Monday, September 19, 2016

The Morning After: Cowboys 27, Redskins 23

Words are tough to come by when talking about this kid. He has now been on public display for about six weeks and we are still waiting for him to show us he can't handle any of this. 
He is a rookie. 
He is a QB. 
He is starting for a team that has expectations this year. 
And he isn't letting them down.
In fact, if you would like to make a list for me on players who have done more to help this Dallas Cowboys team win than Dak Prescott so far, I am anxious to see what that list has on it. Prescott continues to dazzle and his play on Sunday was perhaps far more solid and repeatable than spectacular and jaw-dropping, but isn't that the point?
He looks like he does this all of the time. And as he made his first start away from home yesterday in Washington, we were still on guard that around the next corner there could be adversity waiting. He is a rookie QB making his first divisional road start against last year's champions, so this is going to be when he learns some tough lessons.
And then he does all of that. He makes plays, he moves the chains, he puts the ball in the end zone, he makes proper decisions, and he engineers a game-winning drive.
It appears Mr. Prescott has some qualities worth expanding upon. 
As someone who thought he played remarkably well in Week 1, you can imagine that I was even more pleased with his performance yesterday. The guy puts the ball where it needs to be on a repeated basis. He makes the right read, delivers the ball on time and gives his guys a chance to make a play after the catch. He worked the middle of the field and punished Washington for their coverage decisions as they pertained to Dez Bryant. He completed about 3 of every 4 passes and did so at a pretty impressive 10 yards per attempt. And, he stayed out of trouble all day.
Yes, he missed a few things on Sunday. He did not throw a perfect game. There were a few opportunities that might have escaped his vision at times when he was under duress. But give me the last Cowboys QB who was not named Romo who could drive the length of the field in the fourth quarter of a game and punch it in for a go-ahead touchdown. Then, tell me about that guy's rookie season - especially around Week 2.
If it isn't clear what I am getting at by now, let me continue with a few other thoughts on Prescott's start.
We have now seen him play 255 snaps as a Cowboy: 109 in the preseason and then 146 more in regular season. Through it all, he really has only flirted with an interception a few times. He takes care of the ball. He plays it safe as a default setting. Somehow, that is used against him at times, but I have never met anyone who really wants their rookie QB to show up with no discerning ability to know when to throw it into triple coverage. You must be a trustworthy QB before you earn the trust to take over the offense completely. 
And seeing him survey the action yesterday and gain enough trust from the coaching staff to run a 4th down in the first quarter to Geoff Swaim off a play-action fake was just unreal. 
You can tap the brakes all you want. I am going to call it what it really is. Phenomenal. This kid has played phenomenally well to put his team in position to win the first two games. And I have no doubt he can put them in position to compete all season long if he has to. 
The reason I feel that way goes all the way back to the 255 snaps number. That is about the number of snaps that teams need to get a "book" on someone. Three to four complete games of a player or team is what any defensive coaching staff want to see. Now, I am fudging the numbers a bit, because we usually would not allow preseason to be part of those numbers, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that the Giants and Redskins both used the Rams, Dolphins and Seahawks preseason games to get a read on what Prescott can and can't do. 
Defenses now understand what he can do, and now they're trying to figure out how to slow him down. The Cowboys have scored over and over again with him at the helm in pretty much all five of these games he has played in. And, if you were to ask me how many of these games was he supplemented with a dominating rushing attack, I think a fair answer may be that he really hasn't at all. 
Through two games, the Cowboys have run the ball on 60 different occasions. Forty-one of those have gone to the No. 4 overall pick, Ezekiel Elliott, and all 60 plays combined have accumulated 203 yards.  I don't know about you, but I would like to think that 60 plays gets me closer to 300, and the staggering reality is that the running game has supplied just 3.4 yards per carry. It has not been close to what was advertised: that this team would be able to bulldoze its way down the field repeatedly, with opponents waving white flags. That was a silly offseason idea that just doesn't materialize very often in this league. The NFL doesn't have teams run to championships; teams use the run game as part of a bigger mosaic. One that always includes a QB that can make sound decisions and then execute his duties with precision and timing. 
Dak Prescott is doing all of that.
In fact, if the 2016 NFL Draft were held today, I think we all see that Prescott goes higher than just about anyone else in the draft - including Zeke. I know it is crazy and I know I am contradicting what I saw from 200 of his Mississippi State snaps from 2015, but we have gathered new information. He has proven he is capable of playing well in the NFL and in Dallas.
Anytime this topic comes up, the self-loathing factions of Cowboys fandom as well as all of those who enjoy the Cowboys failing are quick to speak up and mock any declarations of positivity around here. I get it. You have seen dynasties, and this is a team that struggled to get to 1-1 against equally mediocre teams. This defense is spotty. The "all-time great" offensive line and running game are not hitting on even half of the cylinders right now. 
But, amidst all of this and the normal circus routine from the owner/general manager is a sparkling gem. If you have a rookie QB who can play, you might have the key to the next period of competing for playoffs and beyond. 
I have spent the last few years feeling like we were approaching the final act of Tony Romo's career. I am not in a big hurry to get there, but the realities cannot be ignored.His body has been battered and used up in so many ways. He may have more to give, but I think the train has left the station in terms of ever assuming the QB situation is settled with #9 under center for years at a time. 
To replace a guy like Romo should take some massive assets. Perhaps assets that need to go elsewhere. The irony of replacing an undrafted free agent with another QB who was taken after the 4th round seems like lightning striking twice.
Look, Prescott has a long, long way to go. 
But, did you see him standing tall in the pocket, surveying the field while his pass protection battled around him? Did you see his eyes stay up as guys are hanging on him? Did you see him know to take off and run for the end zone when nothing else looked appealing? Did you see him know to take the sack rather than throw the ball up for grabs?
I'm sorry, but there is nothing wrong with admitting this guy has already surpassed your wildest dreams. You take a guy that low and he is supposed to be hidden from the field for the first few years and then attempt to be a backup QB for a few more years. 
That's it.
So, this is already casino money on Prescott. He has won a game and put the team in position to win the other. The upgrade at the position from 2015 and really every other Romo-backup is obvious. They believe he can win. And so does he.
Yes, there are many other things we could discuss about this win in Washington. We could talk about the defense standing tall and forcing field goals and getting stops when it mattered most. We could talk about Alfred Morris and Justin Durant, two low-price veterans factoring in big or the defense getting an end-zone takeaway that meant the world in that game.
But, we have all week to get to that.
I want to entertain the idea that the Cowboys have found a QB worth talking about to consider the future after Romo.   
There are no guarantees where this journey leads, but I feel like I have seen the future, and it is worth being excited about. Don't be self-loathing. It is OK to dream that you have found the next guy.  
I'm not saying he is Russell Wilson, I swear.  But, he has a chance to be very good, it appears.  And that is the No. 1 reason why you should be smiling today.

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