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The Dak Factor is the single most influential determinant in the Cowboys success

Fingers are pointing all over the place, but the lack of success in 2017 isn’t that hard to figure out.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Fire Jason Garrett!

Rod Marinelli’s scheme is outdated and Scott Linehan is too predictable!

Release Dez Bryant!

It’s interesting how momentum builds to kick certain players/coaches to the curb, especially when those same individuals are not that far removed from success. Recency bias holds strong. It always has and always will. But let’s face it, there have been so many face-palming moments this season and it doesn’t sit well with us fans. Moments like the Ryan Switzer fumble or the inability to block Adrian Clayborn in the Atlanta game all resonate loudly with us. Plus, we might not ever forget the latest one where the Cowboys had first-and-goal at the three-yard line, but never attempted to run it in with Ezekiel Elliott.

Whenever I take time to reflect on the good and the bad of any season, I always like to dissect every area to get a good feel of what’s really going on with this organization. That will happen once again this offseason. But while fans are already scrambling for answers, we might as well address the low-hanging fruit for the Cowboys disappointing season.

The Dak Factor

Last year, the Cowboys rookie quarterback blew us away in how poised he was in the pocket as he made play after play and hardly ever turned the ball over. He threw 23 touchdowns and only had four interceptions. We listened to those around us say how he had the best rookie performance of any quarterback in NFL history. The Cowboys tied a franchise best record of 13-3.

This season, Prescott has struggled. He has thrown 21 touchdowns, but already has 14 interceptions on the year. The Cowboys are hovering around .500 now.

Is it fair to put all the blame on Prescott? Absolutely not. But he’s the quarterback and the quarterback is the single most influential player on the field in the game of football. That is why they get $20+ million per year and is why teams will give up multiple first-round picks to move up to get a good one. And if you look around the league, you’ll find teams with quarterbacks playing well preparing for their 2017 playoff run. The Green Bay Packers are either a good team or a bad team depending on whether Aaron Rodgers is behind center. Alex Smith had the Kansas City Chiefs on a roll early in the season with a 5-0 start and putting up 40+ points on their opponents, but as soon as he started throwing picks, the team started having problems. The Chiefs are now 9-6 despite a 5-0 start. Quarterbacks are going to have rocky moments, but good coaches can figure out ways to get around that, right?

Not really.

When you look at the list of the Coach of the Year recipients over the last several years, it is interesting to see how “great” they coached when their quarterback played well and how “terrible” they coached when their quarterback played poorly. Carolina’s Ron Rivera has won the award twice. He’s also followed up each of those seasons with losing seasons. Why is that? Easy answer - Cam Newton. When Newton plays well, the Panthers win. When he doesn’t - they lose. The same can be said with Bruce Arians (who has also won the award twice) and Carson Palmer/Andrew Luck. Cowboys coach, Jason Garrett falls into this line of logic perfectly. The success of the last four seasons for Dallas has a very strong correlation to the level of play of their quarterback.

  • 2014 - Tony Romo has one of the best years of his career = 12 wins, playoffs
  • 2015 - Romo gets hurt, garbage replacement = 4 wins
  • 2016 - Dak has historic rookie season = 13 wins, playoffs
  • 2017 - Dak regresses = mediocre season

The Cowboys had a lot of problems this season. Ezekiel Elliott missed six games from a suspension and that definitely hurts. Sean Lee has missed games with an hamstring injury and his absence has been felt. And not having Tyron Smith at left tackle is no fun as the team hasn’t been able to find a way to win when he’s not on the field.

But even despite all these problems, the Cowboys still fight. Sometimes they overcome it, other times they do not.

Last year, there was only one game where Prescott threw multiple interceptions. The Cowboys lost that game. This season, he has thrown multiple interceptions five times and the Cowboys have lost every one of them except for the Oakland Raiders game a week ago, but we all know how close they were to losing that one. During the Cowboys three-game losing skid in November, Prescott had five picks and no touchdowns. Against the Seattle Seahawks where the Cowboys defense only allowed 136 total yards - they still lost. Prescott’s stat line - 0 TDs, 2 INTs.

The Cowboys have a lot to clean up over the offseason. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the future, but whether or not Dak Prescott bounces back is going to be the most critical element in whether the Cowboys experience success going forward.

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