After an embarrassing loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, the Dallas Cowboys are now questioning what type of football team they have. The play was awful across the board, but there’s a growing concern that something is awry on offense after several instances where they get stuck spinning their wheels. At first, it was just a red zone concern, but after Sunday’s display, just getting to the red zone became a difficult task. It’s made us step back and think, what is the problem with this offense? And for the first time, some people are now asking themselves, is Dak Prescott really the guy to lead this team to a Super Bowl? Maybe the front office shouldn’t sign him to another extension after all?
That’s the vibe making its way around Cowboys Nation and it’s understandable why these questions are surfacing, so we thought we would give this an honest attempt at evaluating that idea and answer those questions with some questions of our own.
Is Dak Prescott broken?
Over most of his career, Prescott has been one of the most careful quarterbacks in the league. His interception rate has been under 2% in four of his first five seasons in the league, including an astonishing 0.9% during his rookie season.
But lately, something is not right. He led the league in interceptions last year and is on pace to come close to those pick totals again after a three-interception night against the 49ers. Last year, head coach Mike McCarthy cut him loose stating he wanted him to make those throws, but ultimately it led to many costly mistakes. This year, McCarthy is singing a different tune as he’s taken a much more conservative approach with his quarterback.
At first, it looked like it was working as Prescott didn’t need to do too much. The defense was playing incredible and the offense was put in great spots. However, when things weren’t so rosy and Prescott was asked to do more, the offense sputtered. All four of Prescott's picks this season have come when the Cowboys have been trailing.
And it’s not just about the picks. It’s about how he’s processing. His time to throw has sped up as Prescott is always in a hurry to get rid of the ball. He’s not looking downfield as much and he’s too quick to settle for the check down. It’s created a very conservative Dak and a very limited offense. Is this what he’s been instructed to do or is this who he is now?
Is Mike McCarthy holding him back?
If you were to track Prescott’s career, you could fit into the following phases:
- Rookie sensation replaces Romo (2016)
- Game managing, bus driver (2017-2018)
- Gunslinging Dak airs it out (2019-2021)
Or to get a better sense of how Prescott is throwing the ball, here is his yearly yards per attempt throughout the years...
What stands out here is that Prescott started out of the gate hot, regressed some as certain teams figured him out, but then turned into a downfield throwing QB when Kellen Moore arrived. In fact, Prescott showed the world that the bus driver label was premature as he was slinging the ball all over the place. He’s had nine career games throwing for at least 400 yards. Eight of them came during the Kellen Moore era. Now, clearly, you don’t want your quarterback to be airing it out all the time, but you also don’t want them to be dinking and dunking all the time either. With McCarthy at the helm, Prescott’s has become a lot more conservative and that’s not good either.
From 2019-2022 with Kellen Moore calling plays, Dak Prescott threw short of the sticks 50.7% of the time (60th highest rate among 106 qualified QBs).— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 9, 2023
In 2023 with Mike McCarthy calling plays, Dak has thrown short of the sticks 56.5% of the time (3rd highest rate among 26…
What are they expecting out of him?
There is nothing wrong with being a careful quarterback. Teams can win games with a quarterback who plays solid and limits their mistakes if they have enough talent around them. Sure, it’s nice to have a hero quarterback, but this is a team sport and they don’t have to do everything themselves.
But if this coaching staff is adamant about reeling him in, then why would they use up so much of their salary cap for those types of services? If they don’t believe their quarterback can make those types of plays, then why pay him all that cash?
This organization is very mindful of contribution versus how much pie you consume. The front office isn’t going to pay $50 million per year for a quarterback that doesn’t noticeably distinguish himself from the middle of the pack, nor should they. If their plan is to just have a bus driver to make the easier throws, then there are a lot more affordable ways to go about it. Plus, they’ll need those funds to upgrade talent in other areas since they wouldn’t have a playmaking quarterback capable of putting on a cape and winning games for them.
Why did they trade for Trey Lance?
We want to be clear here. This section of the article is not designed to suggest the Cowboys have a plan to move away from Prescott and toward Trey Lance. At the same time, we must acknowledge the team’s interest in Lance and the fact that they traded away a fourth-round pick to get him. Draft capital is a precious metal to the Cowboys' personnel department so to give that up means something.
And what it means is they want to kick the tires on a young player who has yet to reach his full potential. They only have player control for the next two years (unless they pick up his fifth-year option next offseason), and he isn’t expected to have any type of meaningful role this year. That means there will be a small window to determine what they have in him, but it would be shortsighted to think this team isn’t at least a little bit interested to see where this goes.