Tempering the Dak Prescott Hype

After an incredible performance in a 30-16 win over the Green Bay Packers, it’s easy to see why Dallas Cowboys fans believe in rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott recently broke Tom Brady‘s record for most attempted passes before his first interception in NFL history, and has “America’s Team” sitting pretty at 5-1. With Tony Romo returning from injury, Cowboys fans are begging for Prescott to keep his job. Here’s why they should think twice.

Tempering the Dak Prescott Hype

Statistics

In the world of sports analytics, statistics are king. You can’t discuss who is or isn’t among the all time greats without first looking at their numbers. Sometimes, numbers can be deceiving. Emmitt Smith has more rushing yards than Barry Sanders, but nobody outside of Dallas would say he was the better back. Conversely, Adrian Peterson rushing for 2,097 yards with Christian Ponder at quarterback was simply amazing.

So while it’s true that Prescott recently broke Tom Terrific’s record for most passes to start a career without an interception, it’s worth noting that he hasn’t been asked to do a whole lot. Prescott is 21st in the league in passing attempts, 17th in passing touchdowns, and 13th in passing yards. Prescott has done everything he’s been asked to do, and he’s done it well, but he hasn’t really been asked to do much.

Only five teams in the NFL give up fewer points per game than the Cowboys, they’re second in rushing offense, and so far, Prescott hasn’t been much more than a game manager. It’s really unfair to expect more of him. Prescott has performed well so far in his young career, and after all, he’s only a rookie.

But should Romo return, and return in reasonable shape, shouldn’t he get his job back? Romo is a veteran in this league, and, when healthy, has proven to be quite good. In three of his last four years as a starter in the NFL, he threw for at least 30 touchdowns. How impressive is that? Five of the six best passing seasons in Cowboys history belong to Tony Romo.

If the Dallas Cowboys are trying to win a Super Bowl in 2016, shouldn’t they put their best quarterback in the game? They’ve got a good rushing attack, but aren’t they more of a threat to teams like the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings with a proven quarterback under center?

The Other Rookie

While Prescott has played well as a starter, there’s another rookie in Dallas that has been making waves. That rookie’s name is Ezekiel Elliott, and heading into week seven, he leads the NFL in rushing. He’s on pace to shatter Eric Dickerson‘s record for rushing yards as a rookie (1,808), and one teammate believes the Ohio State alum will break 2,000 yards.

This is obviously due in no small part to arguably the best offensive line in football. The unit of Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, La’el Collins, Doug Free, and Travis Frederick have produced so well as a unit that they’ve been dubbed the second coming of the Great Wall of Dallas.

Playing with a player of Elliott’s caliber is certainly helpful for a young quarterback. Just look at players like Derek Carr or Andrew Luck that have achieved statistical success but ultimately struggled without run support. Comparatively, look at what Edgerrin James did to help Peyton Manning in his youth. Or, check out another quarterback that Cowboys fans should be familiar with, Tony Romo.

The 2014 Dallas Cowboys

Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time the Cowboys have had a hot start in recent memory. Back in 2014, the Cowboys started off 6-1.How did they do it? By running the ball behind a great offensive line, chewing up clock, and avoiding turnovers. How could the other team score if they weren’t on the field? How could Tony Romo turn the ball over if he wasn’t forcing unnecessary passes?

They force-fed DeMarco Murray the ball, and he turned in the best season of his career. In 2014, Murray rushed for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns. Murray took 392 carries, and he helped the Cowboys win 12 games, as well as the NFC East.

Does that sound familiar? Because it should. This is exactly the same formula that the Cowboys have been using in 2016.

The young Elliott has already rushed 137 times in six games. If he maintains this pace, he’ll have registered 365 carries in his rookie season. That’s not where the similarities end either. Currently, the Cowboys lead the NFL in time of possession, holding the ball for an average of 33 minutes a game.

That year, Tony Romo threw for only 3,705 yards, but he managed to score 34 touchdowns while only throwing nine interceptions. It was one of his best years as a pro, and the last full year he played. The following year, Dallas lost Murray to free agency and the team struggled to find a workhorse back. The pressure of carrying the team fell on Romo’s shoulder, and injuries have kept him sidelined ever since.

This year, Prescott is on pace for a pretty decent rookie year. He’s on pace for 3,962 yards, 19 touchdowns, and three interceptions. Considering he’s only a rookie, that’s pretty impressive, which leads to the final point.

Playing Devil’s Advocate

Having said all this, should Jason Garrett choose to stick with Prescott, it isn’t the worst decision in NFL history. In fact, it closely resembles the best decision ever made. You might remember that Tony Romo took this job from a quarterback named Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe used to be the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots before he suffered an injury. Remember who took his place? That’s worked out pretty well for Bill Belichick.

Prescott is only 23 years old, and is coming off the best game of his young career. What he brings to the table now might not be as good as what a healthy Tony Romo does, but who is to say he won’t be very shortly? After all, no rookie quarterback in NFL history has ever won the Super Bowl. Prescott won’t learn anywhere near as much on the bench as he will on the field, and it’s obvious that Romo’s body just isn’t holding up.

The Cowboys might not be 5-1 because of Dak Prescott, but to say that he hasn’t played a big part in their success would be foolish. Not that long ago, a team in the Pacific Northwest decided to ride with a rookie quarterback as well. He didn’t bring elite production to the field right away, and he certainly got help from a great running game and an elite defense. That rookie’s name was Russell Wilson, and he turned out okay.


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