The Dallas Cowboys Need to Make it Work with Dak Prescott

Dak Throwing Lasers

A Promising Regular Season

The Cowboys finished 12-5 and had a very successful regular season campaign. They split the season series with the NFC leading Eagles, dominated the rest of the division, and pulled off impressive wins against the Vikings, Bengals, and Lions. There was a disappointing opening week loss to the Bucs and some weird overtime losses to the Packers and Jaguars, but overall this team emerged as a legitimate title contender. 

Dak Prescott and the high-powered offense get most of the attention, but the Cowboys’ defense was arguably more impressive. Dan Quinn’s unit held teams to 20.1 points per game, tied for 5th best in league with the Cincinnati Bengals. Micah Parsons turned into an All-Pro terror as he, DeMarcus Lawrence, and the rest of defense got after the QB and forced enough turnovers to give the Cowboys the 2nd best turnover margin in the league behind the 49ers. 

The offense benefitted greatly from that advantage as they finished 4th in the league in points per game despite a fairly conservative approach and a turnover-prone QB. Tony Pollard and Zeke Elliot combined to form one of the top rushing attacks in the league, and Cee Dee Lamb continued his emergence into the elite tier of receivers with over 100 catches for 1,359 yards, and 9 TDs.

A Familiar Postseason Story

The Cowboys avenged their opening week loss to the Bucs with an emphatic 31-14 win in Tampa. Aside from the special teams unit, they came out sharp and took a 3-score lead into halftime on the night. They systemically decimated Tom Brady’s boys in their Wild Card matchup on Monday Night and had fans and onlookers ready to take their title challenge seriously. 

But San Francisco stood in their way and the Niners were a nightmare matchup for the Cowboys. The Niners have one of the best offensive lines in the league and a future Hall-of-Famer at running back in Christian McCaffrey. As good as the Cowboys’ defense was, they were not great at stopping the run. The expectation was that the Niners would run over, around, and through the Cowboys. Surprisingly that never happened. The Niners were held to one touchdown and despite a +2 turnover margin, they failed to dominate the game.

Unfortunately for the Cowboys, those two interceptions wound up being enough of a difference-maker for the Niners to win 19-12. Tony Pollard’s first half injury and an anemic offensive output from everyone not named CeeDee Lamb sunk the Cowboys. They had a couple of chances to pick of Niners rookie QB Brock Purdy but could not. Their final play featuring Ezekiel Elliott lined up at center in an ill-advised hook and ladder call sealed yet another disappointing end to a Cowboys season against a familiar foe.

Where Do the Cowboys Go From Here?

This section looked a lot different a couple of days ago. Mike McCarthy and Dan Quinn appeared to be on their way out for very different reasons (McCarthy fired for Sean Peyton; Quinn getting another shot at a head coaching gig elsewhere). Since then we have learned Jerry Jones is running it back with McCarthy

Kellen Moore may see some changes in his responsibilities and some of the positional coaches are being shuffled out, most notably assistant head coach Rob Davis and offensive live coach Joe Philbin.  But don’t expect much of a change from one of the top offensive and defensive units in the league this past season. Scheme-wise, the 2023 Cowboys will not look that much different than the 2022 Cowboys. 

Refresh the Offense

With the coaching staff more or less settled, attention turns to the Cowboys’ backfield. Some in Dallas may be ready to move on from Dak after another postseason letdown and how could you blame them? 2-4 in the postseason with no wins in the divisional round and he was dreadful against San Francisco. The Niners are arguably one of the best defensive units in the league, but Dak was signed for elite QB money to beat elite units like that. We keep hoping that Dak can put this team on his back and win big games, but it is becoming abundantly clear that he is not built for that.

Unfortunately for Dak’s detractors, he is the Cowboys’ best option for next season. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady should not walk through that door. Derek Carr does not do anything better than Prescott so do not bring him up. Rather than moving Dak, look for the Cowboys to restructure his deal and get more money for more weapons to complement CeeDee Lamb next season. Dallas may also want to draft an eventual successor for Dak (Max Duggan or Stetson Bennett IV on Day 3 maybe). 

One of those new weapons could be a new running back. Bijan Robinsonn out of Texas is the top player at the position in this draft and a true bell cow. The physical Robinson could be the perfect replacement for a fading Elliott and rehabbing Pollard. The Odell Beckham Jr. sweepstakes will likely kick off again too. Dallas hoped that Michael Gallup, Noah Brown, and James Washington could replace Amari Cooper but it never transpired. Finding another outside weapon to relieve the pressure on Lamb could potentially open up the offense.

The Defense

Dan Quinn’s defense was elite this past season, but htey could still us some new toys of their own. A run-stopping defensive tackle could shore up a unit that struggled against the run at times. The secondary could use some new faces too. Anthony Brown is a free agent and Jourdan Lewis is recovering from an injury. If a player like Joey Porter Jr. were available later in the first round, the Cowboys would be smart to pounce even if it meant passing on Robinson.

The Endgame

All in all, the Dallas Cowboys had a successful season but a disappointing exit. It’s been 27 years since their last conference championship appearance, but they’re so close to getting over the hump. Jerry Jones gets a lot of heat for the team’s failure to get back to the Super Bowl, but he deserves credit for giving this group another year to get it right. A one-score loss on the road should not trigger a teardown. If the Cowboys can fix the little things that they can control (Dak’s turnovers, more playmakers on offense, depth on the defensive line) they can mount a serious title challenge again next year. 

Check out our other NFL Offseason Outlooks:

Minnesota Vikings 

New York Giants 

Seattle Seahawks

Miami Dolphins

Baltimore Ravens

Los Angeles Chargers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers