2. Contain and pressure Dak Prescott within the pocket
Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott somehow is being overlooked for league MVP consideration this year, and it really doesn’t make any sense at all. Not only is he leading the NFL in passing yards per game (322.1), but he’s also first in yards per attempt (8.8) and second in Total QBR (77.8), per ESPN’s Dan Graziano.
Prescott is also well on his way to finishing the year as one of the better rushing quarterbacks in the league once again. He averaged 63 rush attempts for 314 yards and six touchdowns over his first three seasons as a pro, and he already has 33 attempts for 193 yards and three touchdowns so far this season. He’s also averaging 5.8 yards per attempt, which is the second-best mark of his four-year career.
The former Mississippi State Bulldog is dangerous both inside and outside of the pocket. Similar to other mobile QBs like Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, and Josh Allen, he’s well-equipped athletically to make plays on the run when he needs to. Whether it’s tucking the ball and running for the necessary first-down yardage himself or buying time while scrambling until he can hit an open receiver downfield for a big gain, Prescott is one of the best in the league when flushed out of the pocket.
The New England defense has had mixed results this season when facing mobile quarterbacks. They fared well against the Browns’ Baker Mayfield and against the Bills’ Josh Allen, but they were embarrassed in primetime television by the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson in Week 9. Jackson has certainly made plenty of defensive coordinators and defensive players look foolish this season, but it’s still up to the Patriots’ defensive linemen and position coach Bret Bielema to make sure they’re not in store for another shellacking, this time by Prescott.
In the Cowboys’ six victories this season, Prescott completed 71.3% of his passes and averaged 2.6 passing touchdowns per game against just 0.6 interceptions and 1.0 sack per game. In the team’s four losses, Prescott’s numbers dipped to completing just 64.7% of his passes with an average of 1.2 passing touchdowns per game against 1.2 interceptions and 1.5 sacks per game.
It’s not shocking that Prescott played poorer as a passer in his team’s losses than he did in its wins, but when you compare his production as a runner in both columns, the disparity is even more significant.
In the six Dallas wins, Prescott had 25 rush attempts for 148 total yards and two touchdowns. In Dallas’ four losses, Prescott had just eight rush attempts total for 45 yards and one touchdown. Clearly there’s a statistical correlation here: when Prescott is both running and throwing the ball effectively, the Cowboys are rolling; when at least one of those two aspects of his game is eliminated, the Cowboys are struggling.
As far as pressure, the Patriots are currently third in the NFL in sacks with 37 on the season and are averaging 3.7 sacks per game against their opponents. This dominant Cowboys offensive line has only allowed more than one sack per game on two separate occasions this year – they allowed three sacks to both the Eagles and the Packers. If New England can find ways to pressure Prescott within the pocket and sack him for negative yards whenever they can, it should also go a long way in helping the Patriots emerge victorious on Sunday.