I’ve been getting bombarded with texts and calls about the play of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, and people legitimately feel he should be the starting quarterback for the Cowboys moving forward. I have so many mixed emotions about the situation, so I felt I needed to write about it and go on record with my opinion before Sunday’s big matchup at Green Bay.
Like I said before the season began, Tony Romo is this team’s quarterback when he’s ready. Prescott has been great, and as a Cowboys fan, you can’t be more excited about his play considering the recent history of the Cowboys when Romo goes down. They simply haven’t been able to win games, and now that they are, people are starting to take Romo for granted and are ready to move on without him. I’m here to argue against that.
This team looks a lot like the 12-4 2014 Cowboys.
The offensive line and success running the football is the major reason why. Left guard La’el Collins went down with an injury for the season, but Ron Leary has stepped up and is actually an upgrade right now; Collins makes the highlight plays, but Leary plays more consistently. The Cowboys’ offensive line play took a dip last season in my opinion, and I think Leary’s absent is actually a big reason why (and it’s showing now). The Cowboys are running the football successfully with rookie Ezekiel Elliott leading the league in yards (like DeMarco Murray in 2014), and Prescott has done a nice job of playing mistake-free, efficient football. Dallas is winning on third down and in the red zone, something that mirrors their 2014 style of play as well.
But the reason Prescott needs to take a seat once Romo is ready is because of his natural limitations as a rookie quarterback in the NFL. He simply doesn’t have the pre-snap and post-snap knowledge of an experienced player like Romo, and that stuff takes time to develop. I love what I’ve seen from Prescott, but I’m not ready to crown him yet, and I’m certainly not ready to say goodbye to Romo after seeing what he did in 2014 behind a similar, if not exact replica, offense.
In 2014, Romo was fourth in the league with 34 touchdowns and only threw nine interceptions. His 113 QB rating was the best in the entire league, as was his completion percentage (69.9 percent), yards per attempt (8.5), and touchdown percentage (7.8 percent). He led five game winning drives in the fourth quarter, tied for the most in the league that season. Furthermore, he took a big step in the postseason, an area he has been so highly criticized for his “poor” play. In his last two playoff appearances, both from that 2014 season, he had four touchdowns, zero interceptions, and completed 68 percent of his passes (oh, and had a combined 125 QB rating). In Green Bay in the divisional round, he was extremely efficient; he’s one of just three quarterbacks in NFL HISTORY with a 143+ passer rating and a 78+ completion percentage in a playoff game, and the ONLY one to do that on the road. His awareness, experience and football IQ alone gives him an edge over Prescott moving forward, not to mention the loyalty he deserves after giving this franchise more than imaginable as an undrafted quarterback.
I want to make one thing clear, though: I am ecstatic about the play of Prescott and am excited to see him develop moving forward. But we need to pump the brakes — it’s only been five weeks into his career. He has a lot of room to grow. Right now, Romo gives this team the best chance to win in the postseason. He will be back after the week 7 bye, and the play of Prescott gives the Cowboys a great chance to get on a run with Romo in the second half of the season. But how?
How about that fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft?
Ezekiel Elliott has the fourth-most yards from scrimmage by a rookie through his first five career games in the last 35 seasons (627 yards). The top three? Eric Dickerson (787), Adrian Peterson (782), and Marshall Faulk (633). Elliott, behind a dominant offensive line, is doing all he can to keep defenses stacked in the box while opening passing lanes for Prescott. This offense is rolling because of the rookies play, but the offensive line deserves the ultimate credit.
About the Defense
The Cowboys defense has played great, and eerily similar to 2014. The reason? They’re barely on the field. But furthermore, Dallas is starting to gain a lot of confidence on that side of the ball, specifically in the secondary. Morris Claiborne is finally playing like a shutdown corner, something the Cowboys have been missing for years (and expecting from Claiborne since moving up to draft him in the 2012 NFL draft). With DeMarcus Lawrence returning from suspension last week, the Cowboys mustered four sacks and five QB hits against the Bengals.
Things are starting to fall into place for the Cowboys, and they look to be on the right track to the postseason regardless if Romo or Prescott is under center. As long as the offensive line stays in tact (All-pro left tackle Tyron Smith has battled back injuries himself), this team is going to find success on the ground and keep their defense off the field. But if they want success IN the postseason, it’s going to be in large due to Romo. He has one more chance to stay healthy and get it done, and it likely starts in week 8. It’s going to be fun to see how things play out in the always-exciting NFC East.