The two worst jobs in American football are 1) head football coach at the University of Texas at Austin, and 2) starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.
In each case, the money is good, but life can often feel like chronic prostatitis.
Sark’s challenges aside for the moment, Dak gets the proctoscope here today as he prepares to play the biggest game of his career Monday night in Tampa. Losing that game would be catastrophic, and I’ll be the first to admit that is a negative outlook that can create crushing pressure. “Don’t lose.”
Full disclosure. I’ve always liked Dak, both as a quarterback and a person. I was Dak when Dak wasn’t cool. I was honking Dak like nobody’s business during his last season at Mississippi State, and when the Cowboys selected him in the fourth round of the 2016 Draft, I considered it a “steal.”
Here’s what I saw: Big. Strong. Mobile. Fluid. Tough. Strong arm. Cool. Excellent leader.
The Cowboys saw the same things, which is why Prescott was able to send Romo into early retirement.
Flash forward to now. If this is not a career crisis, it’s close enough. He is not playing well, and there’s no way to sugarcoat that. Despite missing five games this season with a broken thumb, Dak nevertheless has thrown 15 interceptions, including at least one pick in his last seven games. And he’s spent way too much of his time chasing opposing DBs into the Dallas end zone. We should not be mentioning Dak’s name in the same sentence as Davis Mills. This should not be happening in Dak’s seventh year in the NFL.
But here we are. To be sure, this isn’t all his fault. Cowboy receivers are horrendously sloppy route-runners, and, yes, that includes CeeDee Lamb. Guys routinely run routes at the wrong depths, make casual cuts and fail to come back for the ball. That’s alarming.
OK. And, yes, it’s also true that some of these picks have come off fluky deflections. But the rest is on Dak, who has become indecisive, inaccurate and often ineffective.
What’s going on? For openers, he’s late. I’ll defer to NFL Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, who says Dak is starting plays with his eyes in the wrong places. That then forces him to visually re-rack, which slows his progressions and gives “catchup time” to opposing coverages.
Troy Aikman is more blunt. He says Prescott is playing with zero confidence. And that can be contagious in a huddle.
So Kellen Moore has to put Dak in a more comfortable and confidence-inducing environment. Run the ball. Run it some more. Throw it more off play-action, and less off dropbacks. Give him some easy throws to start a game.
I’m often asked if I think Dak is an “elite” NFL quarterback. After seven years of watching him, I have to say no. But he is a very good quarterback, a “Tier-1A” quarterback, if you will.
The Cowboys can win a Super Bowl with Dak. And for their sake and his, they’d better.
This Wild Card game against the Bucs is the biggest game of Dak’s career to date. Absolutely. A loss in that game could cause foundational changes in the Cowboy organization and in Prescott’s career.
And to a large extent, you can tell that the team’s mindset is, “Don’t lose.” That can be self-fulfilling. If you’re an old enough Cowboy fan, this may remind you of their mental block with the Cleveland Browns in 1968 and 1969. That did not go well.
Here’s how most Cowboys view the Bucs. “They’re 8-9.” Here’s the truth. Tampa is playing at home. On grass. Brady got in a nice groove over the last month of the season. Brady has never lost to the Cowboys. The Bucs are running the ball better and stopping the run better than they were earlier.
This is going to be really, really hard.
And Dak has nowhere to hide.
Being the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys has often been a living hell for everybody not named “Roger,” and that includes Aikman.
Dak has to win this one, or that kitchen is going to overheat.