The quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys is one of the more pressure-packed and polarizing positions in all of sports. No position in the NFL, and perhaps sports, faces more scrutiny or receives more criticism for their performance than the signal caller for America's Team. This has been true for Dak Prescott. Just like it was true for Tony Romo before him and even Troy Aikman before him.
If you recall, there was a time in Aikman's Hall of Fame career when people were clamoring for Steve Walsh to replace Aikman as the Cowboys quarterback. How different would the 1990s have been for the Dallas Cowboys if they replaced a struggling Aikman with their backup quarterback?
Getting lost in all the contract talk surrounding Dak Prescott is the reality that he's been a really good quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Perfect? No. Does he have things to work on? Of course. Those things shouldn't negate that he's performed well under pressure and played a part in the Cowboys winning two NFC East Titles and more games than any team other than the New England Patriots since 2016.
2018, despite a slow start, was Prescott's best in the NFL. In the first seven games of the season, Prescott accounted for 10 touchdowns, threw four interceptions, completed only 62% of his passes, while posting a passer rating of 87.4. After the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper from the Oakland Raiders, Dak accounted for 18 total touchdowns, four interceptions, completed 71% of his passes and posted a 103 passer rating. His yards per attempt went up nearly a full yard from 6.88 to 7.71 pre-Amari to post-Amari. Prescott's air yards per attempt (the distance the ball travels on average per attempt) went up 1.33 yards per attempt from the first seven games to the last nine games.
Prescott finished the 2018 season on a positive note and should pick up right where he left off in 2019.
Here are three reasons why Dak Prescott will have a career year in 2019.
Time to Build Chemistry
One of the amazing storylines from the 2018 season is how quickly Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper were able to build a rapport almost immediately after the trade. Cooper and Dak appeared to be an excellent fit for one another and Cooper reestablished himself as one of the 10 best wide receivers in the NFL after a down 2017 and the first half of 2018.
In nine games with the Dallas Cowboys, Cooper accumulated nearly three times as many yards as he did in six games with the Oakland Raiders (725-280). He had six touchdown receptions for the Cowboys in the regular season compared to one for the Raiders.
Cooper was getting wide open almost at will, despite teams sitting on the slant route that was getting called ad nauseum.
With a full offseason with Dak Prescott, Cooper and his quarterback -- sniff, sniff -- will be able to develop an even better rapport for 2019 and beyond.
As good as they were in 2018, it's reasonable to expect that they'll be just as good in 2019 or better. But Amari Cooper isn't the only player who will benefit from a full offseason with the first team and its starting quarterback. Michael Gallup and Blake Jarwin, who are both getting reps with the first team in offseason training activities, are weapons that will be huge for Dak Prescott and the passing offense in 2019.
Gallup, who didn't see regular work through the first half of the season as the Cowboys attempted to lean into their "wide receiver by committee approach," also didn't see many first-team reps last offseason and training camp. He's now entrenched as a starter opposite of Amari Cooper and that will pay huge dividends for his development and his chemistry with Dak Prescott.
The second-year player out of Colorado State, Gallup showed that he was able to get open in several areas of the field as a rookie. This offseason should provide Gallup and Prescott a greater opportunity to build upon a solid 2018.
Like Gallup, Tight End Blake Jarwin didn't see many, if any first-team snaps with the offense last season. It wasn't until late in the season, after a Geoff Swaim injury, that Jarwin began to emerge. It all culminated in the week 17 win over the New York Giants where Jarwin caught seven passes for 119 yards and three touchdowns. Just as important as the stats in that game were, Jarwin showed that he was a threat down the seem. His athleticism was something that had been missing down the middle of the field.
If you liked what you saw from Cooper, Gallup, and Jarwin in 2018, expect some fireworks for Dak Prescott and that trio in 2019.
New Play Caller
If we've learned anything from Scott Linehan, it's that he seemed unwilling to adjust the offense much or find ways to keep defenses off balance. From what we've learned about Kellen Moore and Chris Petersen's philosophy, is that it's all about keeping defenses off-balance.
All indications point to Moore looking to use formations to keep defenses guessing and pre-snap motion to get the defense to tip its hand and find favorable matchups. Kellen Moore's going to bring an offense that won't be so easy to read. The Dallas Cowboys will use a variety of formations and personnel groups to find ways to exploit the defense. For example, when they bring in their big personnel (12, 21, or 13 personnel), they'll look to throw the football. When they're in 11 or 10 personnel, they'll look to run more.
Allan Uy of Cover1.net did an excellent job outlining just how this might look on the field.
That's a far cry from first and 10 and running it straight up the middle under Linehan.
Dak Prescott will benefit from the offensive play-caller attempting to outsmart the defense as opposed to relying on our guys to be better than their guys. That can only take you so far. At some point, you need a good game plan and good in-game coaching to put you over the top, and by the sound of it, Prescott is going to get that this year.
