwing a single interception while under pressure in 2016. The Cowboys controlled most games last season, but the 49ers often trailed; that's further evidence that Kaepernick, who remains a free agent, played better than his reputation. As for Prescott, he ranked just 24th in pressure rate despite the reputation of his offensive line. However, he had the fifth-best DVOA when pressured (-30.5%). He was also third when not pressured (77.4%), making him the only quarterback to rank in the top five in both categories last season. Tom Brady was the next closest at sixth with pressure, second without it.

Actually, a couple of things are tucked away in there. First, pressure did not faze Prescott at all. He did face a good bit of it despite the reputation of the line, which at first seems a bit disturbing. However, there are some other reasons why he may have been pressured a bit more as a rookie. No matter how fast he learned the game and applied things on the field, he still cannot have been able to process things and decide as rapidly as a more experienced quarterback (of similar ability). That means he had to hold onto the ball a tick or two more than he will as he gains more experience, which gave the opposing defenses that much more time to come after him. And despite that, he was still superb whether pressured or not. He recently was named the fourteenth best player overall in NFL.com’s rankings by other players, which has led to the annual controversy about just how legitimate that little beauty contest is. But the numbers Kascmar came up with reveal that there is a legitimate basis for the regard his peers have for him. In those areas, he is in fact a top five quarterback.

And those figures were for the entire season, one in which Prescott was clearly improving as he learned the game and was able to take on more and more of the playbook. By the latter half of the season, he was playing at a much higher level, and Bob Sturm thought it was a good time to put out the link to his Decoding Linehan post following last year’s Thanksgiving game against Washington, when Prescott was operating at or near his peak level for the season. That game is a good indicator of the quarterback the NFL will be facing this fall.

11 Personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers) is what this team produces out of and makes you declare how you plan to stop this running game. 11 Personnel is almost always going to be Elliott at RB, with Witten, Beasley, Williams, and Bryant. This grouping requires at least five DBs because you want - at worst - a safety up top and then man coverage on each of the four receivers. Also, you better not try to match up a linebacker on Elliott, because he will run right by him, so the defense often will go dime. That means six defensive backs, of course, and this then means you only have five "bigs" left. Often, they try to stay nickel and use four DL and two LBs because they know if they go dime, then the Cowboys will run the ball right down their throat.

This is what I mean when I suggest that the defense cannot be right. Whichever they choose, Linehan and Dak go the other way. They are just playing probabilities. With these odds, we think we can have this much success. You go dime, we run. You go nickel, we pass into man coverage all day and we think we have guys who can win against man.

Then, on third down, they stay in man coverage because they are worried about Dak and Zeke getting to the sticks with either a scramble, a dump down, or some other play when the WRs/TEs clear out the underneath options. It really ties a defense in knots. Even on third down!

That is really the most important thing to remember about trying to stop Dak Prescott: You are really having to stop the entire Cowboys’ offense. That includes the reigning rushing champion in Ezekiel Elliott, a multi-faceted wide receiving corps, a future Hall of Fame tight end in Jason Witten, and that All-Pro laden offensive line. You can’t take away all the options - and Prescott has already demonstrated that he is able to find the one you don’t. Some teams can be stopped or at least greatly slowed by going after the quarterback who is carrying things, but unlike some of the seasons Tony Romo had to work with, that is no longer the case for Prescott. Coming into the 2016 season, Dallas was built for Romo. Now, it is being structured to maximize Prescott’s skill set. And that is a deep and well-equipped tool box that is likely to just improve.

Whenever you talk about the Cowboys’ offense, you have to stop for a moment and reflect once more on just how incredibly fortunate they were in getting Prescott where they did in the draft. He is an almost impossibly perfect fit for Linehan’s scheme, which is just amplified by how well Linehan worked to fit him in.

Further, this is a team that has gotten to where head coach Jason Garrett always intended for it to be: They will line up against the opposing defense and just beat them down. Zeke and Dak became a one-two punch that is close to unstoppable. If the defense can answer their own questions along the defensive line and in the secondary, Dallas deserves the recent projection at Pro Football Focus as the second-most favored team in the NFC.

There is still a long ways to go for the Cowboys, but just about every sign seems to be pointing up for them. And none are more positive than the quarterback. Let the opponents study the video from last year. They probably will not like what they see.