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After further review: Dak Prescott’s play was a big reason the Cowboys' offense sputtered vs. the Bucs

The usually sharp quarterback was anything but on Sunday night.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys started the 2022 season on the wrong foot after an underwhelming showing against the reigning NFC South champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Cowboys couldn’t get anything going on offense, only putting up 244 total yards. The last time the team mustered fewer yards than that was back in 2020 when they lost to Washington 25-3, a game that they played without quarterback Dak Prescott. This marks the second game in the Mike McCarthy Cowboys era that the offense has scored three points or less, a feat they had only endured once over the previous 15 years of football.

Needless to say, this was an abysmal offensive performance, and we are left looking for answers. Was protection an issue? Were the receivers not creating enough separation to give their quarterback adequate throwing windows? Or was Prescott just not on his game on Sunday night?

There wasn’t any one issue that was the sole blame for the offense's struggles. The Bucs defense did a good job disguising their pass rush, but the Cowboys' offensive line did a decent job countering it. There were times when the defense pushed through because of a missed blocking assignment, but overall, the line was fine.

The team’s new receiving group didn’t look all that impressive. There were some well-timed passing plays with Noah Brown and Dennis Houston, but those plays were few and far between. The chemistry between Prescott and the team’s new top-dog receiver, CeeDee Lamb, was not very good as they struggled to connect all night.

While those aspects were not perfect, it’s hard to overlook the bad performance of Dak Prescott. The seventh-year quarterback finished 14 of 29 throwing for just 174 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. His QB rating of 47.2 was the lowest mark since the 2017 season when the Cowboys got smoked 37-9 in a crucial divisional loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. And it was his lowest completion percentage since his rookie season when the Cowboys lost 10-7 to the New York Giants. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t a very good game for Dak.

But what went wrong?

One of the first things that jumped out about Dak on Sunday night is how often he was throwing into coverage. There were multiple instances where it appeared as if he didn’t recognize that a defender was sitting in zone coverage and that he was close enough to make a play on the ball. Prescott tried to zip the ball into a tight throwing window, but Bucs defenders were able to close just enough to get a hand on the ball. Dak’s most egregious error on the night came when he made an off-balance thrown on the run right into the arms of the Bucs' safety.

You got a sense of Prescott’s lack of trust in his throwing lanes as there was hesitancy with his delivery. Sometimes he would change his mind at the last second, and often times that meant a hurried throw that went incomplete. Dak would double-pump at times as he waited for the receiver to be in a better spot to create a better throwing lane, but those motions threw off his timing and resulted in passes that went behind his target. These were throws Prescott normally makes so it was strange to see him be off on these plays.

Accuracy was a problem all night for Dak as he struggled to throw a good ball. There were blatant high throws that the receiver had absolutely no chance to catch and there were plays that were just slightly off target that resulted in yet another incomplete pass. Whether this is attributed to the lack of reps he has had with some of the new inexperienced receivers or just poor mechanics on Dak’s part, it was not the type of play we’re used to seeing from Prescott.

The good news is we know Prescott is a better quarterback than this. He didn’t play a single snap in the preseason, so it’s not absurd to think he needs to shake off a little rust. Prescott is coming off a year where he dealt with a calf injury and he’s also supposedly had an ankle issue that may or may not be a thing.

The bad news is now Dak is expected to miss possibly half the season due to an injury to his hand that will require surgery. He will have a pin and plate put into his hand to stabilize the fracture. But even when he comes back, how long thereafter before he trusts his digits to make the throws he needs to make?

This is a dark place for Cowboys fans to be in as the team has shown a history of collapsing when their starter goes down. In fact, the last three times their opening-day starting QB missed an extended amount of time, the Cowboys finished 6-10 (2020), 4-12 (2015), and 6-10 (2010). That is not good.

Right now, the Cowboys need to rely on their backup to keep them afloat. Scrapping together as many wins as they can while Dak is out is crucial to keep their season relevant. Seven teams in each conference make the playoffs now, so staying alive and getting a healthy Prescott back can still produce a meaningful season in Dallas. But even when he returns, they will need their star quarterback to play a lot better than he did on Sunday night.

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