Let’s start with this: Quarterback Dak Prescott must play better.
And we’re talking about every aspect of his game.
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What we’ve seen from Prescott the past nine games — eight last year and Sunday’s opener against Carolina — simply isn’t good enough. He’ll tell you that.
The game is about the quarterback. That’s why 17 quarterbacks earn at least $20 million per season. It’s why Prescott wants to add his name to that list after the 2018 season.
That’s simply not going to happen if Prescott doesn’t play better, starting Sunday night against the New York Giants.
Against Carolina, Prescott completed 19 of 29 passes for 170 yards. He did not have a completion of more than 20 yards.
Now, it wasn’t all his fault. Dallas averaged just 3.1 yards on first down, which is awful. And the Cowboys averaged 11.8 yards on third down, which is one reason they converted just two of 11.
"We had some sacks. We had some negative plays. Just because you're not throwing the ball down the field doesn't mean you don't have (deep passes called,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Sometimes the ball has to come out quicker because you have some pressure."
“You have to do something, so we tried to stay aggressive and tried to attack. Their style is to play it out a little bit and make you earn it," he said.
Still, Prescott missed a throw, leaving it short, on a potentially big play to tight end Blake Jarwin.
“I think I initially pulled the ball down, was thinking, 'Run for it,' looked up and saw him," Prescott said. "I just have to make that throw."
He threw behind Michael Gallup on a crossing route, turning what should have been a completion and a big play into an incompletion.
"I was off," Prescott said. "I have to figure out why I was off. Was I rushing it? Did I feel pressure? What were the things causing it? Was it just me missing the pass? That's not anything that I can judge right now. I have to look at it on film."
Prescott directed an offense that gained just 232 yards, the second-lowest total since he became the starter in 2016. The eight points marked the sixth time in the last nine games that the Cowboys had failed to score 12 points.
In the last nine games, Prescott has averaged 186.2 yards per game with six touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s averaging just 6.45 yards per attempt and has been sacked 28 times.
He has passed for more than 200 yards just twice in the last nine games. A poor offensive performance from the Cowboys is no longer an aberration or an outlier.
It’s the norm.
But the blame belongs more to Garrett, play-caller Scott Linehan, who received the dreaded vote of confidence Monday, and the front office than it does Prescott.
They haven’t put him in position to succeed with an antiquated offense that has shown little ability to scheme receivers open. The Cowboys have an “execution” offense, which is one that relies more on the player’s individual talents to get open than fooling the defense.
When Prescott was at his best in 2016, he handed the ball to Ezekiel Elliott and occasionally threw the ball to Dez Bryant for big plays and to tight end Jason Witten to get first downs and control the clock.
With Bryant and Witten gone from the offense, the Cowboys’ front office didn’t go get Prescott a proven play-maker. Instead, they traded for Tavon Austin, a bust with the Rams, signed journeyman Deonte Thompson and drafted Michael Gallup in the third round.
Austin played 10 plays on Sunday and failed to catch a pass, Thompson played 30 plays and caught three passes for 27 yards. Gallup played 29 plays and caught one pass for nine yards, while drawing two penalties.
Compare that with the Chicago Bears, who spent the offseason getting their young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky some receivers with upside. They spent three years and $42 million on free agent Allen Robinson and four years and $26 million on Taylor Gabriel to go with second-round pick Anthony Miller.
Beasley is the Cowboys’ best receiver. He runs good routes but doesn’t scare any defensive coordinators because he catches most of his passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
There’s not one skill position player on the Cowboys’ roster other than Elliott who was drafted in the first 10 rounds of anybody’s fantasy draft.
Without someone to threaten the defense, teams have no reason not to keep 8.5 defenders in the box and dare the Cowboys’ receivers to beat them.
This seems like a good time for Garrett to steal a concept from the Cowboys of the 90s and play the game backwards, which means using the pass to set up the run. Too many times to count, the Cowboys started the first quarter with Troy Aikman completing passes to Michael Irvin as the Cowboys took the lead. Then Aikman would start handing the ball to Smith.
While teams stack the line of scrimmage to stop Elliott, it provides an opportunity for Garrett and Linehan to throw the ball against some favorable looks. Complete a few passes and teams will back off the line of scrimmage.
Then Elliott can take over, the Cowboys will have that run-pass balance Garrett craves and, maybe, Prescott can get back to putting up good numbers.