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Dak Prescott struggling in Dallas, but here are nine things to help him get back on track

The Cowboys quarterback is not playing good football right now, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There is no secret that the Dallas Cowboys offense is struggling right now. They are second to last with 13.7 points per game. Only the Arizona Cardinals are worse. In 2015, when the team has lost Tony Romo, the offense also ranked second to last. With putrid quarterback play, the team only managed 17.2 points a game. That’s right, the 2015 offense was putting up more points than this 2018 version. That’s nauseating.

When you look at things closely, there are a lot of different factors that play a part. For example, against the Seahawks, the offense had three different drives cut short because of a turnover. In the first quarter, Michael Gallup appeared to make a nice catch at midfield when Tre Flowers made a great play on the ball, poking it to Earl Thomas. Instead of 1st and 10 at midfield, Seattle got the ball. In the fourth quarter, Thomas was the recipient of another deflected ball for an interception. Another scoring drive thwarted. Then there was that great run by Ezekiel Elliott that would have been even greater if he didn’t get the ball stripped away from behind. And that doesn’t even take into account the touchdown that wasn’t, all because Zeke lost track of where he was on the field and stepped out of bounds. All of these moments hurt the Cowboys ability to score points.

But scoring points has been a problem for the Cowboys dating back to the second half of last season. In five of the Cowboys final eight games last year, the Cowboys offense scored 12 points or less. In the quest to figure what the root cause is, one name keeps resurfacing... Dak Prescott. And for good reason.

It’s a really hard pill to swallow to accept that Prescott could be the problem. Could he really be that bad after a record-breaking rookie season?

Yes. And there could be a perfectly good explanation for it.

Recently, Dalton Miller, who co-hosts Talkin Cowboys with our own Connor Livesay and Cole Patterson, proposed the question - What does Dak do well? What strengths does he have that makes him a good quarterback.

That got me thinking, not just about what he does well, but also all the things he’s had a history of not doing well.

I remembered a couple years ago when we were optimistic about the Cowboys success despite Tony Romo suffering a preseason injury. One of the reasons was that the Cowboys offense was perfect for a Dak Prescott type of quarterback. And what is that exactly? His draft profile reveals something very interesting. After a great junior season, some were throwing his name out for Heisman consideration.


When pocket is clean, can deliver accurate strikes around the field. Played with improved vision and care for football this season and eliminated many of the ill-­fated throws that turned into interceptions.

But a less than stellar senior season caused Dak to drop to the fourth round of the draft.


Pocket poise has been compromised. Hyper­ aware of pressure around him and lacks awareness to slide and find temporary shelter to make throw. Concern over pressure too often trumps ability to get through progressions. Must speed up the pace of his reads.

It was almost like his pro career is mirroring his college career. He was great with protection, but he struggles under duress. Nobody gave this much thought when the Cowboys offensive line was playing at a high level as Dak had all the time he needed to do the things he was good at.

But suddenly over the last half of 2017 and into this year, the offensive line has been compromised and the struggling Dak has surfaced. Now, it’s early in his career and there is nothing that says he can’t get it together and be a quarterback that doesn’t need everything to be in place in order to be successful. But it’s also not inconceivable that Prescott is only good with a strong offensive line. For the sake of this article, I’m not interested in projecting the success of Mr. Prescott. Instead, I want to focus on what made the Cowboys so good under Prescott. Looking through some tape of the 2016 season, I started jotting down some of the things that were working well for Dak and this offense during that 13-3 season. Here are nine things that the Cowboys can do to help fix Dak:

1. Better pass protection

Dak Prescott is a better quarterback when he can step up in the pocket. But who isn’t? Not having All-Pro center Travis Frederick around is a tough loss and backup Joe Looney and rookie left guard Connor Williams are going to have some struggles at times. Surprisingly, Looney is holding up just fine as he seldom allows any pressures.

While the interior offensive line isn’t playing bad, the edges aren’t holding up as well as expected. At times, both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins have had problems. The Cowboys have to get better at protecting Prescott if their quarterback is to have a shot. The good news is - this group can play better.

