Last week was a debut for the ages for Dallas Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. And this week was even more of the same, which seemed all but impossible given how high he set the bar. But he didn’t just clear the bar, he soared over it, leading the Cowboys to six consecutive scores in their rather impressive 41-14 preseason victory over the Miami Dolphins. Even since the end of the Great Debacle of 2015, the NFL cognoscenti have opined that the Cowboys would surely go out and get a veteran quarterback to backup Tony Romo. But those arguments are holding water about like a screen door right now.
Let’s look at some of the reasons and objections that have been advanced, and how Prescott’s phenomenal start has affected them.
He needs to show consistency.
For the second week in a row, Prescott is the highest-rated passer in the league. And the results of the games today don’t matter, because no one can have a higher rating than his perfect 158.3. He still has to avoid falling off a cliff, but he certainly didn’t in game two. Certainly he cannot stay at such a high level (which is exactly what everyone said about what they expected from game one to game two), but with the limited sample size, he has been the very exemplar of consistency. There is still a lot of work for him to do in the last two preseason games, but there is no denying what he has done so far.
It must be mentioned that he made his first real mistake of the year with the interception that was negated by a penalty. But that is the only real black mark for him in two games. Even if that turnover had not been cancelled out, we would still be raving about how well he played otherwise.
One other measure of consistency: The team scored on every drive with him in as quarterback against the Dolphins, for 34 points. You cannot ask for more than that.
He hasn’t faced any game planning against him or anything other than a vanilla defense.
As our old friend KD Drummond observed about exactly this point, he has still done EVERYTHING that has been asked of him - and done it extremely well. He is doing all the basics, and that is what you build the more complex things on. That base looks extremely solid for him.
And this is what happened to Brandon Weeden last season. His production declined steadily against the competition as they refined their defensive game plans. Weeden also faced the problem of a steadily declining group of talent around him, with fewer offensive weapons and the bizarre meltdown of Joseph Randle over the weeks he struggled. Additionally, as our own Joey Ickes has pointed out, he knows one thing already: If teams leave Dez Bryant with single coverage, you feed him the ball. If they don’t, Prescott seems to have little trouble finding the open man. Against Miami, he also completed passes to Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Geoff Swaim, Andy Jones, and others. And he did not have Jason Witten for most of his time on the field.
We will still have to see what happens when he eventually has to face an NFL defense in a regular season game. But how much are you willing to bet that he will suddenly be rendered ineffective? I’ll be glad to take the other side of that wager.
We have seen him mostly play with the starters. He has to show he can also perform with the backups.
Well, we saw that, and he kept right on putting points on the board, but there is a problem with that whole argument. It is just stupid.
If (the heavens forbid) Prescott has to step in for Romo, the Cowboys are not going to pull the rest of the starters and send the second team out with him. The backup’s job is to be the replacement for the first team quarterback. Having better chemistry with the starters is a plus, not some kind of knock against him. You want that QB2 to be able to find Bryant and Beasley and the rest of the ones.
With the Dallas offensive line, he hasn’t seen much pressure.
Miami boasts one of the most well-regarded defensive lines in the NFL, and they failed to get to Prescott. If they didn’t, who exactly is going to? Certainly he would see more pressure at some point than he has to date if he sees extended regular season action. But part of the reason he has not seen so much pressure is that he seems to handle the pocket very well. The concerns about his ability to play under center have largely disappeared as he has looked quite comfortable when doing that. And he knows how to use his mobility while playing within the Dallas system, demonstrated again against Miami on the 20-yard touchdown run. He kept his eyes downfield until he committed to using his legs, and had a surprisingly easy path to the end zone. A lot of quarterbacks with a background of running the ball a lot in college have done poorly in the NFL because they did not have good passing skills. But Prescott has shown he can make all the throws, whether for five yards or fifty. That makes his running ability an even more potent threat, since defenses cannot sell out to stop him on the ground. And he has been very judicious in relying on his legs.
His mobility makes it harder to get pressure on him. Add in the prowess of the Cowboys O line, and he simply is not going to face as much pressure as many quarterbacks in the league. He is both the recipient of excellent protection and the partial reason for it.
A veteran has more poise and understanding of the game.
Based on what, exactly? That didn’t help Matt Cassel. All the experience in the world means very, very little if you can’t make the throws. And as mentioned, Prescott can make all the throws. Short dump-offs, deep bombs, back-shoulder, crossing patterns, screens - they are all in his tool bag. As for poise and presence, Prescott has displayed those to an amazing degree. He is being cited as a leader on the field by no less than Dez Bryant. Intangibles are a real strength for him, which is hardly something you can say about most of the veteran backups out there.
More importantly, just which veteran quarterback out there who is not a starter would be preferable to Prescott? Anyone who is going to be waived when cut-downs come is almost certainly not going to look any better. And good luck on trading for one. Even if you use Ron Leary or La’el Collins as trade bait, throw in Darren McFadden, and add the 2017 pick of your choice, who could you get? And would he be remotely worth that price? Right now, the only backup that looks to even be on the same level as Prescott is Jimmy Garoppolo of the New England Patriots, and with Tom Brady suspended and now having cut his hand in a rather bizarre accident, they are not going to part with him for just about anything. Backup quarterbacks by definition kinda suck. Prescott does not. Based on the (admittedly limited) evidence to date, he may be the most capable backup in the NFL. That may change in the next two preseason games, but no one has done as good a job as he has - including all the starters that have seen action so far.
The only way a veteran quarterback would still be something of value for Dallas would be if Prescott has a complete meltdown, or if he gets hurt. The first just flies in the face of everything he has shown us so far, and the second we must hope does not occur. But for now, the whole concept of getting a veteran QB should be place on a back burner - one way, way in back. Prescott is still developing right in front of us, and the more reps he gets, the better. The Cowboys don’t know for sure he is the backup for 2016 - but it is looking more and more like it with every snap he takes.