Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is adept at many things. As a marketer, businessman, showman and promoter, he is without equal in the NFL. An adept in-game manager or roster scout he is not.
While the Cowboys have enjoyed early success primarily due to two rookies, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliot, Jones is threatening to undo the team’s growing confidence by asserting that quarterback Tony Romo will be given his starting job back when fully healthy.
Romo was injured in the preseason and has rehabbed ahead of schedule, but, for the sake of the Cowboys and their millions of fans, Jones should backtrack and learn from history to see that Prescott should remain at the helm of America’s Team.
Prescott is playing unbelievably well for a rookie. Prescott is averaging around 250 yards per game and completing 69 percent of his passes. A deeper dive also shows that by averaging eight yards per pass attempt — good for seventh farthest in the league through five weeks this year — the Cowboys are trusting Prescott to make longer, more challenging passes.
While most rookies may not be given the full playbook or would not be trusted to challenge defenses by throwing the ball vertically down the field, this does not seem to be much of an issue for Prescott.
The biggest plus for Prescott is simple: no turnovers. Through five games he has yet to throw an interception despite throwing the ball around 30 times a game. Prescott is also aided by a stellar offensive line that gives him more time to throw and allows receivers’ routes to fully develop — two godsends to a quarterback.
Even if the offensive line cannot pass block with 100 percent effectiveness, Prescott is an extremely mobile quarterback and much more elusive than Tony Romo. Though the Cowboys do not draw up many designed run plays for Prescott, he has been able to score three touchdowns on the ground.
The additional threat of a more mobile quarterback is also important for game planning, because it creates the potential for over-pursuits by opposing defenses and wide open running lanes, of which Prescott is more likely to take advantage.
Helping Prescott lead the Cowboys’ offenses is rooking running back Ezekiel Elliot. Through five games, Elliot leads the NFL in rushing, which is having huge implications on Dallas’s play-calling strategy. Last season, the Cowboys called passing plays about 58 percent of the time; this season that number has fallen to 49 percent, but the offense is scoring over eight more points per game this season than it did last season.
That disparity is in part because the Cowboys suffered early season injuries last year to Romo and star receiver Dez Bryant, but it does not change the fact that the emergence of Elliot has made Dallas’ offense the most balanced in the league without having to sacrifice much productivity. In short, Dallas’ offense is in no way broke — Tony Romo is not needed to fix it.
History is also on the side of Prescott. Clearly the Cowboys are not the first team to lose its franchise quarterback before or early in the start of a season, but how a team handles it could make all the difference between competing for a Super Bowl title and thinking about what could have been.
Early in the 2001 season, then-Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered gruesome internal injuries during a game against the Jets. His replacement was the Patriots’ sixth round draft pick, Tom Brady.
Brady entered the game and maintained the starting job throughout Bledsoe’s recovery and led the team to an 11-3 record in the games he started. That season ended with New England winning its first of four Super Bowls. At the time, starting Brady over Bledsoe was an extremely controversial decision: Bledsoe was healthy by the end of the November, had already led New England to a Super Bowl a few years before in 1996-1997 season and was a $100 million quarterback.
Bill Belichick saw the budding chemistry the team was building with Brady and figured a late-season quarterback switch would do more harm than good.
A similar situation occurred with the 1997 Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs were a powerhouse in the 1990s and boasted a consistent top-tier defense that made them constant Super Bowl contenders in the AFC. In the middle of the season, starter Elvis Grbac sustained an injury that forced Rich Gannon into action.
Gannon guided the team to a 5-0 finish and secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Before the Chiefs division round game against Denver, coach Marty Schottenheimer announced that Grbac would reclaim his job for the playoffs. A team that had averaged 30 points with Gannon at the helm scored only 10 against the Broncos, and the Chiefs suffered another embarrassing home playoff loss, 14-10.
Denver went on to win the Super Bowl and Chiefs fans have second-guessed Schottenheimer’s decision ever since.
Romo may be a star quarterback, but we are seeing two young stars emerge before our eyes. If Jerry Jones wants to bring a Super Bowl and football respect back to Dallas, he should leave the aging star on the bench so that the young ones can continue to shine brightly.
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