2. Short drop and quick release

One way to circumvent poor pass protection is to get the ball out of Dak’s hands quickly. Prescott does a good job when he’s in a rhythm and can deliver a strike if his first read has separation out of his break. When he has a predetermined receiver in mind and that receiver is open, this usually results in a positive play. The Cowboys have ran several slant routes for positive yards using this approach. Cole Beasley is the best at this, but Deonte Thompson, Allen Hurns, and rookie Michael Gallup have all been successful on these types of plays.

3. Throw on first down

The Cowboys are a run first team, but they’ve had a lot of success when they’ve been a “throw first” team. Defenses devote so much attention in stopping Ezekiel Elliott so catch them unprepared on early downs. When you look at the team’s successful drives under Prescott, a lot of them start through the air. That’s not to say the offense can’t dish out a heavy dose of Zeke, but mixing in some first down runs is a way to keep the defense guessing.

4. More play action

Having the threat of Ezekiel Elliott is a nice asset to have, but to take full advantage of what Zeke can do, the Cowboys have to run more fakes.

It’s not just that the Cowboys emerged victorious in Week 2 when they ran more play-action, but look how contrasting those percentages are. Get those linebackers going the wrong direction and free up some clean passing lanes over the middle of the field.

5. Force the ball deep

Normally I wouldn’t advocate for forcing anything, but changes need to be made. The Cowboys must throw the ball downfield more. There are no if, and’s, and buts about it. Prescott isn’t taking many shots down the field and something needs to change. Brice Butler is back on the team and maybe he can help in this department. The Cowboys had a lot of success in 2016 with big plays and there were many times the receiver was covered. Butler demonstrated the ability to win jump balls so it doesn’t require a free receiver wide open down the sideline. Not only that, but it forces the defense to make a play and sometimes that play is pass interference.

Dak has to look deep at times and give his receivers a chance to make a play. Big plays are needed so the Cowboys aren’t confined to being efficient on third down, which they are clearly not this season.

6. Throw on the run

Prescott shredded defenses while throwing on the run in 2016. He operates best when he doesn’t feel those footsteps sneaking up on him, so escaping out of the pocket is one way to alleviate that pressure. Some of his best throws have occurred while scrambling out of the pocket. He feels comfortable on the run, so if things start to break down, Dak needs to move around.

7. Take off running

Prescott doesn’t like pressure so when the pocket starts to collapse, he needs to get the big wheels moving. Dak is big quarterback and shows good sense in finishing runs where he’s not a sitting duck out there. You don’t want your quarterback running excessively, but Dak is a mobile quarterback and he’s capable of doing damage with his legs.

8. Designed screens for Zeke

Speaking of using all your weapons, Elliott is very dangerous on designed screens. While Prescott targeted Zeke eight times against Seattle, he only had three catches for 11 yards. Some of these throws were last resort dump offs or plays where Zeke was covered and unable to get going in space. This isn’t giving Elliott much of a chance to make a play. Instead, they need more plays like this one:

9. Use Tavon more

Whether it’s a jet sweep, reverse, or a shovel passes, every time Tavon Austin touches the ball good things happen. The acquisition of Austin added a new wrinkle to what the Cowboys could do on offense, but the onus is on the coaching staff to use him. Defenses haven’t been overly concerned with him whenever he scats across the backfield and a big reason for that is the attention they must give to no. 21. That leaves Austin to run around freely and use his speed to escape defenders, which so far has resulted in big gains.

Austin fits perfectly within the offense, but he’s just not being utilized enough. More touches for Austin will eventually force defenses to lean his way and that not only open things up for Prescott, but could help out Elliott as well.

It’s great if your team has a playmaking quarterback that can carry the team on his shoulders. That does not appear to be what the Cowboys have in Prescott. Does that mean he can’t get there? Certainly not, but a lot of the evidence we have thus far indicates he needs great protection to be a great quarterback. While this might be a little disheartening, it doesn’t mean the Cowboys can’t be a really good team with Dak at the helm. They just have to fix some things in order to make it happen. They’ve done it once, they can do it again.

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