DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys are 3-5 on the season and the woes are largely due to the offense not meeting any of the expectations warranted from the past two seasons of the Dak Prescott experiment. At 19.3 points per game, the Cowboys own the seven-worst scoring offense in the NFL. They have amassed 154 points through eight games, which are the 12th-fewest in franchise history.
The worst part of it all is that the offense can't move the ball. They have the fourth-fewest yards in the NFL with 2,537. The only other teams in the bottom-10 with winning records are Cincinnati and Washington, two teams that many wouldn't be surprised if they missed the playoffs altogether or were one-and-done in the wildcard round. Again, for franchise perspective, they are the 14th-fewest in team history through the first eight games.
Even though the Cowboys' playoff chances have fallen to eight percent with a 3-5 record, owner, president, and general manager Jerry Jones believes the team can improve with the personnel it has.
“We, first of all, I think we did improve with the addition of [Amari] Cooper," Jones told "Shan & RJ" Tuesday on 105.3 "The Fan" [KRLD-FM]. "I like what we’ve got in the balance of our receivers, especially with [Cole] Beasley and the upside of [Michael] Gallup. Got a young guy there in [Noah] Brown who’s got a chance to help us there at receiver. All of this coupled with an offensive line that while a little dysfunctional you might say right now, and I’m going to be careful with that word because I like the way our center is playing relative to stepping in for [Travis] Frederick. But we’ve got a chance to be better in the offensive line than we have been. And, so, that should be a big plus. We know what [Ezekiel Elliott] is. We can basically plan on Dak [Prescott] being able to focus, focus on what we can do and improve. So, I really think we’ve got the ability to improve for the short and long term in our offense with the personnel that we’ve got right now."
Jones' optimism amid such adversity is admirable, and it is a trait that helps folks beat the rat race and be successful in life. However, the trouble with the Dallas offense is entirely on the quarterback. That is a very easy analysis to take, and I could probably stop right here and collect my shells and move on. But let me explain why Prescott is the problem.
First of all, he has been terrible at protecting the football, which is one of his biggest strengths. Part of the reason why people favored Prescott over injured incumbent Tony Romo in 2016 was the rookie was making big plays without turning the ball over, something that was Romo's reputation. Through eight games in 2016, Prescott had five fumbles and two interceptions. This season, Prescott has five interceptions and seven fumbles.
The most damning part about his turnovers is where they have occurred. Three of his five interceptions have occurred inside the opponent's 40-yard line, with two of them being inside the red zone. Not only is that seven points potentially taken off the board, but that's nearly always at least three points and momentum switching jerseys. He is now tied for both the most red zone interceptions with two and the most interceptions inside the 10-yard line with one.
Prescott getting back to his roots is what would help the Cowboys offense go a long way.
Even though the Tennessee offense led by quarterback Marcus Mariota converted 11-14 third downs, which was well above their 43.2 percent conversion rate for the season, the arrow is still pointing up for the Dallas defense. The Titans had the ball almost nine minutes more than the Cowboys, who were able to run 57 plays.
The Dallas offense had five drives with five plays or fewer, though two of those drives started deep into Tennessee territory thanks to a Cowboys takeaway. Nonetheless, the Cowboys offense didn't hold up their end of the bargain and left their defense with the burden of saving the night.
All of it could have been changed if Prescott had taken care of the football.
"I don’t think that we want to go in here and redo what our plans are and what we prepared to do for the next eight games of this season, which represents half the season," Jones said. "I think the best way for us to have an opportunity to be successful is to basically stay with what we’re doing and get better. Now, staying with what we’re doing did not mean that it was going to be the same thing week in, week out, the same thing quarter in and quarter out."
We know the Cowboys' formula: run the football, take the air out of the football, melt the clock. In order to truly implement that type of game plan, it takes a quarterback who doesn't have too many giveaways. Again, it's too easy to blame Prescott, but his greatest trait is protecting the football. The sooner he can recover that skill, the better chance the Cowboys have for their fortunes turning around in November.
Is Dak still the defacto quarterback of the future or is it time for him to fight for his job? Share your thoughts about Dak with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.