The Dallas Cowboys season is effectively over. After suffering a gut-wrenching and humiliating home loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Cowboys now sit at 8-7 and are finally mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
Though many thought if Dallas could simply stay afloat during running back Ezekiel Elliott's suspension, his return would propel them into the postseason – those expectations rang untrue. Instead the offense looked as bad as they have all season, and the team scored just 12 points.
Now, of course, we have some tough questions to ask. Is the franchises' all time receiving touchdown leader washed up? Is the health of Tyron Smith officially a long term concern? And among others, is Dak Prescott the franchise quarterback of this team?
But how did we get here? How did Dak Prescott go from the Rookie of the Year who dethroned Tony Romo from his own spot to being questioned as the starter the very next season? I personally think questioning Prescott's spot is premature, but I think I have an answer for “how” we have gotten to this point.
November 12th, 2017.
The week prior to this date, the Cowboys decimated what we thought to be one of the AFC's top teams – the Kansas City Chiefs. Outside of a fluke-y touchdown to end the first half, the Chiefs stood no chance against Dallas that Sunday. Sean Lee led the defense to an exceptional performance, and Dak Prescott played arguably his best game as a pro.
Prescott diced up the Chiefs defense, and combined with a strong running game led by Elliott, the Cowboys offense looked unstoppable. Dallas looked so good that Chiefs pass rusher Tamba Hali called them the “best team in football.”
But on November 12th, this team was much different. It was the first game of Elliott's six game suspension, and it was Chaz Green's first start at left tackle in 2017. Plus, Dallas was traveling to play the reigning conference champion Atlanta Falcons.
Personally, I thought the Cowboys could weather the storm even without these two important pieces. I wasn't sure they'd win, but with Prescott at quarterback and a decent replacement at tackle (based on what I'd seen in 2016), I did not expect them to get embarrassed.
What happened, however, might have “broke” the Cowboys offense for the remainder of the season. Dak Prescott was sacked 8 times, 6 from Adrian Clayborn alone, and the Cowboys offense scored just 7 points in a blowout 27-7 loss. The offense was simply putrid, and the root of the problem was the left tackle position.
The next week the Cowboys hosted one of the league's top teams in the Philadelphia Eagles, and were once again demolished. In this 37-9 loss Prescott was pressured all night, getting sacked 4 times and throwing 3 interceptions.
All of a sudden the Cowboys were in shambles. And though they would rattle off three straight wins following another blowout loss, and Prescott would once again look solid during the winning streak, the offense just never felt the same.
I truly believe that the Atlanta Falcons game ruined the Cowboys offense in 2017. For the first time in his career, Dak Prescott lost all faith in his protection, in his receivers, and in his offense. And to make things worse he didn't have his All Pro running back to turn to when things got overwhelming for the young quarterback.
Had the first game of Elliott's suspension come against the 49ers, or any of the “weaker” opponents on the Cowboys schedule, I think things would've ended a bit differently. But to begin that suspension with the butt-kicking which occurred in Atlanta set forth a series of events which the team never truly recovered from.
I still believe in Dak Prescott, and I still think he is this team's quarterback of the future. But the Cowboys must reload on offense, and improve the weapons around him in the passing game if they want to take a step forward in 2018.
Years ago the front office created a “Romo-Friendly offense.” Now it's time to make things Dak-Friendly as we move into the future.