After a few weeks of poor statistics and the Cowboys' first loss since the season opener, Dak Prescott is discovering how fickle some fans and football onlookers can be. He's also finding out just how large a shadow that Tony Romo casts from the sideline.
As you would have expected going into this situation, some are clamoring for Romo to regain the starting job after a bad stretch for Prescott. Nevermind that the Cowboys went 2-1 during this stretch, but Prescott failing to top 200 yards passing in any of the last three games has folks worried about how he'll perform in January against playoff defenses.
Calling for Tony Romo is a natural reaction. You've loved him for about a decade. He's a veteran who's dealt with the pressure of the NFL postseason. No matter how exceptional a rookie Dak Prescott has been, he's still a rookie.
The problem I have with the "run to Romo" mentality, though, is that it ignores a key aspect of why you have faith in Tony. It's not that he's never had some some real clunker games. Tony's worst game is easily more atrocious than anything Dak's showed us yet.
Romo had the chance to bounce back. He had the opportunity to restore or validate trust because he was out there the next week making plays and getting wins. It's why you believe in him now.
It's the same opportunity that Dak Prescott now deserves. If you want him to one day be mentioned along with Romo, Troy Aikman, and Roger Staubach, you can't undercut him now.
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In 2006, his first year as the Cowboys starter, Romo started to have problems at the end of the season. He lost three of five games, threw eight interceptions, and had passer ratings below 60 in three games. Bill Parcells didn't run back to Drew Bledsoe. He let Tony play through it, and it was a vital part of his development.
In 2008, Romo's play cratered in December yet again. He threw six picks as the Cowboys lost three of four games. They went from 7-5 to an 8-8 team barely missing the playoffs. A Super Bowl-winning QB, Brad Johnson, was on the sideline. But by this point it was clearly Tony Romo's team and the thought of switching to Johnson wasn't even considered.
Fast forward to 2014. The now-veteran Romo led an 11-3 Cowboys into a Thanksgiving game with the Eagles. He had an awful day, throwing two picks, no touchdowns, and only 199 yards, as Dallas lost 33-10. Fears of another late-season slide arose. But Romo, now hardened by past experiences, went on a tear through that December and the Cowboys rolled into the playoffs.
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The debate about who's better right now between Dak Prescott and Tony Romo is valid. There are certainly situations and opponents that Romo might be better equipped to handle based on his experience. If you're only concern is Dallas winning a Super Bowl this season, then I can understand why you're vexed.
If you'd like to see Dak Prescott and the Cowboys win multiple Super Bowls in the future, though, what happens now matters. Romo got to work through the bad times and deal with failure during a long offseason. Those made him one of the top quarterbacks in football and allowed him to sustain that status.
You can't bench Prescott now. You can't rob him of the opportunity to overcome his own adversity. It's not just how quarterbacks get better, but it's the fire that tempers athletes, other professions, and even people in general. It's a fundamental truth of human existence; growing pains.
I'm not here to tell you Romo couldn't do a better job this year. I'm not ignoring the possibility that Dak's rookie wall could crumble right on top of us.
This is just a warning. A continued backslide from Prescott may cost us in 2016. There's no denying that it.
Not letting him play through it, though, may cost us for a lot longer.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott
Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.
In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.
During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...
...of his offensive lineman.
During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.
As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.
It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.
With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.
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