DALLAS — Dak Prescott had a record-breaking year for the Dallas Cowboys during the 2021 season, throwing for a franchise best 37 touchdown passes. The campaign was even more impressive when remembering that Prescott was coming off a serious ankle injury that kept him out for most of the 2020 season.
Prescott’s statistical achievement also led to the team’s success, as the Cowboys won 12 games and took home an NFC East title. The season ended bitterly in the Wild-Card round, of course, but the foundation laid after Prescott returned and played well is a positive sign.
Coming back from a catastrophic injury is difficult. For Prescott to play at a high level again should help the Cowboys believe that even bigger things can happen with their franchise quarterback getting even stronger.
However, despite all of the accomplishments from Prescott last season, something was noticeably missing from his game. Before his injury, Prescott was a dual-threat quarterback. He could throw the ball to win, but he also used his legs to help the offense move the ball or keep defenses honest. The ability to beat opponents with his legs and his arm made Prescott one of the more difficult quarterbacks in the league to defend.
Prescott recorded at least 277 yards in each of his first four seasons in the league – the seasons before his injury. Prescott had a career high of 357 yards in his sophomore campaign in 2017 and averaged 305 yards per season in his healthy years. Prescott also scored six touchdowns in each of his first three seasons and three in 2019. In 2021, however, that rushing total cratered to just 146 yards and one score on the ground.
Half of the former Mississippi State standout’s game was missing last season, something that Cowboys coaches were aware of. Due to the nature of his injury, the Cowboys sought to protect Prescott and not push him just one year removed from an ankle fracture. There were notably fewer quarterback run calls in the game plan, something fans noticed, but the team never admitted, until now.
It’s understandable why the Cowboys wanted to protect Prescott, especially since they signed him to a risky mega deal before seeing how he’d perform post-injury. Having him get hurt again and miss any number of games just one season into a new contract wouldn’t have been smart for business.
Prescott is a notoriously tough player who would do anything to help the team win, but putting in a high number of plays with greater potential to be injured isn’t a wise strategy for the long-term. More contact for your franchise player doesn’t benefit the competitor or the team for the future.
However, in the short-term, the Cowboys had a chance to compete for a Super Bowl last season and they purposefully omitted a part of their offense that could’ve helped them navigate through their downfall.
Dallas did have the top scoring offense in the league last year, but that was built off success early in the season and a few blowouts late in the year. After their bye week last fall, it was clear that the offense wasn’t the same and they struggled mightily in the red zone. Allowing Prescott to take off to sustain drives or punch the ball into the end zone could’ve helped in both areas.
Right guard Zack Martin spoke during minicamp on Tuesday about what Prescott’s legs mean to the offense:
“Yeah, I mean, for us, it doesn’t change a whole lot. It just puts more pressure on the defense. Adds another aspect they have to worry about. Dak throughout his career has been so good at that, and extending plays with his feet. So, you know, I don’t want to speak for him, but I imagine he’s feeling a little more comfortable going into this year with that.”
A new season always brings new wrinkles, and the Cowboys are ready to unleash Prescott’s legs again in the offense. To Prescott’s credit, he’s worked to get himself into shape to be able to run more this season.
Last offseason, Prescott was working his way back and rehabbing his ankle injury to prepare for the season. This year, Prescott had the time to work on his conditioning more and getting himself into the shape that helped him be one of the better running quarterbacks in the game.
Dallas’ offense was among the best in the league last year, but utilizing Prescott’s mobility can open up another level for the group. The Cowboys lost some firepower when wide receiver Amari Cooper was traded, but they can make up for some of the lost production in the passing game with Prescott unlocked in the running game.
Prescott can also help a rushing attack that stalled out late in the 2021 year. Along with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, the Cowboys could have one of the more dynamic ground games in the league.
There’s always a risk with allowing your quarterback to run the ball, but the Cowboys are at their best with the threat of Dak Prescott using his legs to help the offense. Expect that aspect of the offense to return this season.
Do you think Dak Prescott will be a mobile threat for the Cowboys again in 2022? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.