One of the limitations of judging the QB of one's favorite team is that one is inevitably going to be far more familiar with said QB than others around the league. Rarely are the criticisms of Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott completely unfounded - rather, what is being accurately observed is then rendered into judgement with - well, to be frank, inadequate league-wide context.
Yes, Prescott misses on some ball placement. But how frequent are his off-target throws relative to those of other passers, and how much does it cost the team (off-target completions versus off-targets that affect the outcome of the play)? Yes, Prescott is not going to pick up every open guy, but how does this compare with those around the league? Yes, Prescott isn't going to always respond well to pressure, but...you get the idea.
The criticism of the criticism of Dak Prescott isn't that observations are being fabricated (well, usually), but rather that the implications of observations are being grossly exaggerated. For example, off-target throws are somehow presented as proof of inadequacy, even though even the best QBs in the league (yes, even the likes of Brady and Mahomes) will have their off-target throws.
While we await the return of Prescott to the field, we can illustrate the massive flaws in the typical process of Prescott evaluation by those who criticize him the most by seeing what happens when we apply the same process and attitude to one of the unquestioned best QBs in the league: Josh Allen. During today's football, I couldn't help but notice even from just the main highlights of the Bills-Dolphins game that Allen was playing in a way that, if he were Prescott, would draw a mound of complaints. With the full tape not at my disposal, I turned to the next best thing: the lengthy highlight tape the NFL puts out for each game each week on Youtube.
The following is a listing of every single play involving Allen in the 13.5 minute video linked above. Each play is listed by its timestamp in the video, and the write-ups employ roughly the typical standard applied to Prescott. Stamps in bold are the ones that would be considered total failures by a critic, and stamps with an asterisk (*) ahead of them are pure praise plays.
The Play Breakdowns
0:02 mark - Allen zips a ball 25 yards downfield on a post route to Diggs. The throw forces Diggs, who had nice positioning on his defender, to first slow up and then still have to reach behind his movement, nearly allowing the defender to make the play. Learn some better ball placement, Jak!
0:17 mark - play action, Allen shuffles aside from a pass rusher before dumping the ball to RB Singletary at the LOS. Poor pocket awareness causes Jak to rush the throw when he could have held the ball and found a downfield target; good thing the RB bailed him out with a long RAC.
0:32 mark - Allen drops back behind a wall, tosses a 10 yard pass to FB/TE Gilliam. I guess Jak can be on target with perfect blocking.
0:45 mark - rushes a short throw to Gilliam towards the sideline. Unnecessary dink and dunk; a real QB would look downfield.
0:55 mark - 3rd and goal close to the end zone, Allen misses an open Gabe Davis on a slant right off the snap, and by holding the ball too long squanders strong pass blocking until delayed pressure leads to a scramble and a tackle at the LOS. If Jak had the ability to read the field, he would have had a TD to either Davis or one of his scramble drill targets while he was scrambling!
1:08 mark - next play, Allen dumps to an uncovered Singletary. The Dolphin defense bailed Jak out this time.
1:33 mark - 3rd and 8 to open the next drive, Allen gets strip-sacked from a blind-side blitzing Safety. A QB with pocket awareness would have seen that pre-snap and stepped up to avoid it.
2:01 mark - after holding the ball for loads of time, Allen dumps a horizontal throw to TE Knox in the flat. More dink and dunk from Jak!
2:17 mark - 2nd and 2 near midfield, perfect time to be aggressive, Allen was looking to a short flat throw to WR Kumerow the entire way. More unnecessary dink and dunk! A real QB with a real arm would have been looking to make a throw downfield.
2:32 mark - 1st down, Allen drops back and even though his OL picks up the blitz well he dances backwards and then immediately rids the ball to another short throw to the flat. Unforced panic from a guy who just isn't comfortable in the pocket.
2:49 mark - dropback from Allen, after he looks off his first read left the blitz forces him to dump the ball to his outlet RB, who is unable to quite reach a 3rd down conversion. Too bad Jak was too inept at pre-snap reads to adjust the slow-developing routes on the left side, as the DBs gave them space and with the right adjustment a first down would have been there for the taking.
*3:01 mark - very next play and a 4th and 2, Allen passes up on a dump-off to the RB to his right to hold the ball, but manages to dodge the first pass rusher to reach him before charging ahead for a short run and a conversion. Good enough, I guess.
3:14 mark - 1st down, Allen drops back and is too pocket-blind to see the DE coming in from his front side, taking a too-easy sack and nearly losing the ball but was lucky to already be down. Pay more attention and protect the ball, Jak!
