The Cowboys’ coaching staff failed quarterback Dak Prescott last season.
If you’re looking for reasons why the Cowboys missed the playoffs look no further than that.
Jason Garrett, play-caller Scott Linehan and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson couldn’t figure out how to fix the Cowboys’ broken passing game once the NFL suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
In the last eight games of the 2017 season, Prescott completed 62 percent of his passes for 188 yards a game with six touchdowns and nine interceptions. He had a passer rating of 74.0 and averaged 6.56 yards per attempt.
In six of the Cowboys last eight games, he failed to pass for more than 200 yards. In four of those games, the Cowboys scored fewer than 10 points and in a 21-12 home loss to Seattle that eliminated them from the playoffs, they failed to score a touchdown.
Now, it should be clear why owner Jerry Jones has demanded Garrett, Linehan and the rest of the offensive staff figure out a way to repair the Cowboys’ broken passing game.
It’s the primary reason why the coaching staff has remained in Dallas, while the scouting staff studies players for the draft at the Senior Bowl.
Remember, when Jerry wanted the offense to be Rom-friendly? Well, that worked out pretty well.
This should too.
Prescott didn’t play as well in his second season as he did as a rookie, when he passed for 3,600 yards with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions and was named Rookie of the Year.
His footwork was too inconsistent, leading too way too many passes that were too high, too low or too wide of their target. He also made too many poor decisions, resulting in turnovers.
Some of that is the result of the Cowboys playing from behind, forcing Prescott to take chances he would’ve never taken as a rookie.
His critics, primarily those still upset the Cowboys picked Prescott over Tony Romo in 2016, point out every flaw as an example he can’t be a quality starter in the NFL.
They insist he was exposed as defensive coordinators studied him and took away his favorite routes and throws. They say his rookie year was a fluke, the result of a perfect storm.
In Prescott’s first 24 starts, he passed for 229 yards a game with 38 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 102.4. He averaged 7.65 per attempt in those games.
“We just need to take advantage of what we have in Dak," Jones told reporters at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
"A part of that is expanding the playbook and becoming more problematic for defenses. That's what this offseason is about. That's what these position coaches are about.
"To change it up, change it up more during the season, from the beginning to the middle to the end of the season. I think you'll see a lot more variation in what we're doing in terms of schemes and technique."
Garrett’s offense is designed for the Cowboys to attack in a variety of ways, and it works much of the time, but it’s based almost entirely on the Cowboys exploiting a favorable matchup.
When they win that one-on-one battle, the offense looks great. When it doesn’t, the offense struggles.
Cole Beasley is a perfect example of that.
In 2016, he caught 75 of 98 passes (76.5) directed to him for 833 yards and four touchdowns. This year, he caught 36 of 63 passes (57.1) passes for 314 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensive coordinators viewed Beasley as vital to Prescott’s success because he was so good at converting third downs into first downs, so they double-teamed him. Garrett and Linehan never figured out how to get him the ball.
They couldn’t figure out how to get Dez Bryant the ball either. He failed to have a 100-yard game and wound up with only 69 catches for 838 yards and six touchdowns.
Tight end Jason Witten averaged a career-low 8.9 yards per catch, and Terrance Williams averaged 10.1 per catch, three yards fewer than he averaged in 2016.
All of that isn’t Prescott’s fault. It’s the result of a stagnant offense and a rigid coach and play-caller, who were so stuck in their ways they couldn’t figure out how to help their quarterback escape the abyss.
“There's no question he didn't have the year he had the year before,” Jones said. "I know this: He's a better quarterback now than when he started last year.”
At the end of last season, we couldn’t tell. And if Garrett and Linehan don’t add significantly to the playbook we won’t be able to tell next year either.