MINNEAPOLIS -- As they try to figure out how to fluster Dak Prescott -- a rookie quarterback who so far has seemed to elude the traps that ensnare many young passers -- the Minnesota Vikings eventually will have to decide whether to send extra rushers after Prescott or try to affect him with a four-man rush and a coverage scheme sound enough to take away his options.
Because of his poise -- and the luxury of playing behind what many consider to be the NFL's best offensive line -- the Dallas Cowboys quarterback hasn't faced the same kind of indoctrination-by-blitz that many rookies get. According to ESPN Stats & Information, teams have blitzed Prescott on only 27.6 percent of his dropbacks this season, the 17th most in the league.
Only four starting rookie quarterbacks -- EJ Manuel, Nick Foles, Carson Wentz and Robert Griffin III -- have been blitzed less than Prescott since 2009. In some cases, that's probably because of a quarterback's mobility, and the Vikings certainly have to consider that with Prescott, as well. But the other reason it's tough to blitz Prescott? The rookie in the backfield next to him, according to Vikings coach Mike Zimmer.
"A lot of times when you’re blitzing, you’re talking about blitzes, you’re trying to win on the back," Zimmer said. "This back [Ezekiel Elliott] doesn’t get beat very much. There’s different ideas of the blitz. Sometimes you want to play man-to-man and you rush five, and sometimes you rush six and play some kind of zone or man or zeroes. You have to be smart with how you rush him, and you have to be disciplined in the rush lanes. They’ve got a lot of situations where he can get the ball out quickly."
Elliott's presence as a receiver -- he's caught 24 passes for 303 yards in addition to leading the NFL in rushing -- gives Prescott another option when he's in trouble, too. But if the Vikings are going to avoid their sixth loss in seven games while handing Dallas just its second defeat of the year, they'll likely have to solve the puzzle of pressuring Prescott.
They made the decision to go after Matthew Stafford last Thursday in Detroit, blitzing him on 46.5 percent of his dropbacks, and though the Vikings only sacked Stafford twice, they pressured him on 41.9 percent of his dropbacks while limiting him to a modest 232 yards on 23-of-40 passing.
"Hopefully it’s an incompletion [on a blitz]," Zimmer said. "That’s really what we’re trying to do, is get incompletions, or if we keep them short of the sticks on third down or something like that, I would consider that successful."
If they choose to blitz Prescott, the Vikings will have to contain Elliott well enough to put the Cowboys in adverse down-and-distance situations Thursday. At that point, they'll perhaps be able to apply heat to a rookie quarterback who hasn't seemed to feel much of it this year.
"He just has tremendous poise and composure, and I think that's reflected in his play," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "I feel like his poise, his composure, is infectious throughout our team."