*3:25 mark - very next play, well-placed ball on a downfield throw that drops in for a first down. But as this is the first notable well-placed throw of the game by Jak, I think I can pretend it didn't happen.
3:36 mark - 3rd and goal from the 8, OL does a great job slowing an 8(!) man rush, bailing out an overwhelmed Allen who tossed off his back foot but had such a wipe open guy so it didn't matter (TD). Jak's short throw was behind the wide open guy, naturally.
5:20 mark - 2nd and 2, Allen looks uncomfortable from the start with the blitz coming and after a pump fake throws flat-footed to a wide-open Diggs on a LOS dumpoff. Good thing Miami made the dink and dunk easy for Jak!
5:31 mark - one step drop, Allen gets away with bad footwork on a WR screen and gets to rack up 6 or so yards with his receiver doing all the work on RAC. The coaching staff is clearly trying to keep it easy for Jak.
5:41 mark - 3rd and 10, Allen has space and time initially but is unable to pull the trigger on a throw, forcing him to scramble from pressure before executing a risky across-the-body throw to a covered guy, incomplete. Even though I can't see the coverage on the video, I "know" that there was at least one guy Jak had open or should have been able to throw open before the pressure, but as usual his problems reading the field bite the team.
7:17 mark - 3rd and 7, quick and short throw to a guy left wide open by a blitzer. Even though this was the obvious hot route for Jak to take advantage of in the face of the blitz, I'm pretty sure I can just file this away as more dink and dunk.
*7:25 mark - 2nd and 10, Allen pumps a blitzer off his feet, takes off for a run, jukes out the first defender he meets past the LOS and in doing so gains a lane for a nice long run. Okay, even I have to admit this was a pretty awesome play, well done Jak!
7:40 mark - 3rd and 4, almost takes too long to get the ball out and throws flat footed but gets the 1st down. Should have anticipated his guy getting open, but his hesitance almost allowed a DB who wasn't even on the receiver to react to the throw and make a play on it.
7:50 mark - 3rd and 1, Allen is given tons of time and needs it as he holds the ball into pressure but is just able to find the open guy. More field-reading mediocrity is demanding a lot out of the OL.
8:03 mark - Allen drops back with pocket space, but the best he can do is a short throw to the RB Cook who had lined up wide and hope for more RAC. Jak continues to dink and dunk.
8:17 mark - 3rd and goal from almost 12, Allen has space off the snap but prematurely ducks his shoulder before the pass rush was a threat, allowing the pass rush to force a scramble and essentially a throw-away. If only Jak were comfortable in the pocket like actual elite QBs. Bills have to settle for a FG.
9:11 mark - after a long gallop by RB Moss to start the next drive, Allen drops back and then immediate bails on the passing play to take off and run. It's a good think Jak has this kind of athleticism, because otherwise his struggles reading the field and standing in the pocket would put him in trouble all the time.
9:26 mark - 3rd and 9 and already in solid FG range, Allen gets rid of the ball rather than stepping up in a well-formed pocket, all to just lob to the flat well short of a 1st down with no chance for Knox to get any RAC. This is the Jak experience in a nutshell, nervous in the pocket, overly reliant on shorter throws, and on top of that he as always threw behind his target!
10:35 mark - 2nd and 4, Allen immediately dumps off to Diggs at the LOS after receiving the shotgun snap. Dink. Dunk.
10:48 mark - 3rd and 10, Allen has a wall in front of him but suddenly rolls right for reasons before flipping a throw over the top of a trailing defender to drop in on Singletary. Jak is lucky Singletary has been getting open all game, as he gets away with more unnecessary pocket movement.
11:01 mark - 3rd and 3, Allen once again has plenty of space and initial time dropping back but somehow can't find a throw worth trying, forcing a pocket stutter before he dumps to Moss who has run a delayed flat route out of the backfield. Moss was already pretty well covered, but a high throw by the inaccurate Jak leaves Moss dead to rights to a charging defender...who despite being able to lunge onto Moss's back(!) still ineptly misses the tackle, allowing Moss to barely get the 1st. Jak did everthing he could to cause this play to fail, and only a teammate putting his QB on his back saved the day.
*11:17 mark - 3rd and 5, Allen once again needs to rely on his feet to make up for his passing limitations. At least Jak can move really well!
11:28 mark - Allen looks off his first read and immediately resorts to dumping it off to Cooks out of the backfield. Dink and dunk, redux.
