Last season, the NFL world marveled as the Dallas Cowboys’ fourth round pick, quarterback Dak Prescott out of Mississippi State, became an overnight sensation in the league. Each week, Cowboys fans were on the edge of their seats and Cowboy “haters” did the same as well while watching Prescott thinking to themselves “is this kid truly the real deal?”
It sure looked that way last season.
Dak finished the season with over 3600 passing yards, 29 total touchdowns (23 passing, 6 rushing) and 8 total turnovers. He played within head coach Jason Garrett’s system and it paid off for him and fellow rookie, Ezekiel Elliot (the Cowboys first-round pick who ran for over 1600 yards in a remarkable rookie campaign).
The only question now is – can Dak do it again?
Dak was considered by many to be a better version of a “dink and dunk” passer. This argument may be one Cowboys fans can choose to ignore but keep in mind that Cole Beasley and Jason Witten were the most targeted options for Prescott (75 and 69 respectively). Add on to the fact that Elliot had 32 receptions, you are looking at a small slot receiver, aging tight-end and running back as the primary targets – this kind of screams “dink and dunk.” Granted, the team’s number one wide-out, Dez Bryant, missed three games. As a result, his yards per game were second lowest in his career and his 2.8 YAC was the worst of his career.
Prescott was of course playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL last year and was playing alongside a running back who was pretty much unstoppable behind those same monsters. These behemoths probably looked more beastly than originally expected due to the level of defenses they saw for most of the year. The Cowboys played only two defenses in the top ten last year – losing both times to the Giants and edging out the Vikings by two points. The Cowboys offensive line, matched up SEVEN times against defenses that ranked in the bottom half of the NFL last season.
A positive note on Prescott (because I feel the need to prove that I am NOT, a Cowboy-hater) is that most of these games were relatively close. Of course that means “shame-shame” on the Cowboys defense, but three cheers for Prescott and the Cowboys offense who were able to maintain poise in late-game situations and either hold on to leads, or get a score in the closing minutes.
This season, Dak Prescott will be tested in the first four weeks of play as the Cowboys square off against the Giants, Broncos, Cardinals and Rams. All four of these teams are projected to have good defensive seasons, based on the talent and depth they all provide on that side of the ball. The Cowboys will need more than just “ball control” against these teams. All four of these teams have keys to eliminate that “short-pass-safe-haven” for Dak Prescott. The Rams have a talented linebacker rotation and the other teams have a play-maker at the safety spot, which is key against the tight end position.
Three other interesting match-ups this season that don’t include playing against tougher defenses are the contests against the Redskins, Packers and Falcons. These three teams have offenses that can score against anybody and in the case of the Packers and Skins, it’s all about revenge for last year. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are looking to run up the score on them if given the opportunity; the Redskins lost both times to the Cowboys – once by four points, the other time by five points. The Falcons return with high expectations with their high octane offense and will look to work the Cowboys defense heavily. These games will put Dak on the spot – Can he keep up with these high powered offenses? What happens if he’s down by 14 or 17 points early and the offense becomes one dimensional, forcing him to pass the ball?
Granted, the Cowboys defense needs to step up this year so it isn’t ALL on Dak Prescott, but the odds do not fall in his favor. He can –and very likely will — be the long-term answer for the Cowboys at quarterback. But to expect better production out of him in his second year is asking a lot.