There was a glaring difference in play when the Dallas Cowboys faced the Arizona Cardinals without quarterback Dak Prescott on Monday night. It was painful to watch the now Andy Dalton-led Cowboys slog down the field. After the back-up-turned-starter took over for Prescott, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5, it was obvious who was really making this team work.
It certainly is not Dalton. It isn’t head coach Mike McCarthy, who was hired at the beginning of the year after his long stint in Green Bay and 2019 absence, either.
While the analogy is head-shakingly funny, ESPN’s Ryan Clark puts an exclamation mark on the end of a very important point: Prescott made the Cowboys better. Owner Jerry Jones, more or less, admitted as much after the 38-10 loss that left Dalton with a 38.7 quarterback rating. If you exclude the garbage time touchdown to wide receiver Amari Cooper, as Clark said, the Cowboys only scored three points on a 34-yard field goal in the first half.
“That was the pretty glaring difference out there last night,” Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan, via USA Today. “But it doesn’t have to stay that way.”
No one expected—or, better phrased, no one should have expected Dalton to be the answer, and that’s certainly not why he came to Dallas. He had not posted a winning record since 2015 and was ousted in Cincinnati after the Bengals selected Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Cowboys didn’t need a replacement for Prescott, who started every game in his five-year career prior to his injury, despite the contract dispute and their inability to pay him what he’s worth prior to the start of the season.
Dallas needed a contingency plan, a quarterback who could keep playoff hopes alive in case the worst were to happen; similar to the 5-0 record Teddy Bridgewater posted with the New Orleans Saints last season stepping in for an injured Drew Brees. That, however, isn’t what they got Monday. Dalton completed 34-of-54 passes for 266 yards, the lone touchdown, and two interceptions. He didn’t get any help from a historically bad Cowboys defense, who, through the first six games, have allowed the most points (218) by any NFL team, since 1961.
Still, in a nonsensical way, there’s still some hope Dalton can help keep the Cowboys atop the dreadful NFC East; and the way the division is shaping up—with the Cowboys atop despite a pitiful 2-4 record with the Philadelphia Eagles at 1-4-1 and both the New York Giants and Washington Football Team at 1-5—might be the team’s only saving grace.
“We can get the most out of our team and it could be enough with Andy Dalton,” Jones said. “We didn’t last night. He contributed to the turnovers early. We had a play that could have been a turnover right off that would’ve been significant. But we can get there with Andy.
“He’s going to be challenged. I wish we had been in better shape protection-wise there, I wish we had a better run game and could get in better field position and better points in the game to work with. When Dak had those things, we did well. Dak was able to take us when we didn’t have those things and keep us in the ball game and get a couple wins.”
There, unfortunately, has to be a winner out of the NFC East and it could very well be the Cowboys with Dalton under center. Dallas has a string of divisional games that would have been easy wins with Prescott and will be an easier test for Dalton before facing one of the NFL’s best defenses (and most complete teams) in the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Dallas will have to wait to see what it can get out of Dalton, which can very well be a mixed bag. But one thing this team should already be working on is sending a blank check to Prescott and paying whatever his asking price is so he can get this team back on track in 2021 and beyond.
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