Dak Prescott is set to return for play in the 2021-2022 NFL season after suffering a harsh ankle early in the 2020 season. The Dallas Cowboys, who were without Prescott for 11 games, went 4-7 in his absence and looked lifeless on the offensive side of the ball.
In the five games Prescott did play, he was putting up incredible stats. He threw for 1856 yards and 9 TD’s averaging 371.2 yards per game with a strong case for league MVP. Although the team was only 2-3 in his presence, the offense looked like one of the league’s best.
Through their first five matches the Cowboys were averaging a staggering 32.6 points per game and 106 yards on the ground. In both facets of the offense they looked unstoppable. However, things changed drastically after his early departure.
In light of Dak Prescott making his return to the field, his presence will have a major implications for the Cowboys this upcoming season.
Run Game Struggles
In the remaining 11 games of the season without Prescott, the Cowboys averaged just 21.1 points and posted an average of just 204 passing yards per game. While their rushing yards per game increased, their attempts did as well and their yards per carry decreased.
Prescott’s absence forced the Cowboys to rely heavily on their run game, and some teams were able to take advantage of that by stacking the box and trusting their secondary. While Andy Dalton did not necessarily do a bad job at the helm of the offense, there was no comparison between his performances and Prescott’s. The offense suffered a great deal, and it was apparent to anyone watching.
More than anyone on the offense, Ezekiel Elliott seemed to be affected the most. He had his worst year to date as a professional, posting a career low in total rushing yards, yards per game and yards per attempt while also tying his career high for fumbles in a season. At times, the Cowboys backup running back, Tony Pollard, looked better than him.
While Elliott certainly cannot be omitted of blame for his performance this season, it is clear that the absence of Dak Prescott made his job much harder than usual. The Cowboys have always been a run first team, but without a passing threat that strategy was easy to counter.
With Prescott returning next year at full health, the passing game will undoubtedly flourish and the run game should be able to open up. More importantly, it will get Ezekiel Elliott back on track who has proven through his career to be one of the most vital parts of the offense.
Breathing room for the Defense
It is no secret that the Cowboys defense was one of the worst units in football last year. It finished fifth from last place for points allowed per game and was horrendous in stopping the run, finishing second to last in front of the Houston Texans.
While there is certainly much to be addressed on this side of the football, a good offense almost always helps out a lackluster defense. In the games after Prescott’s departure, the defense actually improved from a statistical standpoint. What doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, however, is late game performances.
Even if the defense managed to hold out for the majority of the game, the offense’s inability to stay on the field for long periods of time forced a winded defense to get back on the field in a matter of minutes. This hurt the Cowboys most in the closing minutes of their matchups.
It is hard to ask a defense that is already struggling on its own to make stops and keep their offense in the game when it is failing to produce for the majority of the game.
Prescott’s return will surely help with clock management and time of possession to give the Cowboys defense more time to catch its breath and adjust.
Expectations for Prescott
The biggest narrative that will be looming over the Cowboys this season will be expectations of playoff success and competing for a championship. In spite of his injury, the Cowboys still paid Prescott the money he had been asking for, for years.
Regardless of the situation and his health, a contract the size of what Prescott received is not to be met with mediocre results. The expectation at the very minimum for the Cowboys, and Prescott especially, will be to win the NFC East as it is one the NFL’s weakest divisions.
On top of this, the Cowboys roster is undeniably talented. Despite losing some key pieces in the offseason, the offensive line is also returning to full health. The Cowboys receiving core is also regarded as one of the league’s best, with names such as Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup headlining the unit.
Top to bottom, the Cowboys have one of the best offensive rosters in football when healthy, and that showed through the early stages of the season. There will be no excuse for any decline in performance, if anything they must improve.
The list goes on and on for what Prescott has at his disposal offensively and what his contract means for himself and the Cowboys. The bottom line is that he needs to win football games, there is no way around it.
If the Cowboys continue to struggle with Prescott now being given the reins to the team as its leader and franchise player, there will be heavy talk about him, his money, and his true value to the team.
If there has even been a “prove it” year for Dak Prescott, this is it.
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