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Cowboys must incorporate Dak Prescott to improve red zone production

With QB Dak Prescott getting the green light to run more often in 2022, the Dallas Cowboys will have another weapon to enhance their red zone arsenal.

DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys finished in the top-10 in red zone conversions in 2021, but it wasn't enough.

The Cowboys' 63.1% conversion rate was good for sixth-best in the NFL. However, every playoff team in the top-5 — San Francisco 49ers (No. 1, 66.7%), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 2, 66.2%), and Tennessee Titans (No. 5, 63.1%) — managed to crack the divisional round of the playoffs. Dallas left AT&T Stadium disappointed following the 49ers' 23-17 victory in the NFC wild-card.

Part of the reason for the Cowboys not being an elite team in the red zone could be related to quarterback Dak Prescott. The two-time Pro Bowler scored just one red zone rushing touchdown through 16 games, the fewest of his career. Even in 2020, Prescott's abbreviated season with just five games played due to a broken leg, the mobile signal caller scored three rushing touchdowns — on pace for 9.6 rushing touchdowns, the most of his career.

Prescott met with reporters on June 14 after mandatory minicamp and acknowledged the zone-reads in the red zone were still in the Cowboys playbook despite returning from the leg injury.

"It may have been in the playbooks some last year," Prescott said. "Guys just didn’t give me the reads. So, you didn’t think I was reading it. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s 3rd-and-short, red zone, they’re called a little bit more, but those things were called.”

Since Prescott sustained his broken leg on Oct. 11, 2020, against the New York Giants, the field general has learned to use discernment about when to bowl defenders over and strive for extra yards.

"Risk versus reward and just understanding that, yes, some of those are called and why are they called. Go get the first down, get that, get some yards, get out of bounds, and just know the importance of everything. And the coach isn’t going to call that for me to try to run people over and stiff-arm. So, just being smart and understanding that me being available is the best for me," said Prescott. 

According to coach Mike McCarthy, quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier is in charge of examining the team's red zone offense. The Cowboys' increased production would come down to execution and variations of existing concepts, not scheming new plays entirely.

"It’s not as much as having new plays. It’s really the variations of your concepts, because this league is so much about staying in front of the curve," McCarthy said. "Because you can’t line up and do the same things over and over in our game. The real part is you have to protect yourself from the volume of that, too."

Prescott's red zone passing wasn't an issue as his 26 touchdowns were tied with Patrick Mahomes for the sixth-most in the NFL. However, to take that next step, Dallas needs to find a way to revive Prescott as a red zone running threat in addition to keeping his red zone passing ability formidable.

Do you think Dak Prescott will rush for more touchdowns in 2022? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter at https://twitter.com/therealmarklane

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