The New England Patriots defense has been outstanding so far this season, especially against the pass: the unit, which leads the NFL in both scoring and yards surrendered, currently has a league-best touchdown-to-interception ratio of 4-to-19, has given up fewer net yards per attempt than any other defense (4.1) and also ranks third in the league with 37 sacks. Whoever tried to advance the football through the air has had a tough time versus the Patriots.
On Sunday, however, awaits arguably their biggest challenge to date: a Dallas Cowboys offense that is ranked fourth in the league in scoring and has moved the football well via the pass, leading the league in yards (3,127) and net yards per attempts (8.3) — all while being run by a serious MVP candidate in Dak Prescott. The fourth-year quarterback is in the middle of his best season as a pro and his growth as a passer is a big reason for Dallas’ offensive success.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick also knows the challenge that Prescott presents, and he offered a scouting report on the 26-year-old during a press conference on Wednesday. Needless to say that he seems to be impressed with how the Cowboys’ versatile passer has played so far: “This guy can throw the ball, he’s very accurate, he’s got great poise in the pocket, stands in there. He can extend plays and run if he has to, but he doesn’t do much of that unless he really needs to.”
“He has great patience and poise, discipline in the pocket, gets his eyes down field. He’s a very good intermediate-to-deep ball-thrower. He’s got good weapons, but he’s been super impressive. Just a great, great quarterback — sideline throws, inside throws, in-cuts, posts, over routes, flag routes, you name it,” continued Belichick when breaking down one of the most prolific passers in the league this season.
Through 10 games so far this year, Prescott has completed 247 of his 365 pass attempts (67.7%) for an NFL-best 3,221 yards as well as 21 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. On top of it, he has also carried the football 33 times for 193 yards and three scores. Needless to say that Pro Football Focus’ sixth-ranked quarterback has been very good and — together with new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore — a big reason for Dallas’ offensive renaissance.
While Prescott has always been an accurate and smart passer, it appears the Cowboys are under Moore are now more willing to trust him as the motor that runs the offense (as opposed to running back Ezekiel Elliott, for example). So far this year, this move has paid off as Prescott is on pace to set career-highs in every major passing category. This has also helped Dallas improve to 28.6 points per game up from just 21.2 points a year ago.
But as Belichick pointed out, Prescott is not only a threat because of his passing abilities. While plays designed to have him carry the football are only a fraction of the Cowboys’ offensive play calls, they do still challenge the defense whenever they come up on top of the other things the unit does: “He does it all. He runs options, he runs read zones, keeps the ball in critical situations, tough guy to tackle, makes tough yards when he needs them.”
“He’s really good [...] They have a few plays... the read zone plays, they have some option plays, things like that, couple moving pocket plays,” added Belichick when talking about the running abilities of the former fourth-round draft pick. “Just another thing to bother the defense, just another thing that you have to worry about and defend. Just another rock on a big pile of rocks.”