After months of anticipation, all of the hype around Kellen Moore’s new-look offense for Dallas was fulfilled, even if just for a week. Dak Prescott had one of the best games of his career by throwing for over 400 yards, tying his career high for single-game passing touchdowns, all while posting a perfect passer rating.
So how exactly did that happen? Well, there are a lot of components that went into it. A big part was new quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna refining Prescott’s footwork, which was evident enough in the preseason. Another big part was the way in which Moore changed up the offense’s rhythm and style of attacking. A higher frequency of shots all over the field, more play-action and RPO plays, and pre-snap motion helped make things easier on Prescott.
But there were two specific things that made the quarterback’s life easier on Sunday: time to throw, and protection. Prescott was the second-most sacked quarterback in the NFL last year, being taken down a whopping 56 times. With various injuries across the offensive line throughout the 2018 season, an uptick in sacks was to be expected. But it wasn’t just on them, as Prescott frequently held onto the ball too long.
That was a recurring theme throughout the first three years of his career, even though it didn’t manifest itself in such an ugly way until just last year. In 2016, Dak’s rookie year, he had an average of 2.88 seconds between taking the snap and throwing the ball. That figure ranked him 35th in the league out of 39 qualifying quarterbacks. He held the ball longer than some QBs who aren’t even in the league anymore, such as Bryce Petty, Jay Cutler, and Colin Kaepernick.
He brought that number down to 2.82 seconds to throw in both 2017 and 2018, ranking 34th and 30th in the NFL respectively. Still, Prescott saw the sack totals increase over that time. He went down 25 times as a rookie, then 32 times in 2017 (yes, that includes the six from Adrian Clayborn), and then the drastic increase to 56 last year.
There’s an obvious correlation between time to throw and sacks taken, as getting the ball out quickly reduces the time that defenders have to get to you. Last year, three of the quickest throwing quarterbacks were Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger, and none of them were sacked more than 24 times. They all led top ten offenses and two of them made it to their respective conference title games, a designation which has eluded the Cowboys for quite some time.
Under the guidance of Moore, the Cowboys looked more akin to those offenses than they ever have with Dak under center. Prescott had an average time to throw of 2.53 seconds, which was good for seventh shortest in the league (Note: four teams still have yet to play as of this article being written). Of the six passers ahead of Dak, Patrick Mahomes was the only one to not be sacked at all. Mahomes was joined by 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo as the only other quarterback of those six who went on to win their game.
Being in the same company as Mahomes is definitely a good thing, and it contributed to Prescott’s extremely high 78.13% completion percentage. It also was a big reason why Prescott wasn’t sacked, and barely got pressured at all. Sure, having Travis Frederick back at center helped solidify the offensive line again, and they certainly played well as a unit, but there were also not as many issues with Prescott holding the ball too long, which reduced the amount of opportunities to get sacked.
It didn’t even translate to a dink-and-dunk approach on offense - quite the opposite actually, as Prescott finished with an adjusted yards per attempt figure of 15.16, a career high. The fact that Prescott was able to get the ball out so quickly while still being able to spread the field with his throws is a testament to the way Moore called the game and Dak’s level of Comfort in the scheme. It’s only one game, but this could be a match made in heaven.