11:38 mark - 3rd and goal from the 2 with a TD needed and time in the game running short, Allen has all the time in the world but his trouble finding open guys keeps him holding the ball. Despite this, even when he pulls the trigger (still not really under pressure) he almost throws it to a defender rather than his own guy. Don't blow the game, Jak!
11:55 mark - Allen has a wide open guy heading to the flat/end zone right off the snap, and bad footwork and mechanics lead to him groundballing the throw for an incomplete. Jak will never be an elite QB with his major issues with ball placement, and he's blown a comeback opportunity on top of it! Back to back failure plays in the clutch. Awful.
*12:35 mark - after the Bills defense/special teams bails out their QB by forcing a three-and-out and then blocking the punt into the end zone for a safety, Allen gets the ball back on his own 23 and 1:25 left for another shot at a comeback. 2nd and 10, Allen buys some time after not finding someone on his initial dropback (shocking, I know) and then is able to flip an on-target throw downfield for a good chunk play to the 40. Nice play here by Jak!
12:51 mark - now down to 3rd and 1 with 33 seconds left in the game, Allen tosses to a short, wide-open flat option for a 1st down and clock stoppage. No complaint here.
13:00 mark - 2nd and 20 from their own 47 and just 18 second left, Allen dances through pressure and flips to a short-route WR in the middle of the field who sprints both towards the sideline and partly downfield but isn't able to reach the sideline. Despite there being 9 seconds left on the clock, the Bills aren't able to clock it in time and the game ends. Who cares that the situation was already long odds and pretty desperate - Allen dumped to the middle of the field with limited time left and because of that never got another play, so he's clearly a fool who should be mocked ceaselessly for not having the sense to not take a safer route in a game situation in which defeats was already nearly certain.
The criticism of Dak Prescott would have you believe that he is riddled with flaws, and that those flaws cap him at a level that is not suitable enough for a franchise to be satisfied with its passer. It isn't that the rates and total impact of positive and negative plays are tallied up and collated into a sum total - rather, each flaw is pounded into the table as invalidating, end of story.
And yet, unquestioned elite QB and short-list-MVP-candidate Josh Allen put every single one of those frequently-cited flaws on display in this tape here:
-Struggles with ball placement
-Overreliance on short passes
-Inability to see the field well
-Missing open targets and/or failing to anticipate open targets in time
-Bailing on a play too soon
-Responding to pressure poorly
-Failure to step up in general and in the clutch in a big game
-Blowing the game in embarrassing fashion
-Dependency on elite blocking and playmakers carrying the load
The one objective advantage Allen's results have over Prescott beyond any question is Allen's superior rushing production. That's a handy gain, but at most it boost him a tier above Prescott. If Prescott is as low as some would have us believe, then Allen would be far from the elite tier that he is accepted to be in. The implication should be clear: if the process underrates Allen, it also underrates Prescott and isn't any good of a process at all. Any attempt to waive this reality off is just excuses; the results speak for themselves.
Speaking of results, despite the various issues Allen put on display on tape in this struggle of a loss, his stat line looks an awful lot like the ones Prescott has put up and then seen dismissed: 42 of 63 for 400 passing yards even, with 2 passing TDs and 0 INTs, good for a 94.7 QB rating. A loss and a defense that gave up a lot of easy plays - this is just an empty stat line, yes?
Two Key Notes
1) It would be tempting to dismiss Allen's performance in this contest as the result of facing a strong defense - Miami has started off 3-0, after all. In actuality, Miami's start has been built on a powerful offensive performance, with the Dolphins 2nd in the NFL in Offensive DVOA in the very early going of the first two weeks. Miami's defense to begin the year not only was one of the worst in the league (26th in Defensive DVOA), but was actually second-worst against the pass specifically. Given that the Bills are particularly talented in their passing attack, the matchup should have been just fine for Allen.
2) To undercut any mistaken impressions, this piece neither questions Allen's elite status nor is written with belief that there is any possibility that Prescott is on his level. Prescott is not. As laid out in the breakdown, we can see similarities in terms of overall passing production and passing imperfections, which means whatever higher value Allen creates with his legs (and it's beyond contestation that he produces more value that way than Prescott does) can be taken as a net advantage. Josh Allen is the better QB. Again, the point to be taken here is that Allen's consensus status would crumble under the thesis of Prescott's inadequacy - and it's time to accept the obvious failure highlighted by that implication.