Cowboys fans don’t need an education on the still-being-written legend of Dak Prescott. Mid round, project quarterback, called upon earlier than expected due to injury, plays himself into the permanent starting gig.
What isn’t given enough light is the fact that Prescott earned 2016 Rookie of the Year honors, guided his team to the playoffs, and put together one of the best rookie QB seasons in NFL history all while working with personnel, and a play calling style put in place for his predecessor Tony Romo.
2017 brought offensive line health issues, and when pass protection became less than ideal, it became glaringly apparent that the marriage between Dak and his group of pass-catchers had a few issues that might be beyond reconciliation. Dak and WR Dez Bryant had misfire after misfire. Dez, being much less of a technician, but a master of hauling in the “Y.O.L.O.” ball, and Dak, a young QB unwilling to throw the ball into danger, the two never could seem to find the same page. Terrance Williams was a freelancer, with a small catch radius due to horrendous body catching habits. Cole Beasley was still useful but easy for a defense to cancel out being a slot-only player, and having no viable threats flanking him. Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown were green, and Brice Butler was only effective vertically.
The tight end group was slow and unathletic. Old man Witten was still effective as a safety valve but no threat to the deep middle. James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, and Rico Gathers were just…guys.
In 2018 offseason, Jerry Jones began to speak about making the offense more “Dak-friendly,” and it turned out to be much more than lip service. Look at the turnover between 2017, and the current group of pass-catchers:
WR’s: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Ryan Switzer, Noah Brown
TE’s: Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers
WR’s: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Devin Smith
TE’s: Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
With the exception of Jason Witten’s retirement from retirement, the Dallas Cowboys completely flipped two position groups in just two offseasons. That is virtually unheard of. Out with the undisciplined, the unathletic, the single application pass catchers. In with athleticism, detail, discipline, and versatility.
The current group of WR’s and TE’s is tailored to the comfort of the quarterback. The narrative is that Dak Prescott needs an incalculable amount of talent around him to succeed when the truth is that what Dak needs going on around him is organization. A natural protector of the football, Dak needs receivers he can trust to be where they are supposed to be and to arrive at the time they are supposed to be there. Dak prefers to see daylight between his target and the nearest defender. Every guy in the current group is a bonafide route runner.
Furthermore, everyone in the WR and TE group has the skill ability to line up in multiples spots along with the formation. Cobb can flex outside, Cooper can come down to the slot. Austin can be deployed in either capacity. Blake Jarwin isn’t an inline-only type of TE and can be moved outside away from the tackle box. Offenses are harder to defend when you have to worry about who will be lining up where, in addition to defending the scheme itself.
The organization went all out to give it’s blossoming young quarterback his type of guys to throw to, and have now given him his type of Offensive Coordinator in Kellen Moore. As it began to down the backstretch of 2018, “Dak-friendly” is bearing fruit, and looks to be headed somewhere special.
It’s unfair to expect Dak to replicate the rare, maximum passer rating performance he logged vs. a substandard New York Giants defense in Week 1, but the reasons for optimism were spilling out all over the field.
In Week 1 Dak Prescott was in command. He was decisive. He was confident. He threw with anticipation. There wasn’t much of the holding the football, double-clutching, hesitating that we saw in 2017 and the early part of 2018. Dak was hitting the depth of his drop and cutting it loose. Some of that is the teaching of QB coach Jon Kitna. Some of that is Kellen Moore calling plays with less predictability, making defenders less capable of sitting on routes. Most of all though, that type of confidence comes from trusting and having a rapport with the guys you are throwing the ball to.
You can make anticipatory throws when you know your guy is making the same read/route adjustment you are. When you know he is going to break at the correct depth. When you know he isn’t going to round his break, or drift upfield and away from the football when he comes out of it.
Dak and his crew have a favorable situation to keep the good vibes rolling in Week 2. Washington will be without defensive linemen Jonathan Allen, and Caleb Brantley, and are not likely to have the services of cornerbacks Fabian Moreau and Quinton Dunbar. Pocket pushers missing from the front, and backups on the backend.
The Cowboys have a fantastic opportunity for their “Dak-friendly” offense to continue to gather steam in their first road contest of the year.