2021 was obviously a huge disappointment for the Dallas Cowboys. Not only did they have a loaded roster, but it was a season when there was no clear powerhouse team as the usual suspects failed to make it to the Super Bowl. Now the quest is to improve and try to exploit a season that is without Tom Brady and where the majority of the most heralded quarterbacks are in the AFC. However, one of the biggest issues from last season was the much discussed slump for Dak Prescott. While there are certainly many other things that the Cowboys must work on, the play of their starting quarterback will, as always, be a major factor in how much success they can see this fall.
No one wants to see Prescott play better more than he does. He will take the steps he believes will lead to his improvement. As a matter of fact, he already has in deciding not to participate in the Pro Bowl. As Todd Archer intimated, there is an important thing that does for Prescott.
With Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson added to NFC Pro Bowl roster today, I'm told Dak Prescott passed on playing to give himself some rest after a long year of rehab from the ankle, calf and other ailments that cropped up during the season.— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) January 31, 2022
The word to focus on is “rest.” NFL football is one of the most physically demanding and taxing sports in the world, based as it is on often violent collisions between generally large human beings. Training camp and preseason are a grind to prepare for the actual games, and then there is the now 17-game schedule that has become even more of a survival challenge. Even with the expanded schedule, though, pro football players have a longer time off than other pro sports, by a considerable margin. It is necessary because of that high level of exertion and contact.
To get an idea of that, imagine hitting a blocking sled or doing a 20-yard sprint before being tackled to the ground. Now imagine doing that up to 50 or more times over a three hour period. That is a very rough approximation of what players go through. They need the months before OTAs and minicamp, and then the extra weeks until they report for camp, to try and heal their bodies. There is also a mental component, as they get a break from meetings, film study, and digging into the playbook.
What is at times overlooked is that Prescott did not get that in 2021. He was rehabbing his severely injured ankle, a process that began shortly after the injury occurred and continued right up until camp started. Large physical and mental exertions were part of the daily routine for him, and he was reported to be pushing himself as hard as he could. In essence, he worked continuously from the start of camp in 2020 until the Wild Card Round loss this year. Add in the strain of not knowing with certainty how his ankle would hold up, and the mental side of things was just as taxing as the physical rehab.
He certainly got off to a very good start last fall, but then he suffered the freak calf injury on his last play before the bye week. Although he came back after taking the next game off, he never looked right the rest of the way unless he was up against a clearly outmatched opponent. It is certain that was another level of mental stress, plus whatever pain he was playing through.
All of that is something that can best be addressed by simply taking time off and resting. That is exactly what he is doing, and skipping the meaningless annual showcase for good players who did not make the championship game was a completely logical first step. Now he can heal and destress.
This is one reason to have confidence he will be back this fall looking much more like his best self. That alone is reason to think the Cowboys could be a more successful team than they just were. Other factors, such as having several teams on the schedule they should be able to handle and the way the quarterback talent in the league is now distributed should also help. There is a perceptible shift in the quarterback balance of power to the AFC, which means the path in the NFC may be easier than we have seen for a while.
One player cannot be the only reason a team wins or loses. However, no position is as impactful as quarterback. It isn’t just how good one is that matters, it is the relative strength at the position. If Prescott gets himself right in body and mind this offseason, we could see him being a clear advantage in perhaps 14 of the 17 games this year. That would be huge.