Dak Prescott had a great season last year setting a career high in completions, yards, and touchdown passes. It couldn’t have happened at a more opportune time as he just finished out the final year of his rookie deal where he was one of the best bargains in sports. Prescott finished with 4,902 yards passing, which is just one measly yard short of the franchise record set by the great Tony Romo.
Unfortunately, those big passing numbers didn’t translate into a playoff season as the Cowboys fell short and finished the year with an 8-8 record. Coincidentally, Romo’s record-setting passing yards season didn’t work out any better.
Airing it out doesn’t always produce positive results as often times it’s an indication that a team is playing from behind a lot. Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston led the league with over 5,000 passing yards last season, but that didn’t prevent the Bucs from finishing the season with a losing record.
Similarly, the Cowboys found themselves in a bit more trouble when Prescott was slinging it a lot, yet they were undefeated in games where his pass attempts were more respectable.
In fact, if you throw out the meaningless Week 17 finale back in 2016 where Dak played just two series and had eight total passing attempts, the Cowboys are 19-1 when Prescott has 28 or fewer pass attempts. Less is more.
This isn’t breaking any new ground as numbers like that go with the territory for the most part. Low passing attempts are synonymous with teams who are ahead and resort to chewing away at the clock. So if the Cowboys weren’t winning when Dak was throwing, what was going on when they were coming up victorious on Sundays?
Well, Zeke was going on.
The Cowboys simply didn’t lose games last year whenever Ezekiel Elliott hit the benchmark of 110 yards. It should also be noted that each of those wins were double-digit victories where the offense put up at least 30 points. So, this fits that description of jumping ahead of teams and then putting them away with a punishing ground attack. In fact, there have been 21 games throughout Elliott’s career where he’s hit the 110 yard mark. The Cowboys are 19-2 in those games.
While the low passing attempts and larger rushing totals go together, that is not to say that the Cowboys offense centers solely around Elliott. Both the Dak and Zeke factor need to be working in unison for this offense to hum. In Prescott’s case, it’s not really about how much he’s throwing, but how efficient he’s playing. When he’s on the mark, the Cowboys are virtually unbeatable. In fact, if you took Prescott’s top 25 games in terms of quarterback rating, the Cowboys are an impressive 25-0.
And last season, whenever Prescott finished with a higher quarterback rating than the opposing quarterback, the Cowboys won. When he didn’t, they didn’t.
So, winning isn’t really a Zeke thing, it’s a Dak thing. Sure, Elliott’s an important player, but without the efficient play of their quarterback, the Cowboys offense can by stymied. That is not place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Prescott. There are several other factors that come into play. For example, the play of the defense matters. Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Mitchell Trubisky finished with better QB ratings than Dak in their games, but it’s not Prescott’s fault the defense had problems stopping them. And let’s not forget the hideous special teams play, including a plethora of missed field goals that contributed significantly to the Cowboys lack of success. All these things come into play.
These other factors haven’t stopped the Cowboys from continuing to bolster their passing attack. They’ve added the best wide receiver in this year’s draft class in CeeDee Lamb. They’ll have the pass-catching Blake Jarwin taking more reps at tight end with the departure of Jason Witten. And second-year running back Tony Pollard remains a dangerous weapon for the offense. The offense is stacked.
But all of these additions aren’t there just to light up the air with lucrative passing performances. It’s still about balance. The Cowboys offense wants to be able to attack defenses in different ways. Better weapons for Dak makes him a better player, and a better Dak means a better Cowboys football team.