Former Dallas Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells once said, “It’s a very easy thing to say, ‘Go get a backup quarterback.’ Now tell me where to get them. You just can’t dial them up.”
For years, the Cowboys struggled to find a backup much like Parcells did. The team went through the likes of Matt Cassel, Kellen Moore, and Cooper Rush, over the course of five years. Yeah, not great. Dallas decided not to invest virtually anything in the backup quarterback spot, all but assuring their season would be over if the starter went down. For proof, go back and watch some games from the 2015 season, one many Cowboys fans have blocked out of their minds.
Last May, something changed. The new Dallas coaching staff went out and did the very thing Parcells stated was so hard to do, bringing in an experienced, capable, backup quarterback. As we all know, their choice was the Katy, Texas native, Andy Dalton.
The move had a positive reaction throughout the league, and many believed this was another sign of the change in philosophy in Dallas. Nonetheless, with the “iron man”, Dak Prescott, who had started 64-consecutive games coming into the season, in front of him, little thought was given about what Dalton would look like if he had to play in any meaningful action.
As we saw on Sunday, the NFL is a game of breaks, both literally and figuratively. In one second the entire trajectory of a team’s season can change. That bad break happened to the Cowboys last weekend.
Well, here we are. Prescott is about to miss game action for the first time in his five-year NFL career, and the Cowboys are about to enter new territory as a franchise.
As sad as it is, there is no returning for Prescott this season. If everything goes as perfect as possible, he will be out four to six months and ready for OTAs in the spring. The reins have been handed over to the veteran Dalton, and the hopes and aspirations of returning to the postseason have gone down the drain for many. But wait, before you give up all hope, let’s dive a little deeper into who Andy Dalton is.
When you think of Dalton, the first thing many people conjure up in their mind is his lack of playoff success. It’s true, Dalton has never won a playoff game. In fact, he’s 0-4 in his career. He’s thrown six interceptions in those four games, and he’s had an average quarterback rating of 57.8.
The playoff success is certainly not there, but Dalton led his team to a winning record in his first five years as a starter in the NFL. Just two years ago, in 2018, Pro Football Focus graded Dalton as the 12th best quarterback in the NFL? Higher than the likes of Carson Wentz, Ben Roethlisberger and Kirk Cousins.
Let’s look more into that 2018 season. Despite playing on a bad Cincinnati Bengals team, coached by the always mediocre Marvin Lewis, Dalton posted a 5-6 record through the team’s first 11 games. The signal-caller broke his thumb that 11th game of the season, forcing him to miss the rest of the year, but the performance he put up on the field in those games was very solid.
Dalton threw for 2,566 yards, 21 touchdowns, and had a QBR of about 90. PFF graded Dalton’s 2018 season as the best of his career, giving him a 81.9 offensive grade on the season. For reference, that’s a similar grade to what Deshaun Watson and Kyler Murray have through five games of the 2020 season. Dalton did this despite being sacked 21 times, and playing behind the ninth-worst pass blocking offensive line in football, according to PFF.
You’d think being under pressure with a poor offensive line would cause the quarterback to struggle, but Dalton made teams pay when they blitzed him in 2018. He had a PFF grade of 91.6 when blitzed, throwing seven touchdowns and recording a passer rating of 110.6.
To be fair, if we’re going to bring up his solid 2018 as a positive, we have to bring up his dreadful 2019 season. Dalton was very poor last season, but you have to take into account what was around him. He was without his top target, Pro Bowler,A.J. Green, for the entire season, had lost virtually all the talent on the offensive line, and had a first-year head coach and offensive coordinator.
Andy Dalton's accuracy in 2019.— QB Data Mine (@QBDataMine) April 20, 2020
Short - 87.2% (28th out of 29 quarterbacks)
Underneath - 75.3% (26th)
Intermediate - 56.3% (22nd)
Deep - 37.5% (23rd)
Overall - 54.1% (25th) pic.twitter.com/430jpC5HcT
Now that we’ve got a little background of what Dalton has looked like in recent memory, let’s see what his outlook is this season. In Dallas, things will be completely different than what they were for Dalton in his last game action in 2019. He’ll have so much more talent on offense than he did with the Bengals, and instead of being without his only Pro Bowl target, he’ll have three Pro Bowl caliber receivers and an All-Pro running back to help him out.
As far as offenses are concerned, the Dallas offense has to be one of the most friendly to equipping a backup quarterback in the NFL. As far as backup quarterbacks are concerned, it’s hard to find one better than Dalton in the league. The Red Rifle has more wins and has made the postseason more than any backup in the league not named Joe Flacco.
When he got in his first real game action as a Cowboy last Sunday, Dalton showed plenty of positives. He was mobile enough to escape pressure caused by the injury-riddled Dallas offensive line, and he also completed one of the most improbable plays you will see this season to set up a win.
How improbable was the throw-catch combo by Andy Dalton and Michael Gallup on the winning drive for the Cowboys Sunday? On the ball that traveled 48.3 yards in the air, Gallup had just 0.3 yards of separation 0.3 yards from the sideline for a completion probability of 15.7%. pic.twitter.com/ZRX7a2OyBM— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) October 13, 2020
Andy Dalton will never be on the level of Dak Prescott. But, he is a starting-caliber quarterback who was playing the role of a backup to start the season.
Sure, the Cowboys’ Super Bowl chances are now even longer, but their chances of making the playoffs are still here. You can make a legitimate argument Dalton is the best quarterback in the NFC East at the current moment. All it takes is getting into the party that is the NFL postseason and anything can happen. Just ask the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles.
Let’s give the Red Rifle a chance and see what happens, maybe he’ll just surprise us.