All signs point to the return of Dak Prescott this week for the Dallas Cowboys. They face a Detroit Lions team that sits at 1-4 and is coming off their bye week. It should be a win for Dallas that takes away the bad taste of the loss to the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles. But should be and will are entirely different things. Just having Prescott back out on the field after missing five weeks to recover from his hand injury is not going to mean anything is automatic. It is time for the team to buckle down and have the offense start carrying their part of the load.
There is no question that the defense played a huge role in the 4-1 performance with Cooper Rush filling in for Prescott. We saw clearly that Rush was not able to perform to the level required of a starting NFL quarterback. His last two games both saw what can only be described as feeble performances throwing the ball. The team clearly needs Prescott back, and playing much better than he did in the season opener before he was hurt.
That is not to insult or deride Rush. No one should ever have mistaken him for someone who could seriously challenge for the starting job. That was all just clickbait. What he did do for the team is keep them in contention by being good enough to win four out of his five starts. When Prescott went down, we were just hoping the team could tread water and not fall into the cellar of the NFC East. With Rush behind center, they did more than that. While they are now in third place in the division, they have the fourth best record in the NFC, where most teams are fighting to just be .500. Frankly that is far better than we could have hoped. The team is set up to make a real charge. The loss to the Eagles was disappointing only in that a win would have had the Cowboys in direct contention for the number one seed.
One thing that many might express concern about is how Philadelphia was the first team to score more than 19 points on Dan Quinn’s defense. However, that is something that also was influenced by the poor performance Rush had. Thanks to his interceptions and overall ineffectiveness throwing the ball, the Eagles started three possessions in Dallas territory, all leading to points, and their last at their own 49. While they may not be as good as some paint them, Philadelphia does have some real offensive firepower. You can’t ask any defense to keep an opponent off the board when your offense keeps giving them the ball in such good position.
We assume that Prescott is going to cure some of those ills, and given his history, it seems a safe assumption. He should help with just moving the ball and the red zone woes the team has exhibited with Rush. That should also help the running game, which showed some real potential against the Eagles as Ezekiel Elliott had his best performance of the season, averaging 6.2 yards a carry and scoring a touchdown from 14 yards out. Teams are not going to be able to focus on stopping the run with better QB play. We can also hope for the receivers to be more productive. Rush threw too often into coverage and did not have as much of the pop on his balls that Prescott talked about last week. All that should mean the guys catching the ball will have more receptions in better position to do more after the catch.
Dallas survived the absence of their starting quarterback better than expected. Now they need to play to win. They have a difficult path to try and retain the NFC East crown and clearly will need some help. Getting to the playoffs is not nearly as challenging, but the team will not be content just trying for that. They will be looking to win as many games as they can. With a fairly easy schedule, they have an excellent chance to get to double digits in the win column. They just have to stack victories and see how everything else shakes out.
The leadership Prescott brings to the team should not be discounted, either. Expect them to play even harder with him at the helm. They will be looking to score on every series with him, and if they start getting some early leads, as they should in many games, the defense will be able to pin their ears back and come hard.
We might hope things were even better, but they could easily have been in much worse shape. Teams just don’t reel off four wins with a backup quarterback very often. Again, Rush deserves a good bit of credit for helping that happen. Now he should be handing the reins back this week to the guy who deserves them. It is time for this team to go out and take as many games as it can and let the seeding sort itself out along the way.