To most people, the 2015 season for the Dallas Cowboys was an injury-riddled aberration.
After four years of playing in 15 or more games during the regular season, Tony Romo played in only four games in 2015, for a grand total of 216 snaps.
With a hodgepodge of quarterbacks like Matt Cassell, Brandon Weeden, and Kellen Moore playing in place of Romo, along with the the fact that star wide receiver Dez Bryant missed seven games himself last year, the Cowboys stumbled to a 2-12 over their last 14 games, finishing 4-12 overall.
But surely, 2016 would be different. Romo couldn’t possibly miss that much time again, right?
With the latest news that Tony Romo fractured a vertebrae bone in his back, and the recovery time for said injury could put him out of action until late October (the latter date of his six-to-ten week recovery time projection), 2016 could’ve potentially felt like déjà vu all over again for America’s Team.
Except now, Dallas’ next man up will be quarterback Dak Prescott, the team’s fourth round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, out of Mississippi State University.
Prescott compares favorably to a poor man’s Donovan McNabb: a thickly built, muscular quarterback who has the ability to scramble and be elusive, but is much more of a pass-first type of player. Prescott certainly brings the element of mobility that made McNabb and Romo such a terror to defend; over Prescott’s last three years in Starkville, Mississippi, he scored 37 rushing touchdowns as a member of the Bulldogs, and had 94 carries that went for more than 10 yards.
Yet, he’s far from one of the typical athletic quarterbacks who’s being retrofitted into the quarterback position. Prescott is a pass-first guy. He uses his mobility to extend plays in the pocket or roll out of the pocket, and ultimately make the play with his arm.
In the Cowboys’ three preseason games to date, Prescott has thrown for completed 39 of 50 passes for 454 yards and five touchdowns, along with zero turnovers (interceptions or fumbles). Against two of the best defenses in the NFL (the Rams and the Seahawks), Prescott has looked calm, composed, and confident; in other words, he already looks like a guy who’s been in the league for a few years, and not a few weeks. The leadership and intangibles that scouts raved about with Prescott already have been on full display.
Thankfully for them, the Cowboys have built an offense that’s near the point where a quarterback simply has to deliver the football to the right people, without having to win the game himself. If head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan can design game plans that don’t put the pressure on Prescott to win regular season games by himself, Dallas should still be in good shape this season.
The Cowboys still have the best offensive line in the NFL. They spent the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft on running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was touted as the best running back prospect to come out of the draft since Adrian Peterson in 2007. He could be an absolute monster running behind that line. Elliott ran for 3,699 yards and 41 touchdowns in his last two seasons in Columbus. If a past-his-prime Darren McFadden could put up just under 1,100 yards rushing last season for a team that only won four games, imagine what Elliott could do?
Dallas has a top five wide receiver in the NFL in Dez Bryant, a wide receiver who can challenge a defense vertically in Terrance Williams, one of the most steady and reliable “security blanket” tight ends in the NFL in Jason Witten.
All Prescott has to do is “manage” this offense, by handing the ball to Elliott (and/or McFadden and Alfred Morris) nearly 30 times a game, and delivering a the timely well-thrown ball to Bryant, Williams, Witten.
In an NFC East that has three other teams with more questions than answers, the Cowboys should very much remain in contention within the division with Prescott as their quarterback over the first half of the season. He won’t have to be the centerpiece of the offense, like Jared Goff in Los Angeles or Carson Wentz in Philadelphia.
He just has to be the running engine for the high-performance machine that is the Cowboys offense.
Photo Credit: Jovie & Mayra Griffith