Dak Prescott Injury Caps off a Disastrous Week 1 for the Dallas Cowboys

Many will attest that the aftermath of Week 1 is fodder for overreaction. All too often, fans and analysts must be reminded that week one doesn’t make a season. The Green Bay Packers looked terrible in week one last year, getting demolished 38-3 by the New Orleans Saints. In 2014, Tony Romo threw three awful interceptions against the San Francisco 49ers in an ugly opening day loss. Both teams ended their respective seasons 13-3 and 12-4. Sometimes, however, week one gives the world a glimpse precisely into how a season is going to go.

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Dak Prescott Injury Headlines a Disastrous Night in Dallas

It’s difficult to overstate just how horrific Sunday night went for the Dallas Cowboys. A horror show of worst fears realized ended with numerous significant injuries, a pitiful offensive performance, and a fanbase—still reeling from last season’s disappointments—left with one sharp realization:

Everything that was a concern going into this season manifested itself on the field Sunday.

All the optimism that the front office peddled during the off-season went up in smoke before halftime. Overall, the Cowboys looked like frontrunners for the worst offense in the league as Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers steamrolled over them in a 19-3 victory that was much worse than the score indicates. To make matters worse, Dak Prescott is out with an injury to his throwing hand for six to eight weeks at least.

Make no mistake, Prescott was playing terribly before the injury. Much of this was due to the off-season troubles that were played off as nonissues by the front office. The offensive line was about as bad as everyone feared it would be. Penalties are still a problem, especially on the line. There may as well have not even been receivers on the field outside of Dalton Schultz and a few flashes from Noah Brown.

In short, the sky is falling in Dallas, and week one isn’t even over yet.

Dak Prescott Injury

For the third time in as many seasons, Dak Prescott will miss games due to injury. During the fourth quarter, Shaq Barrett twice got through the offensive line (for what felt like the hundredth time) and collided with Prescott’s throwing hand. After the first collision, Prescott was seen trying to work out his thumb and index finger. After the second, he came off the field and never returned.

Dak had three and a half quarters of ugly play beforehand. He finished the night 14/29 for 149 yards and a bad interception. Miscues with receivers and consistently being mauled in the pocket did not help matters. The fans in attendance were raining down boos onto the field long before Prescott’s calamitous injury—who could blame them?

Seemingly by design, the Dallas Cowboys front office has placed responsibility for the team’s offensive success squarely on the shoulders of Dak. He was the one that needed to elevate the receiving corps into a successful unit. He was the one that needed to overcome any offensive line problems. Fans then had to watch in horror as Prescott forced passes to smothered receivers while being harassed all game.

With Prescott injured, the Cowboys now look to Cooper Rush as a replacement. Rush has a start and win under his belt from last year, but fans have seen enough of his play over five seasons to be understandably unenthused. Potential trade targets exist, but it’s difficult to imagine Dallas making any moves when they have already shown their hand. The front office chose to leave the backup quarterback position as it is amongst raised eyebrows. Unless the Jones’ uncharacteristically give up picks for a player they (hopefully) only need for a few months, they must face the position they willingly put themselves into.

Key Losses

Dak Prescott wasn’t the only Cowboy to suffer a significant injury on Sunday. During the first drive, left guard Connor McGovern had his ankle rolled on and left the game. Early reports point to a high ankle sprain that will have the guard out for multiple weeks. Left guard was already a worry area before this injury for an already-questionable offensive line. The Cowboys will have to look to players like Matt Farniok unless they decide to slide Smith back to guard and place Peters at tackle. Considering the circumstances, this may have been the best option anyway.

Jayron Kearse also suffered a lower-body injury during the game and is expected to miss multiple weeks as well. Kearse is a defensive captain and plays a uniquely specific role in Quinn’s scheme. It is unclear who will step into this role in his absence, but the Cowboys, fortunately, have talent at safety. While his presence is bound to be missed over the next few weeks, the defense should be able to compensate.

Where are the Receivers?

The wide receiver unit has been a steady concern for most analysts and fans for the entire off-season. Fluff coming out of the front office attempted to sell a receiving unit that looked awful on paper. The new number one receiver CeeDee Lamb has not had to be “the man” yet in his short career. Tentative whispers during the off-season questioned if he could immediately step into the role left by Amari Cooper’s departure. Michael Gallup is still not fully recovered from last year’s injury, though his progress has been admirable. The rest of the group—unknown, young, or both—was sold as a pool of talent waiting to be unleashed.

Fast forward to Sunday at AT&T Stadium. As almost anyone could have guessed, the Bucs proceeded to smother Lamb all night. Predictably, names like Simi Fehoko and Dennis Houston were of no concern to Todd Bowles’ defense. The Bucs were able to bracket Lamb in zones and keep safeties over the top of his routes. No other receiver gave them any reason to stop. Consequently, Lamb was targeted 11 times for 2 catches. When he was able to shed coverage he had several key drops, quickly turning those aforementioned whispers into genuine distress. Noah Brown led the team in receiving yards, but never truly threatened the defense. Lack of separation and sloppy route running by the receivers led to several moments when Prescott was left patting the ball in the pocket, eventually getting swallowed by the pass rush.

