The 2020 NFL season has not been kind to the Dallas Cowboys. Head coach Mike McCarthy has been underwhelming and the defense, led by new coordinator Mike Nolan, and is almost dead last in every significant category. The Cowboys have depended heavily on Dak Prescott and their offense to get them out of bad situations, which hasn’t worked well this season. They’ve dropped very winnable games against the Los Angeles Rams, the Seattle Seahawks and the Cleveland Browns. Much of the fault for these losses has fallen on the defense, but Prescott has gotten a considerable amount of blame as well. He threw a game-ending interception in both the Seattle game and the Cleveland game. Many fans were pointing to these shortcomings, as well as his failure to bring them back against the Rams, as reasons why Dallas shouldn’t give him the long term contract he desires.
The fan outlook on Prescott seemed to change in an instant last Sunday and for the most unfortunate of reasons. On a first down and 10 midway through the third quarter, Prescott left the pocket and attempted to scramble for a first down. He was met near the first down marker by New York Giants cornerback Logan Ryan. As Ryan attempted to bring Prescott down, his leg fell on Prescott’s ankle, causing it to bend outward in a gruesome manner. The face of the Cowboys franchise suffered a compound fracture to his right ankle and had to be carted off. The love for Prescott was seen immediately. The stadium fell quiet, teammates gave their best wishes to their quarterback and even former coach Jason Garrett came over from the Giants sideline to check on Prescott.
Despite the loss of their star quarterback and leader, the Cowboys are uniquely prepared for a situation like this. The decision to bring in veteran quarterback Andy Dalton in the offseason was scrutinized by many who felt like the move would alienate Perscott. Instead, the Cowboys landed arguably the best backup in the league. Dalton looked ready to play as soon as he hit the field in relief of Prescott. He threw for 111 yards and completed nine out of his 11 passes, leading the Cowboys to a win over the Giants.
Dallas currently sits at 2-3 and has a chance to sneak into the playoffs because of the weakness of the NFC East. The odds of that happening do not significantly change because of Prescott’s injury. Dalton is an experienced quarterback with the capability to lead an offense, especially if the offense is as loaded as Dallas’ is.
Prescott is the better quarterback. He tends to make less mistakes and is undoubtedly the heart and soul of the Cowboys. His leadership will be missed dearly, but it doesn’t seem very likely that the Cowboys either surge or plummet on offense because of Dalton. A slight dip is the most likely outcome. The problem with this team will continue to be the defense, and their performance will dictate where this team will land. Either way, the Cowboys have fallen behind significantly, and they may not have enough cohesion to do anything if they eventually make the playoffs. That is in part because of Dalton; the offense had no room for error when Prescott was playing, and Dalton will be held to a similar standard. He cannot afford to turn the ball over, and that’s something he has done a fair share of during his career in Cincinnati. His last couple of years in that offense were particularly mediocre, but it is unclear how much of the blame can be placed on his shoulders, as the Bengals were one of the worst teams in the league for an extended stretch.
The loss of Prescott has been felt around the league by both fans and players. His talent and leadership shined in the spotlight from the first day he took over for Tony Romo. The Cowboys will look strangely different without him under center, but these kinds of team-altering injuries are sadly common; it’s the nature of the sport. Prescott will be missed, but Dalton has the skills to keep them afloat on the offensive side of the ball for the remainder of the season.