Football games aren’t won on paper, and the Cowboys learned that all too well this past season. Technically the league’s number one offense, the Cowboys played anything but winning offense at time in the second half of the regular season and ensuing home playoff loss.
Now in the offseason, they’ve jettisoned some players like Amari Cooper, Cedrick Wilson, Connor Williams, and La’el Collins. The Cowboys have clear plans to address these losses at receiver and offensive line in the draft, if their pre-draft visitors are any indication.
Both positions offer intriguing options with the 24th overall pick, but also prospects with starting potential in the second round where Dallas picks 56th overall. The Cowboys have flexibility in the short-term with many parts of their offense including Kellen Moore and Mike McCarthy, But Dak Prescott is firmly in place as the franchise quarterback and a look at his career game logs may help Dallas decide where their first-round pick should go.
The Cowboys have lost 8 of the 10 games where Dak Prescott was sacked the most, with their top receiver noticeably absent in all of them.
It was a 3-4 start to the 2018 season that prompted the Cowboys to trade for Amari Cooper. Prescott was sacked 23 times to start this season, throwing eight touchdowns to four interceptions and going for less than 200 yards four times.
Prescott would throw just four interceptions in the following nine games with Cooper, with games of 455 and 387 yards. Cooper’s inconsistences staying on the field and being a top receiver when he was is what ultimately led to his trade this offseason.
A closer look at the games where Prescott faced the most pressure is a revealing list for Cooper. In his fifth game with the team, Cooper put up eight catches for just 76 yards. The Cowboys somehow won at the Saints 13-10, despite Prescott being sacked seven times.
This was the second highest sack total in Prescott’s career, and we probably don’t need to remind fans of the eight sack game in Atlanta. His third highest total was the season-opening loss at Carolina in 2018, where the Cowboys began the season with Terrance Williams and Deonte Thompson as starting receivers.
Three games in Prescott’s career are tied with five sacks, all three losses and one coming this season. The Cowboys held the Chiefs to 19 points but failed to find the end zone without Cooper, seeing CeeDee Lamb go for just three catches and 14 yards.
The trio of Cooper, Lamb, and Michael Gallup only played in seven games this season. Unsurprisingly, Prescott didn’t take a sack more than once in any of these games until the final five weeks of the regular season. He overcame a combined seven sacks to Washington in a pair of games the Cowboys won by a total score of 83-34, and three sacks at the Giants to win 21-6.
There are plenty more analytics that point to a dominant passing game being a great fixer for any woes a team faces. The Cowboys have seen Dak Prescott behind a dominant offensive line with talent at receiver, a similar line with lesser receivers, and neither of these things at points this past season.
Passing on the offensive line in the first round would be an extended vote of confidence in Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, Terence Steele, and possibly Tyler Biadasz as starters the Cowboys can trust to cover up their need at left guard. The Cowboys have fallen into this trap before, waiting too long to realize a position of need is holding them back and failing to adjust.
Mark Lane and I discussed this when looking at what the rest of the offseason could look like for the Cowboys on Hidden Yardage. Subscribe to the Blogging the Boys podcast network to catch new episodes! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
The quickest way the Cowboys can adjust to the loss of Cooper and Wilson is to infuse more talent at receiver. The numbers point to Prescott being able to get the ball out of his hands when his best receivers are on the field. Many of the receiver prospects Dallas has brought in fit the mold as shifty, athletic pass catchers that can win off the line.
The drop off from names like Chris Olave, Treylon Burks, and Drake London to Skyy Moore or George Pickens in the second round feels steeper than the dip at offensive line. Our scouting report on Olave has the Cowboys waiting until the third round to draft a guard while still landing a starting-caliber player.
With the 2018 season now well in the Cowboys rear-view mirror, they should realize that three of those early season losses without Cooper still stand as the games Prescott was sacked the most. Conventional wisdom says a better offensive line is the best way to fix this, but when it comes to the current Cowboys offense, they may get the best results from adding a receiver opposite Lamb and James Washington.