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Dak Prescott is making decisions like a veteran, and that’s why the Cowboys are great

The Cowboys have uncommon trust in a rookie quarterback, but Dak Prescott proved against the Ravens that he’s as wise as any veteran.

Baltimore Ravens v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

I grew up hating the Cowboys because my dad raised me right. I was a 49ers fan and they had yearly duals with the Cowboys for the NFC. That hatred continued when I spent two seasons playing for the Giants.

That being said, I can’t help but respect the Cowboys’ current style of football: Dominant offensive line and run game; smart, smooth, and efficient pass game. Their defense doesn’t have a game wrecker, but every defender buys into the scheme and finds ways to make plays. I love watching Dallas play each week.

This past Sunday against the Ravens, the Cowboys offense battled the NFL’s second-best overall defense by DVOA, and best run defense allowing a tad over 70 yards a game. Strength on strength. This matchup was awesome to watch. It was physical. It was a chess match. And in the end, the Cowboys wore down the Ravens with a beastly second half that featured a 10-play touchdown drive, a 13-play touchdown drive, and a 13-play field goal drive that sealed the game.

There’s nothing better as an offensive lineman than to break the will of a defense on a game-winning drive. You can physically see the will leave your opponents’ eyes. It’s the greatest.

Early last week, Tony Romo formally ceded his decade-long starting job because of the excellent play of Dak Prescott. He has seen the growth Dak has made during the season, and it was on full display Sunday. The Cowboys are allowing him to make more checks as the weeks go on. They may seem simple, and sometimes they are, but trust me, not all young QBs can make them, and not all staffs trust their quarterbacks to do the job.

When facing a stout run defense like the Ravens, it’s important to never run or pass into bad looks.

When you scheme up run plays, you try to account for everyone the blockers could block. If there is a guy unaccounted for on the front side of a run, that’s a bad look, and sometimes it’s best to run away from him. It’s hard enough to run the ball into good looks. When you’re playing a physical run defense, you need every advantage. It’s an easy enough concept, but you have to trust the quarterback to read the defense and make the proper kill.

An example of such a play would be “35 base alert 36 Boss” — a.k.a., a weak side lead ISO zone run that can be killed to a strong side lead zone if the safety is down on the weak side. Here is that run from early in the game.

The Ravens show a safety down weak who the wide receiver has zero chance of blocking, so Dak changes the run to a strong side run. The OL nerd in me loves what happens next. Try to follow along.

The tag/point/ID’d linebacker, normally the middle linebacker (Mike), sets up the blocking for us up front. The original Mike is right. When the play is killed, the Mike changes to the left. The center makes that change, then the right guard taps his butt to let the fullback know the Mike has changed. This allows for the center/right guard combo to double team and the fullback to block the right guys. Subtle things like this, while easy to install, often don’t get done properly.

This is the difference between a positive run and a negative run. While this play is just a short gain, it demonstrates how Dak has taken control of the offense with help from his surrounding parts. Instead of a negative run play against an outstanding run defense, this is a positive play. These types of plays add up over the course of a game.

The game was won with ball control from the Cowboys in the second half.

They controlled the ball for just over 20 minutes with three long drives. Dak was a studly 14-of-15 passing for 146 yards and two touchdowns to Dez Bryant in the second half. None of his completed passes in the half went more than 10 yards in the air. He found everyone — his outlets, his tight end, and his No. 1 receiver. It was mostly steady and boring work. But I like steady and boring. That wins football games.

A few key plays from the Cowboys’ last touchdown drive helped put them ahead for good.

One method to combat a great defense is spreading it out and letting the quarterback call plays from the line of scrimmage. When you spread out a defense, it must declare what its intentions are. It’s easier to see what it wants to do.

However, not all quarterbacks can handle the responsibilities of getting into the right play. This is where Dak is starting to mature.

There is just over 13 minutes left in the game, and the Cowboys are up 17-10 and facing second-and-11 at the 29-yard line. They spread it out and let Dak decide on the routes. The Ravens show pressure, hoping they can force one of three things: 1) Dak panics and makes a mistake, 2) a sack to push the Cowboys out of field goal range, or 3) an incomplete pass and third down.

Instead, Dak makes them pay for the pressure. And it’s possible he didn’t even see it coming, but what Dak did know is who his outlet was if there was pressure. This is SO, SO important. Quarterbacks must know their outlets in case of pressure. It helps set apart an elite offense and quarterback from the rest. Dak finds his outlet on a short throw, setting up the Cowboys in the red zone after a long gallop.

Finally, here is the game clincher to Dez. Dak knows right away that the Ravens are bringing pressure. It’s just a numbers game — too many Ravens into the boundary with only two eligible Cowboys, Dez and running back Ezekiel Elliott. Dak calmly points out who the back would be blocking then throws a strike to Dez for the touchdown

Three rounds of teams passed on Dak before the Cowboys picked him up. No one thought he’d be the quarterback he has become at such an early point of his career. He’s steady, calm, smooth, and maturing as a quarterback as the season gets into crunch time.