The Dallas Cowboys just completed a remarkable, and fun, mid-season turnaround that saw them sweep the Philadelphia Eagles, give the New Orleans Saints one of their only two legitimate losses, and Amari Cooper burst onto the scene as a bona fide weapon for this offense.
Unfortunately, the loss to the Los Angeles Rams has caused some of the passionate Dallas Cowboys fan base to lose sight of what this team accomplished in 2018. Sure, it is frustrating that the Divisional Round has been this franchise’s ceiling for over two decades.; however, the Cowboys won eight of their last nine games to win both the NFC East and the Wild Card playoff game after beginning the season with a 3-5 record. Ezekiel Elliott once again led the league in rushing, the defense took a big step under the guidance of Kris Richard, and the trade for Amari Cooper proved to be a huge move for both the immediate and long-term future of America’s Team.
Perhaps one of the biggest developments over the second half of the NFL season was that the Cowboys received the answer that they were looking for when they pulled the trigger and made the move for Cooper: Dak Prescott is the franchise quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.
It is well-documented just how historic and impressive Dak Prescott’s rookie season in the NFL was. Between leading Dallas to 13 wins after Tony Romo went down in the preseason to accomplishing big victories in Pittsburgh over the Steelers and at Lambeau Field versus the Packers, and going toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers in his first ever playoff appearance, Prescott began his professional career on fire. Things began to trend downwards in his second season. Prescott began the season, aside from the total disaster against the Broncos, very well. In fact, Dak was putting up as good as numbers as anybody during the first half of the 2017 season.
Then, the Ezekiel Elliott suspension came down. Roger Goodell and the NFL suspended Elliott for six games in the 2017 season, despite some heavy efforts from Zeke and Jerry Jones to fight it off. At the same time, Tyron Smith was battling injuries and the offensive line had its struggles — starting with the Atlanta game in which Adrian Clayborn introduced himself to the world with six sacks in one game and effectively ending Chaz Green’s career in Dallas. Everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. As a result, Prescott predictably struggled.
Fast forward to this season. The offense opened the year in mediocre fashion — failing to score against the Panthers until the fourth quarter. The passing game looked out of sorts, Zeke struggled to get things going, and the play-calling was heavily scrutinized. The Cowboys dropped a game to Washington, thanks in part to a phantom snap infraction call, and it was clear that things needed to change with the offense.
Dallas decided to make two big moves during the following off week: first, the Cowboys parted ways with its 2019 first-round draft pick for a young Pro Bowl-caliber wideout. Then, Marc Colombo replaced Paul Alexander as the coach of the offensive line. Both of these moves proved to be huge for the offense and Dak Prescott, as Cooper went on to have an incredible season in silver and blue and the offensive line played better for the most part.
The Cowboys dropped its first game following the moves, but then the team found its groove en route to winning all but one game to close the regular season. The offense went from near the very bottom of the league in third down conversions to the best, Michael Gallup developed nicely as an option opposite of Cooper, and Prescott found himself a go-to weapon that he hadn’t had. The Cowboys did get blanked in Indianapolis, but the team showed signs of life on the offensive side of the ball for the most part. Was it elite? No. That’s why Scott Linehan is not back. But, Prescott looked much more comfortable during the last ten games of the season.
Dak Prescott in his final 15 games of the 2018 season and playoffs:— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) January 13, 2019
Comp % - 68.4%
Passing Yards - 3,879
Yards/Attempt - 7.7
Passing TDs - 22
Interceptions - 7
Passer Rating - 100
Rushing Yards - 252
Rushing TDs - 8
Prescott’s stretch from the second half of the 2017 season until the move for Amari Cooper has dampened some perceptions of Dak Prescott, but the reality is that Prescott has been a very solid signal caller for the Cowboys — especially for someone that just completed his third season in the league.
One of the biggest criticisms of Prescott’s game is his trouble with accuracy. To a certain degree, that is fair. Prescott does miss some throws and have some plays that he would like back, but that can be said for every quarterback — albeit some more than others. Despite some of the overboard narratives, Prescott’s completion percentage stacks up pretty well compared to the NFL average.
Adjust your priors. In green, you have Dak's career completion percentage by depth of target. In gold, you have the league average trendline. pic.twitter.com/IZ8PNbEV6E— Cowboys Stats & Graphics (@CowboysStats) January 12, 2019
Dak’s QBR is also pretty impressive:
This is Dak's 8-game rolling QBR average. He's back. He's all the way back. We were probably not going to win the Super Bowl. But we gained invaluable confidence in a franchise quarterback. That was the biggest takeaway of the 2018 season, for me. pic.twitter.com/ge4Bts1IW9— Cowboys Stats & Graphics (@CowboysStats) January 13, 2019
Prescott played with much more poise after the addition of Cooper and the growth of Gallup. He still had some trouble making quick decisions and trusting his ability to get out of trouble a little too much, but Prescott had found the confidence he had during the pre-Zeke suspension. Some of these throws are incredible and demonstrate just how Prescott is growing and becoming a better player.
This isn't the Giants Stadium throw from a few weeks back but it is a beauty. pic.twitter.com/UtIGu1PT0f— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) January 15, 2019
This was one of Dak Prescott's best throws of the year. On 3rd and 14, he finds Noah Brown at the sticks. pic.twitter.com/cCBn7DeK78— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) January 15, 2019
Is Prescott a finished product? No. He is not the gunslinger that Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers are and does not have the first-round draft pick status that Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, and Mitchell Tribusky have; however, Prescott is a player that has shown that he knows how to put his team in position to get victories more often than not. Nobody has more game-winning drives than Prescott since the Cowboys quarterback entered the league.
Furthermore, it is no secret that the players in the locker room love Prescott. They go to battle for him and celebrate when he makes plays such as his huge third-and-14 conversion against the Seahawks to clinch his first career playoff win. That’s huge when talking about the quarterback of your franchise.
The Dallas Cowboys failed to reach the NFC Championship this season, but they did discover that Dak Prescott is the franchise quarterback of America’s Team. Now, let’s hope the offensive coordinator hire continues to develop Prescott and bring the best out of number 4.