As the Dallas Cowboys pack their bags and head home for the offseason earlier than they would’ve hoped to, the conversation among fans and media will be picked up right back where it was left after last year’s elimination.
Around the quarterback. It is, after all, the toughest job in sports.
Right or wrong, that’s part of the job description.
In the ultimate team sport, the most strategic game, when the season ends, it all ironically falls on the shoulders of the quarterback; whether it ends by lifting a trophy or with a heartbreaking press conference.
As such, at least in the eyes of the public, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will catch most of the blame for the team’s second consecutive playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
It’s not an unfamiliar spot to be in for him.
But perhaps this is the one time when the Cowboys really lost because of his play first and foremost. Quarterback play was really poor for Dallas on Sunday’s game at Levis Stadium.
Prescott threw two interceptions in the first half, both of which were on him (even if Michael Gallup was partially responsible for the first one). But the problems extended well beyond those two turnovers.
After the Cowboys’ lone takeaway, courtesy of Kelvin Joseph via special teams, the Cowboys took over at the 49ers’ 21-yard line. The #1 red zone offense in the NFL came up with only three points in that drive.
Then with little over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Prescott had an opportunity to shake off a poor performance with a game-tying drive.
Instead, it was an ugly three-and-out sequence that included a near-pick, a missed deep shot, and a sack.
In other words, Dak Prescott fell short in what could’ve been a legacy-altering playoff game against a very talented 49ers defense.
Rather, it’s back to the weight room in the hopes of a better season next year.
What does this mean for Dak’s future with the Cowboys?
Let’s be real here. As much as the Cowboys’ playoff loss hurts, this franchise knows it’s got a good quarterback in its ranks. Prescott will remain the team’s driver and is likely one of its strengths, not one of its weaknesses.
Sure, we can agree on him not being an elite force that can win with any supporting cast around him. He won’t win consistently in the playoffs by himself. But there might be fewer than a handful of those in this league.
Good quarterbacks, never mind elite, don’t grow on trees, and it’s tough to envision the “QB limbo” strategy being any better for Dallas. It sure hasn’t worked for any other team around the league.
In reality, Prescott is this team’s best chance. The question then becomes, how can this team get better on offense and make life easier for its QB?
That’s a tough one to answer.
A few off-the-top-of-my-head ideas would include:
- A more aggressive approach on early downs that doesn’t force third-and-longs nearly as often (all scheme-related topics will play a major role).
- Better wide receivers. Michael Gallup was certainly not what the Cowboys wanted this year. And faster wideouts, too. This offense lacks speed.
- Improved pass protection.
Last offseason, the Cowboys got rid of wide receivers Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson. They also moved on from two starting offensive linemen, consciously creating question marks across the offense instead of clearing them up.
This year, we’ll see if the approach is any different from the Cowboys’ front office.
If it isn’t, it will be hard to get too excited about the state of the team until September comes around and the team does what it already has proven capable of doing.
Winning in the regular season. Maybe then, Cowboys fans will start to believe in this team’s chances again. For now, though, get ready for a long few months.
Featured image via Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports