clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

BTB Mailbag: How will Dak Prescott perform in 2018 in a new offense with new faces?

New, comments

Will Dak bounce-back in 2018?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The success of the Dallas Cowboys in 2018 will largely depend on the success of third-year quarterback Dak Prescott. Following a historically impressive rookie campaign that earned him all kinds of honors, Prescott’s last eight games in 2017 have people wondering how he will bounce back this season.

The Cowboys have shown their willingness to build around their quarterback, as moves were made both on the staff and in personnel to create an offense that is designed to bring out the former Mississippi State star’s strengths. Out are Cowboys staples Dez Bryant (by the Cowboys choice) and Jason Witten (not by the Cowboys choice) and in are Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin.

Prescott’s outlook in 2018 is a big topic of discussion among Cowboys fans; some are all-in, some are on the fence. BTB was asked about how the RPO attack will affect Dak this upcoming season and what we expect him to improve on in his third season in the NFL.

Cody: With all the changes on offense with Jason Witten retiring Dez being let go, and with the offense looking to turn into a more run-pass option attack, how well do you think Dak will perform in Year 3? What do you see he improved on from year 1-2, and what do you think he improves on in year 3?’

First, the changes in the offensive personnel will take some to get used to. 88 and the GOAT are no longer wearing silver and blue, but there is new, young blood on the roster. Hurns had a breakout season with the Jaguars in 2015, as the former Miami Hurricanes wideout eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards to go along with 64 catches and ten touchdowns. Hurns has worked with his new quarterback and has come away impressed with no. 4. That’s a good sign.

Furthermore, the Cowboys also added Deonte Thompson in free agency. The speedy deep-threat and return man has history with new wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal and has a chance to make the 53-man squad with a productive month of August. On draft weekend, the Cowboys selected Michael Gallup in the third-round and traded for Tavon Austin. The former was rated as one of the better route-runners in the 2018 draft class, while the latter is a jack of all trades athlete that can help in the passing game, running game, and on special teams.

One of the biggest issues with last year’s offense — well, aside from the fact that arguably the best running back in football was suspended for six games and was in court battling for his eligibility to play during the first nine — was largely attributed to the lack of creative play-calling and the lack of separation by recievers from defensive backs.

The offense never seemed to get on a roll for an entire game. Dak and Dez were never able to completely get on the same page on the field. While Dez was a big name and will go down in Cowboys history, he was not the same kind of player the last few years. His production fell off and Dak, frankly, was a much better quarterback when he was not focused on getting 88 the ball.

So, without Dez on the outside or even Witten at tight end, Dak won’t have the preconceived notions of having to get either of them the ball; instead, he will have the freedom to go through his progressions and find the open man — something that he does when he is at his best.

Secondly, the RPO offense has a chance to take Dak’s — and, as a result, the Cowboys — to an entirely different level. We have seen that Prescott has the ability to hurt defenses with his legs when needed, even rushing for more touchdowns than Cam Newton since the 2016 Rookie of the Year entered the league.

The run-pass option is a scheme that gives the quarterback all of the power and puts tons of stress on the defense. If the focus is to stop the run game, the quarterback can pull the ball out and make a pass to an open receiver once the defender that is being read steps up. If the defender stays back to defend the pass, the quarterback simply hands the ball off and lets his running back eat.

Former Penn State offensive coordinator and newly-hired Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead revolutionized this kind of offense on the collegiate level en route to winning numerous ‘Offensive Coordinator of the Year’ honors during his two seasons with the Nittany Lions. Bruce Feldman wrote a detailed piece on how the offense that took the college football world by storm was created. One of Moorhead’s longtime assistants, Andrew Breiner, summarized the scheme.

It’s a pretty simplistic scheme. We have our six in the box (five O-Linemen and the tight end) are gonna block your six and then we’re going to tag a run-pass option to it, so if you’re trying to add the seventh or eighth defender to the box, we’re essentially going to make you wrong with a throw. And, because we have run it so much our kids are really confident in it.

Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley excelled in this offense for Penn State. We have also seen Doug Pederson and the Eagles implement RPO-schemes in their own offense on their way to winning the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy with Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, and their running back by committee. Here is a good video breaking down how the Eagles were so successful:

Now, picture that kind of offense with Dak, Zeke, and Tavon Austin in the backfield? Talk about a scary proposition for opposing defensive coordinators to deal with. The goal is to stop Zeke, but what if Dak gets the ball to Austin in the open field? What if Dak pulls it and takes off for a first down on his own? What if Dak sees the linebacker step up and he sees Cole Beasley open in the middle?

So. Many. Possibilities.

It remains to be seen on how much Linehan and Garrett plan to implement the RPO in 2018 and moving forward, but there is no doubt in my mind that this kind of offense would not only improve Dak’s game, but also arguably make the Cowboys one of the most dangerous offenses in football.

Dak needs to improve on limiting his turnovers, like he did in his rookie season, but also have the willingness to take more opportunities down the field and in the middle of the field. That can be a little contradicting, but finding an equal balance would be extremely ideal.

It’s not like Dak can’t make plays down the field, either.

I also see Dak improving his footwork this offseason, something that he explained that he is focused on working on back in May.

“I mean, kind of the footwork. Footwork in the pocket. The subtle movement,” Prescott said when asked what he is working on during OTAs. “Being an athlete I guess when I take a move sometimes it’s bigger than I necessarily need to. You watch guys that have been in this league awhile, (New England Patriots quarterback Tom) Brady is the best example. Sometimes he barely moves, and the defensive end or somebody flies by him. Being the athlete I am sometimes it’s just toning that down and not necessarily moving a full yard, or it’s just barely scooting up here and there but keeping my feet in the same position. Footwork is definitely something I’m trying to get better at.”

To summarize: it’s easy to focus on his last eight games, but Dak’s first 24 contests showed how good he can be. If the Cowboys are truly committed to building this offense around the young Pro Bowl quarterback as the offseason moves seem to suggest, expect him to have a big bounce-back season. Bucky Brooks seems to agree, too.

With the quarterback intent on getting the ball to the first receiver to come open -- instead of force-feeding it to Bryant -- the Dallas’ offense could look like a ball-movement NBA squad with No.4 playing point guard. Considering the Golden State Warriors’ success with that approach, the Cowboys could see Prescott channel his inner Steph Curry while directing a retooled offense in 2018.

With an offense that will give him the freedom to spread the ball around and bring out his strengths, an offseason to improve on what he struggled with in 2018, and a season of Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield and a healthyTyron Smith anchoring the offensive line, Dak has chance to lead the Cowboys back to the postseason this January.