Efficiency is the name of the game for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. A veteran in every sense of the word, Prescott is going to get the offense in the right play and keep the train on schedule. That’s been his game since he took over for Tony Romo in 2016. Prescott’s Week 2 shredding of a fierce New York Jets defense was just another reminder.
Hunting for Short Yardage
After Josh Allen tried and failed to hunt for the big play at every opportunity against this New York defense a week ago, Prescott took the opposite approach. He set up his punches with jab after jab after jab. Prescott made it a point to neutralize the Jets’ pass rush and trust that the right haymaker opportunities would present themselves.
Prescott was a machine in the short area of the field. According to NextGenStats, Prescott went 18 of 20 on throws within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Those are generally higher-percentage throws for any offense, but a 90 percent completion rate is absurd, especially against a Jets defense that fields 11 players with their hair on fire at all times.
Whether it was a brilliant execution of quick-game concepts or timely checkdowns on standard dropbacks, Prescott ensured the ball was out and into the hands of his playmakers. He spread it around, too. Nine Cowboys caught at least one pass, including three running backs. Prescott always got to the right answer, no matter who it was on a play.
Not only did that keep the Cowboys offense on schedule while the run game floundered a bit, but it kept Prescott upright. An otherwise vaunted Jets pass rush only registered four quarterback hits and one sack on Prescott. Even then, the lone sack was on a red zone sprint out gone wrong, not the typical dropback stuff Prescott was dicing them up on.
The war of attrition is usually won in the trenches — the Cowboys are no strangers to that — but Prescott’s quick, efficient play did it this time. When people talk about the best quarterbacks making everyone around them look better, what Prescott did to negate pressure and stay on schedule against the Jets was a prime example.
All of that is an extension of what Prescott has done for the past four seasons. Prescott is an exceptional game manager on film, but the numbers drive the point home. According to SportsInfoSolutions, Prescott has been top-five in positive play rate by EPA for the last four seasons. Allen, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes are the usual suspects around Prescott’s name. A quarterback can’t hold better company than that.
Critically, it wasn’t efficiency issues that had the Cowboys offense waffling a season ago, though. Prescott was as good as ever at finding easy yardage. All of their issues came down to being impatient about finding big plays. With no real field stretcher in the offense, the whole operation felt constipated, and the Cowboys never quite found the right buttons to press to create explosives.
That poured over into some frustration and antsiness to make something happen, which was the catalyst for Prescott’s 15-interception campaign. Sure, some of that was bad luck, but a quarterback still has to put himself in a position to be unlucky with forced throws. That was Prescott to a tee last season.
That couldn’t be further from what we saw on Sunday. Prescott had no qualms about playing the long con.
CeeDee Lamb’s Big Day
When Prescott’s efficiency got the Jets’ defense to wear down and break, CeeDee Lamb was always there to take advantage. Lamb was Prescott’s vessel for throwing haymakers at the Jets’ defense. Lamb’s 11 catches and 143 yards performance speaks for itself, but one second-quarter connection perfectly encapsulated the marriage between Prescott’s savvy and Lamb’s big-play ability.
With 6:40 left in the second quarter, the Cowboys had the ball on their 26-yard line on second-and-9. The Cowboys walked to the line of scrimmage with a four-wide set that put Lamb in the slot to the short side of the field. Before the snap, Prescott eyed the Jets’ single-high defensive shell and made a call to get the Cowboys into a four verticals concept. Prescott’s throw to Lamb down the seam was a bit high, but Lamb leaped like Superman to snag the ball in traffic.
— NFL (@NFL) September 17, 2023
Prescott saw something to expose the defense and trusted his main man to do the job. Lamb was also Prescott’s go-to guy when the offense was backed up on its 2-yard line in the first quarter, as well as a third-quarter third-and-14 conversion that put the Cowboys in field goal range. Prescott was more than willing to play the patient game against the Jets, but when he had to have it, Lamb was always on the other end of the throw.
Sunday’s showing has always been the formula when the Cowboys passing offense is at its best. Prescott shreds and shreds and shreds in the underneath area until the defense falters, and then Lamb is there to strike. Interceptions threw a wrench in that a season ago, but at least for the moment, Prescott is back to being the relatively interception-free quarterback he was before.
NFC Playoff Potential
Mind you, this was all without Brandin Cooks in the lineup. Dallas brought Cooks in as the Cowboys’ field stretcher and No. 2 receiver, but he missed this game because of a knee sprain. He was a significant part of the calculus for fixing the offense’s issues from a season ago. Once Cooks returns to action, Prescott’s job will only get easier. The Cowboys’ offense might only be scratching the surface.
A performance like this goes a long way toward selling the Cowboys as NFC title favorites. There was no doubt the defense would be lights out, but the high-end potential of this team depended on Prescott and the offense finding their groove again.
Carving up the Jets’ defense is as good a sign as any that the Cowboys passing game gives this team the ceiling it needs. Now, with an elite defense and an offense on the upswing, the Cowboys should have everything they need to make a run deep into January.
Derrik Klassen is an NFL and NFL Draft film analyst with a particular interest in quarterbacks. Klassen’s work is also featured on Bleacher Report and Reception Perception. You can follow him on Twitter (X) at @QBKlass.