Shipping off Cooper for peanuts was laughable enough in itself; watching the receiving unit Dallas fielded last night makes it borderline criminal. With Rush now presumably taking over, it’s difficult to see a way this group gets on track if Sunday night was any real indication of their capabilities as a unit.

Offensive Line

The narrative after Tyron Smith’s injury was mostly focused on first-round rookie Tyler Smith. His move from guard to left tackle dominated the conversation around the offensive line. So much, in fact, that many forgot about the unanswered questions across the rest of the line. Last night was a jarring reminder of how worrisome the entire line is outside of Zack Martin.

Smith was not stellar in his debut but did better than many assumed he would. Deemed a “flag magnet” by some during the draft, Smith only had one penalty for a false start. There were misfires leading to sacks, and his whiff of Barrett led to Prescott’s initial hand injury. Yet, all things considered, he was far from the main issue.

Right tackle Terence Steele looked dreadful most of the night. Whether getting beat by the rush or committing several penalties, it was a bad night all around for a player riding into the season purely on the coaching staff’s faith. The concern surrounding Steele was pushed to the back burner once Tyron Smith went down, but Sunday showed Dallas may be in trouble at both tackle spots.

When McGovern went down during the first drive, Matt Farniok stepped in and was predictably overmatched. His struggles capped off an abysmal night for the offensive line, as he allowed multiple pressures and QB hits.

Jason Peters waits in the wings, but for what role? Left tackle was the automatic assumption upon his signing, but that seems far from the biggest hole currently. Right tackle may prove to be the biggest area of concern, and neither Smith nor Peters is an ideal solution.

Feed Zeke?

Ezekiel Elliott looked strong when running the ball on Sunday, getting several chunk gains early in the game. In a bewildering strategy, the coaching staff appeared unwilling to commit to the running game even as Elliott gained 5+ yards on seemingly every carry and Prescott struggled mightily. Running the ball effectively tends to open play action opportunities and force the defense to play closer to the box. The offense probably could have benefited from both of those things on Sunday night. The staff, however, appeared intent on having Prescott wing it into coverage under duress for the entire night until he was injured doing just that.

Even more perplexing was the decision to continue sticking Tony Pollard in protection during obvious passing downs. One of Elliot’s biggest strengths is his pass protection—it’s part of his value outside of rushing. Inexplicably, this duty was placed on Pollard far too often on Sunday night with expected results. Pollard is extremely talented but pass protection has never been his forte, which makes these decisions all the more baffling.

Now that the quarterback position is significantly downgraded due to the Dak Prescott injury, will the coaching staff rely more on the rushing game moving forward? Will they have a choice?

A Defensive Team Now

Brady was held to one touchdown pass all night. Micah Parsons had two sacks, and several key stops during the game. Trevon Diggs appeared locked in and, outside of a wild one-handed catch from Mike Evans, had a great showing in coverage. The interior run defense looked strong for much of the night. The lackluster offensive showing would make almost any defense look elite in comparison, but Dallas’ defense was truly impressive for much of the night. There were some areas to watch moving forward, though.

Julio Jones was lighting up Anthony Brown early in the game while Diggs dealt with Evans. After halftime, Diggs was placed on Jones more frequently and Brady immediately began targeting Evans for big gains. It was obvious Brady was picking on Brown during their only touchdown drive. The narrative throughout camp was Brown looked primed for a stellar season and that may still be true. However, he will need to play better for this defense to be what it needs to.

Parsons had two sacks in big moments, which is what fans have come to expect from the Young Lion. Outside of Parsons, the edge rushers combined for only two pressures. The pass rush will have to be better moving forward if the Cowboys hope to maintain the level of disruption Dan Quinn’s scheme is meant to produce.

Going into the season, many wondered if Dallas would become a defense-first team. Playmakers on all three levels have this side of the ball ready for success. After the developments on Sunday night, the defense must be outstanding if the Cowboys have any hopes of staying afloat during Prescott’s absence. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that they will be excellent. The question of if it will matter is what looms large in Dallas.

Paying the Price

The Dak Prescott injury is far and away the most disheartening news to come out of last night. Week one is full of aberration, and perhaps his subpar play Sunday night would have been just that. Unfortunately, the injury makes this the only glimpse anyone will have until he returns. Looking at the outcome on Sunday makes it difficult to imagine a scenario where his return will matter as far as the postseason is concerned. It’s not hyperbole to acknowledge Dak was Dallas’ only hope at overcoming the roadblocks they placed in their own way.

Undoubtedly, it’s bad taste to boo a player as they exit with an injury. They were boos of disappointment, sure, but they also came from a deeper place. A place of understanding that the mismanagement of this roster by an arrogant front office led the team directly to this point. Prescott was floundering before the injury—there is no denying that reality. Yet, it’s next to impossible to name a quarterback that could overcome the obstacles that have been allowed to manifest since the Cowboys were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs last season. Lack of passing, bad offensive line play, penalties, and regression—it all showed up during Sunday Night Football. Everybody from the players to the fans is seemingly paying the price. Will the culprits who allowed it to happen pay any price? Doubtful.

What happens next will go a long way in deciphering whether the plan is to punt on the season or try and salvage Prescott’s return in any meaningful way. The defense looks ready to compete and keep games close. Will a compromised offense be able to hold up its end of the bargain?

There’s no overreaction in Dallas after week one. The Cowboys are in serious trouble.