Offensive Line Improvement
The offensive line wasn't bad in 2018, but it wasn't elite either. Joe Looney did an admirable job filling in for Travis Frederick, but he's no Travis Frederick. Frederick has a case for being considered the best center in the NFL. Getting him back can't be understated, even if he's only 80% of what he was in 2017. Frederick is an All-Pro. He's an intelligent leader for that offensive line and his ability to help keep the front of the pocket clean matters a great deal for a quarterback when looking to step up and throw.
Equally as important is Connor Williams' size and strength development this offseason. Though he struggled to start his NFL career, he came on strong in the second half and in the playoffs and played with good leverage limiting the impact by Jarran Reed and Aaron Donald in the postseason. Getting more size and strength this offseason was a huge priority and it will help him a ton in 2019.
Getting Frederick back with an improved Williams is going to provide more clean pockets for Dak Prescott to step up to throw.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Heading into his fourth season as the Dallas Cowboys starter, big things are expected of Prescott and the Cowboys. The Dallas Cowboys look to be a team on the cusp of Super Bowl contention, but will need a big year from their franchise signal caller to help them get over the top. With as good as Dak Prescott's been, I don't think we've seen his absolute best. Knowing the kind of work he puts in and the gamer that he is, I expect we'll see the best year yet for Prescott in 2019.
Dallas Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie Becoming a Red Zone Liability?
Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is arguably as talented as just about any defensive back in the NFL. He still young and has quite a bit he can do to improve his game, but there's no denying his talent. One of the things he may need to work on right now is his awareness and discipline in the red zone.
In back to back games No. 24 has been caught out of position and as a result surrendered points in the end zone. Just this last Sunday he gave up a two point conversion to Minnesota Vikings Tight End Kyle Rudolph. The week prior he gave up a touchdown catch to New York Giants Wide Receiver Cody Latimer.
Does this make him a liability in the red zone?
I know if I've noticed Chidobe Awuzie getting victimized in back to back weeks in the red zone opposing offensive coordinators around the league have done the same. As a result, they're going to test Awuzie to find out if they can have the same kind of success.
If I'm Kris Richard I'm personally going to be working on making sure Chidobe is fully aware he needs to be more disciplined with his play, especially in the red zone. He's been caught out of position in back to back games and that can't be something that continues from here on out.
I'm sure Awuzie would tell you himself this is something he needs to clean up. He takes pride in his abilities and knows he can still improve. Hopefully he can take it to heart and better prepare for what's to come. Whether that means just executing his assignments better or maybe studying a little more film. It's up to him to figure out what he needs to do.
As far as the Dallas Cowboys are concerned though, they may need to start giving him a little more help over the top if this is something that continues. And if worse comes to worse, they can always see if Jourdan Lewis or Anthony Brown can be more consistent. I doubt it would come to that, but it is an option.
I for one am hoping No. 24 will just hunker down and figure out what he needs to do in order to take his game to the next level. If he can do that the Cowboys defense will be much better for it. I don't know about you, but I will be keeping a close eye on him for the rest of the season.
Do you think CB Chidobe Awuzie has become a red zone liability?
Maliek Collins has a Breakout Opportunity Against the Minnesota Vikings
It's been a quiet 2019 for one of the Dallas Cowboys' preseason breakout candidates, Maliek Collins. Heading into training camp, and then the regular season, Collins was the healthiest he'd been at any point in his previous three seasons. That combined with another year in the NFL, led many to believe that Collins could become a dominant 3-technique defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys. Collins has been good, but perhaps not as productive as many might have predicted.
On the year, Maliek Collins has three sacks, which is third for the Dallas Cowboys behind Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence. Per Pro Football Focus, Collins is tied for 17th in the NFL among interior defensive linemen. Tied for 17th might not sound very good, but when the league leader in sacks among interior defensive linemen has just six, Collins isn't far off from threatening for the league lead. In fact, Maliek Collins is tied with All-Pro Defensive Tackles Fletcher Cox, Chris Jones, and Geno Atkins in sacks.
In total pressures, Collins is tied for eighth in the NFL per Pro Football Focus with 27 along with Quentin Jefferson and Vita Vea.
Though he's not racking up a ton of tackle this season, Collins has been excellent as a pass rusher. On Sunday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings, he'll have a tremendous opportunity to build on his first-half numbers.
Against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football, Collins has an enormous opportunity. Among quarterbacks with at least 196 drop backs, Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been under pressure at the fourth highest rate in the NFL. His 40.8% pressure rate is only better than Daniel Jones, Russell Wilson, and Sam Darnold.
