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.
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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.