The Dallas Cowboys are one of the biggest surprises and quite possibly the biggest story of the 2016 NFL season. Whether it’s for positive or negative reasons, “America’s Team” has historically been one of the most heavily scrutinized franchises in the league. After a rough year in 2015, the majority of the attention they have received from around the country is overwhelmingly positive in 2016. If you have seen them play this year, it’s easy to see why.
The Cowboys got off to a 7-1 start. They are currently the Vegas favorites to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 51. They control their own destiny at this point, and in our eyes, they have a good chance at clinching the No. 1 seed and home–field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs. We can trace the reason for their ascension to their dominance on the offensive side of the ball.
Despite lacking quarterback Tony Romo since mid-August, the Cowboys have managed to emerge as arguably the top offensive team in the NFL. When it comes down to it, their success on offense stems from three factors.
First and foremost, Dallas has the best offensive line in the NFL — hands down. They paved the way for the league’s best rushing attack (evidenced by their NFL-leading average of 165.3 yards per game on the ground). They have also allowed only 11 sacks this year (tied for the lowest total in the league).
The next factor: the emergence of rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft currently leads the NFL in rushing with 891 yards and averages a whopping five yards per carry. He is currently on pace to rush for just under 1,800 yards and 14 touchdowns and catch 32 passes for 300 yards — numbers that would put him squarely in the mix for the NFL MVP award this coming January.
The final and possibly most important factor in the Cowboys’ offensive success in 2016 is the play of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Teams largely overlooked the former Mississippi State Bulldog in the 2016 NFL Draft (he fell all the way to the fourth round), but he has been nothing short of spectacular in his first NFL season. Prescott has completed 66.5% of his passes for 2,020 yards, 12 touchdowns, and two interceptions, which gives him a quarterback rating of 104.2 (trailing only Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and Drew Brees). On top of that, the 23-year-old signal caller also added 125 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
Through the first half of the season, we all learned that the Cowboys’ team chemistry and locker room environment are championship-caliber with Prescott leading their offense. At the same time, this has been Romo’s team for the last decade, and there is always that unspoken NFL rule that says a player should never lose his job due to injury.
According to recent reports, Romo is now healthy enough to play, but the team still leans toward giving him one more week to recover before making him active on game-day. The 36-year-old’s clean bill of health means one thing: The Cowboys officially face a quarterback controversy.
Dallas owner/General Manager Jerry Jones (at least in his public comments) is going back and forth as to which direction — Prescott or Romo — the team will go when Romo returns. Originally he said the job belonged to Romo, but with every win and clutch performance out of Prescott, Jones’s stance has softened. In this article we look at the pros and cons of Prescott and Romo, and then give our take on how this budding controversy should play out. But as we all know, Jones has a history of making puzzling decisions.
The case for Prescott
From practically his first preseason game as a member of the Cowboys, it was blatantly obvious that Prescott possesses the ideal skill set for Dallas’s run-first offensive scheme. His ability to make plays — both inside the pocket on straight drop backs and outside of the pocket on sprint-outs or play-action — is a trait that few NFL quarterbacks possess. When you combine Prescott’s ability with Dallas’s dominating rushing attack, opposing defenses constantly find themselves off-balance when matching up with the Cowboys. On top of that, Prescott has done an outstanding job of protecting the football in 2016.
Furthermore, as we previously mentioned, the Cowboys’ team chemistry is currently higher than it’s been in a really long time. We attribute a lot of that to Prescott’s leadership skills. The rookie has already earned the respect and attention of his teammates, and he proves to be a solid performer in clutch situations.
The case against Prescott
The case against Prescott being the Cowboys’ starting quarterback going forward revolves around his inexperience and the team’s loyalty to Romo. While Prescott flashes the moxie necessary to win big games in the NFL, nothing can change the fact that he has yet to play in a postseason or must-win game in his brief professional career. And this Cowboys team has a real chance to contend for the Super Bowl title this coming February.
There is also the Romo factor. The 36-year-old has been a stable face of the Cowboys franchise since 2006. It’s easy to understand Jones’s and head coach Jason Garrett’s loyalty and respect for the former undrafted free agent. As silly as it may sound, this could ultimately sway the impending decision in Romo’s favor.
The case for Romo
Prescott himself has gone on record saying that the Cowboys are still Romo’s team. The 12-year NFL veteran proves he can play at an All-Pro level for an entire season; he has experienced nearly everything a starting quarterback may face in the NFL; and he knows what it takes to win games in the pressure-packed postseason. Lastly, it’s always difficult to take a player’s (especially a franchise quarterback’s) job away because of an injury.
The case against Romo
Bottom line: Romo is somewhat physically limited at this point in his career. He doesn’t possess the arm strength or dual-threat ability that makes Prescott so successful, and Romo will likely be incredibly rusty when the time comes for him to return to live action. On top of that, his injury history proves he is fragile and could be one hit away from another stint on the team’s Injured Reserve list.
If that weren’t enough, Romo has experienced his fair share of issues in big games and clutch situations. If he struggles if given his job back, it could destroy the Cowboys’ locker room and team chemistry.
The final answer
Simply put: The Cowboys would be foolish to take Prescott off the field at this point in the season. He’s led the team to seven straight wins and has played at a borderline All-Pro level along the way. Until he severely falters or gets hurt, Prescott gives the Cowboys their best chance to contend for a Super Bowl title in 2016.
Let’s not forget that benching a proven veteran (Drew Bledsoe) for a young, upstart quarterback with a chip on his shoulder (Tom Brady) is something that has worked out pretty well for the New England Patriots.