Last year the Cowboys learned a hard lesson about the value of Tony Romo. The starting quarterback played in just two full games in 2015 and left injured in two others. The result was utter catastrophe; the team went 4-12 in one of the worst seasons of the modern era.
Sadly, in 2016 Dallas faces another year in which Romo will miss time. They now turn to Dak Prescott, a fourth-round rookie with one of the best preseason tapes in history.
How much difference can Prescott make over what happened last season?
The combination of Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore could only win one game that Romo didn’t play in. They went 1-11 as starters and had a combined 75.9 passer rating. Here were their combined statistics:
- 251 completions, 406 attempts (61.8%)
- 2793 passing yards (6.88 yards per attempt)
- 11 touchdowns, 15 interceptions
- 27 sacks allowed
Those are obviously bad numbers and they get worse if you dig deeper. The 61.8% completions is middle of the road for the NFL, but it’s offset by the low 6.88 yards per attempt. That tells you, as we all watched, that the QBs were checking down and going to bail-out options and not really making plays.
Also, 27 sacks in 12-13 games is still a pretty low number. It tells us that teams weren’t sending a lot of pressure, but instead sitting back on defense and waiting for these guys to beat them. Obviously, they never could.
Dak Prescott doesn’t have a high bar to get over to improve on last year’s backup QB play. What’s more, he will get the benefit of a healthy Dez Bryant. None of the 2015 Poo-Poo Platter had that work with.
Dak has already proven that he’s willing to put the ball in the air and let a great receiver go make a play on it. That’s a huge difference from the kind of hesitant, low-impact play we got from the position last year.
Prescott’s willingness to throw it deep will not only lead to some bigger plays but also open things up for the running game. Last year Dallas was still one of the most productive rushing teams in the league despite the lack of a passing threat. Now, assuming that Ezekiel Elliott brings even more to the RB position than Darren McFadden did, there could be exponentially better results.
What’s more, Prescott’s own running ability will make things tougher on opposing defenses. He can punish them for bringing the blitz as much by taking off with the ball as by lobbing it up against single coverage. Scott Linehan may have whole pages of his playbook that he can now use, or even written some new ones, because of the tools that Prescott offers.
Some may be comforted by the mere thought that Dak Prescott, at worst, can’t do any poorer than the 2015 backups. That’s probably true, and all signs so far are that he will at least be a moderate improvement.
In the 11 losses in which Weeden, Cassel, or Moore were the starters, the Cowboys lost by an average margin of about 8.5 points. If Prescott can add a little more electricity to the passing game and improve ball control with his running ability, that’s not much ground for the team to make up.
Obviously, the season will be decided by more than just the quarterback. There are plenty of concerns about the defense, Dez Bryant’s continued health, and other factors.
However, there’s no denying that quarterback dominated last year’s conversation and will do the same in 2016. Will Dak Prescott be a hero, a disappointment, or something in between?
We start finding out this Sunday!