Vikings Guard Pat Elflein has allowed five sacks on the year, which is tied for the third most in the NFL this season among interior offensive linemen and his 20 pressures allowed is tied for eighth. When Maliek Collins gets an opportunity to line up across from Elflein, he's going to have a chance to get home.
With teams having to pay so much attention to DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, and newcomer Michael Bennett, Collins should be freed up to face more one-on-one blockers.
Collins hasn't had a bad season by any stretch of the imagination, but he hasn't necessarily been the dominant player we thought he could be after his strong preseason. That perception could change when the Dallas Cowboys play the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football. The opportunity is there for Collins, he just has to seize it.
Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Quietly Having a Good Season
The Dallas Cowboys started to get the return on their investment of Jaylon Smith in a major way in 2018. He finished with 121 tackles (six tackles for loss), four sacks, four passes defended, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and a touchdown.
With that type of production comes lofty expectations. Dak Prescott is off to the best start of his career, All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott has found his groove with three consecutive 100-yard performances, and Amari Cooper is on pace for his best season as a pro. However, quietly, Smith is on pace to have the best season of his young career so far.
In the season opener vs the New York Giants, the Cowboys completely dominated the game virtually from the start defensively. After a touchdown on their first possession, the Giants were shut down and only scored 10 points the rest of the game. Smith would register only six tackles for the game but the Cowboys were up as much as 25 points so it wasn't really necessary for him to ball out in this contest.
Week 2 vs the Washington Redskins on the road was another solid effort defensively for the Cowboys. They held the Redskins in check behind Smith's team-leading 11 tackles as the Cowboys only allowed 255 yards of offense and two conversions on nine third downs.
The Miami Dolphins came to town in Week 3 as the Cowboys looked to improve to 3-0. The Dolphins offense never got on track as they only managed 283 total yards, went a pedestrian three of 15 on third down, gave up three sacks, and scored six points. Smith once again led the team in tackles with 10 and also forced a fumble in the red zone that was recovered by All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence when the Dolphins were driving to take the lead before halftime. Very productive game for Smith in this one.
Week 4 was a defensive battle between the Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football. The Saints came out on top 12-10 giving the Cowboys their first loss but one of the bright spots was the play of Smith. All around it was one of his better performances of the season with nine tackles (two tackles for loss), one quarterback hit, and a sack. This performance gave him 30 tackles over a three-game span which is his best stretch of the 2019 season.
The Green Bay Packers arrived at AT&T Stadium in Week 5 having won three consecutive games there, and it was quickly apparent they would win their fourth straight. The Cowboys had two turnovers on their first three possessions that led to two touchdowns for the Packers and the Cowboys never recovered. Despite holding Aaron Rodgers to zero touchdowns the Cowboys gave up a career day to Aaron Jones with 182 all-purpose yards (107 rushing, 75 receiving) and lost 34-24. Smith finished with nine tackles (tied Leighton Vander Esch for the team lead), one quarterback hit, one pass defended, and a sack. In a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated Smith was one of the few bright spots for Dallas.
The Cowboys entered Metlife Stadium for their Week 6 matchup with the New York Jets completely spiraling and it wouldn't get any better. Defensively, the Cowboys started flat by allowing 21 points in the first half. Even though they only allowed three points in the second half, Sam Darnold had a career-high 338 yards and the Jets handed the Cowboys their third consecutive loss. This would be Smith's most underwhelming performance of the season with a pedestrian four tackles. None of the impactful plays we saw from the previous three games showed up in this one.
Before the bye week, the Cowboys hosted the Philadelphia Eagles in a battle for first place in the NFC East. Smith wasted no time making an impact in this game as he forced a fumble by Tight End Dallas Goedert on the Eagles first possession near midfield which set up the Cowboys first touchdown. This set the tone for the entire defense as they held the Eagles to 283 yards total yards, only allowed 10 points and forced four turnovers. Smith tied Sean Lee and Jeff Heath for the team lead with seven tackles while also registering a pass defended and a forced fumble. Just the type of performance you'd hope for from Smith after his worst game of the season.
This past Monday night saw the Cowboys return to Metlife Stadium but this time they would take on the arch-rival New York Giants. Smith spearheaded a dominant performance by the Cowboys defense as they held the Giants to 271 total yards, five out of 16 on third down, and forced three turnovers. He finished tied with Lee for the team lead with 12 tackles while also adding a half-sack and a quarterback hit. With the Eagles on the Cowboys heels for the division lead, they needed their best players to perform vs the Giants and Smith definitely delivered on his end.
Jaylon Smith is currently on pace for 136 tackles and five sacks which would both be career highs. In five of the Cowboys eight games, he's either led or been tied for the team lead in tackles. He has continued to show that he's worth every penny of the five-year 64 million dollar extension with 35.5 million in guarantees he signed in August. His "Clear Eye View" has him playing the best football of his career in 2019.
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