It was all good just three short weeks ago. The Dallas Cowboys were flying high off of three consecutive blowout wins to open the season. The offense was on fire and seemingly still in ascent. The defense was playing well but still finding it’s groove.
All smiles across the board.
What has transpired in the three games since the historic start has been nothing short of an organizational meltdown, from the owner’s suite all the way down to the bottom of the roster? The Cowboys are rapidly unraveling, due to a combination of injuries, poor execution, and a total 180-degree shift in philosophy.
Circumstances are damned, it is common knowledge that when a team struggles, the blame rolls downhill until it engulfs the quarterback, especially in Dallas. ‘Twas the case when Tony Romo ran the show, and the pattern holds true now. Despite being one of the league’s top performers at the position, Dak Prescott must elevate his game to another level to salvage the Cowboys’ season amidst an absolute avalanche of failures around him.
A look at the challenges surrounding the league’s leader in total QBR…
“Best offensive line in football.”
“Great Wall of Dallas.”
Balderdash. Poppycock. Flummery. Malarkey. Lies have been told. The offensive line the Cowboys have rolled out post-2016 has looked a lot better on paper than on film. This present time, Week 7, 2019 edition may be the worst it has been since it was assembled. Left tackle Tyron Smith is always excellent, but often absent. This week he sits as journeyman swing tackle Cam Fleming takes watch over Dak Prescott’s blindside.
2nd year left guard Connor Williams doesn’t look worlds different than he did as a 1st-year player. He came back from the offseason with added weight that was supposed to solve all of his issues and it simply has not. Williams is clearly the weak link on the line. Replacing Williams with Xavier Sua-Filo is not the most far fetched idea at this point.
Center Travis Frederick has not fully recovered from his bout with Guillian-Barre syndrome, and it’s evident. Infinite kudos for battling his way back onto the field, but seeing the anchor of this once great offensive line get pushed around at times is a tough pill to swallow.
Zack Martin is still Zack Martin, thank goodness.
Right tackle La’el Collins was enjoying what looked to be rounding into his best season as a pro before being sidelined with a back injury. Collins has since been replaced by rookie UDFA Brandon Knight. Knight has probably outperformed expectations but is an unexperienced, less than uber-talented rookie nonetheless.
This unit was absolutely whipped by New Orleans in Week 4 before losing Smith and Collins. New Orleans dared the Cowboys to run into lightbox counts and still managed to neutralize Ezekiel Elliott with 6 men in the box at times. In Week 6 Dak Prescott was battered and beaten to a pulp as the not-so-great wall of Dallas struggled consistently to pick up the New York Jets’ blitzes. Average time to throw: 1.3 seconds. Unacceptable. To overcome this underperforming group, Dak Prescott is going to have to get the ball out quickly when possible, move to buy time, and probably step into a couple of kill shots delivering some throws downfield.
Amari Cooper is the most valuable non-QB on the Cowboys’ offense. Michael Gallup is an emerging star, and Randall Cobb is a key, versatile weapon. Despite all of their great production, drops have been a gigantic issue for the Cowboys’ wide receiver group. The Cowboys currently share the league lead in dropped passes (Philadelphia) with 17, and Dak Prescott has suffered the 2nd most yards lost due to drops (Wentz) with 193. Two of Dak Prescott’s six interceptions on the season have ricocheted off of a set of friendly hands before landing in enemy clutches.
Wide receiver play absolutely killed the Cowboys in Week 6 vs. the Jets. Michael Gallup recorded four drops on his own, on multiple occasions oddly leaping for balls just above eye level. TE Jason Witten pitched in with a drop. A drop for Blake Jarwin. Everybody got in on the act as Cedrick Wilson was flagged for offensive pass interference wiping away a Jason Witten touchdown, and Tavon Austin canceled a big gainer with an illegal formation flag.
One could reasonably expect the drops to level off, as most of the culprits are generally sure-handed guys. Nonetheless, the overall sloppy play by Cowboys pass-catchers is doing no favors for the quarterback. You can talk ball placement until you’re blue in the face, but quarterbacks are not robots who can put every pass within an optimal 12-inch box. Passes that hit receivers in the hands need to be caught in the NFL, and there are no excuses for careless miscues like lining up improperly.
The most disturbing stat for the 2019 Dallas Cowboys has to be the fact that they have not started a single offensive possession in opposing territory. Not a one. Naturally, the Cowboys are the only team in the league who can lay claim to that dubious feat. Like most seasons in Dallas, the defense doesn’t produce many turnovers. Compound that with the inability of the team’s return units to pick up sizeable chunks of yardage, and you are left with an offense that must drive the length of the field for points on every possession.
Throw in the fact that the Cowboys no longer get explosive plays from the running game, and Dak Prescott is virtually tasked with pulling all of the offensive weight. No quick easy touchdowns after being set up in the red zone by a turnover. No cheap TD’s set up by a long rush or return. The offense has to earn every yard, and the quarterback has to play mistake-free football, long drive after a long drive.
It has been truly perplexing to watch the Cowboys’ offense operate at such a deadly level, then mysteriously and abruptly discontinue the application of every method that had proven effective. In the first three games, the Cowboys offense was about pre-snap motion, play action, and first down passing. At the first hint of a stiff opponent in a pressurized environment, the coaching staff threw all of that stuff out the window and reverted to their preferred method of 1990’s-obsessed “three yards and a cloud of dust” football. They quite literally abandoned what was working in favor of what they wanted to work.
Snaps for explosive players like Blake Jarwin and Tony Pollard have sharply decreased week by week in favor of more trusted plodders Jason Witten and Ezekiel Elliott. The team went from employing play action on nearly 40% of their pass attempts in weeks 1-3 to just over 17% in weeks 4-6. First, down passes went out the window and the team was back to slamming Ezekiel Elliott into walls of hopelessness on first downs, forcing the quarterback to recover from being behind the chains. In Week 6 vs. New York, the Cowboys ran Ezekiel Elliott on first down 17 times for a measly 2.8-yard average. Despite the lack of success, the team seemed content with recurring 2nd and 8 or 2nd and 7 situations.
Stubborn. Unimaginative. Predictable. Safe.
Everything we hated and thought had been cleansed from the Cowboys offense came rushing back the second the team faced the slightest bit of adversity. They have taken away some of Prescott’s explosive weapons, forced him to chase the chains, execute against defenses that have a better idea of what’s coming. This coaching staff is doing anything but helping its the quarterback.
It’s almost an unfair ask all things considered, but Dak Prescott has to somehow be better. If the Cowboys are going to right the ship, the quarterback is going to have to overcome the things that are beyond his control. The dropped pass just above eye level is going to have to be on the numbers. 2nd and long every drive? It doesn’t matter. Poor protection? Get the ball out quicker, navigate the pocket, roll, take off. Stubborn play call? Check out of it.
Quarterbacks, unfortunately, are not allotted excuses. The bad always falls at the feet of the signal-caller, fair or unfair. From the players on up to the coaches, the Cowboys are forcing Dak Prescott to operate in a toxic environment.
If the team is going to get back on track and make a run this season, it’s quarterback is going to have to rise to a level of play that circumvents all of the obstacles in his way, at least until some of these issues begin to dissolve.