In the Star Wars prequels, young Anakin Skywalker is discovered by Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn and anointed as the Jedi’s Chosen One. According to prophecies, the Chosen One was destined to bring balance to the force and destroy the evil Sith.
In a galaxy much closer to home, fans of the Dallas Cowboys have similarly taken with a ‘Padawan’ of their own: rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.
And, why wouldn’t they? While there are no “midichlorians” to count, Dallas has gotten off to a 4-1 start, under Prescott’s guidance. They are the NFC’s second-highest-scoring offense, and are a boneheaded Terrance Williams play away from being undefeated.
He is the toast of the town and one of the hottest jerseys off the shelves. But soon, Prescott’s number one status may be threatened by the impending return of incumbent starter, Tony Romo, who has been out since August with a compression fracture in his back.
Tuesday, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones announced that Romo’s injured vertebrae had healed and the veteran would begin conditioning, in preparation for a return. The targeted date would be October or early November.
The debate circulating around Arlington, Texas these days is: should Romo’s job be waiting for him, if and when he does return?
So, which quarterback gives the Cowboys the best chance to win?
Entering the season, Prescott’s scouting reviews were mixed. He was dual-threat weapon at Mississippi State (11,153 combined rushing and passing yards). His body-type and running-style elicited comparisons to Tim Tebow – who played under MSU head coach Dan Mullen at Florida, where Mullen was offensive coordinator.
Dual-threat quarterbacks often struggle in the athletic fishbowl of the NFL, where big linebackers run a 4.5. So far, however, Prescott’s transition has been smooth. Head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan deserve credit for keeping their schemes simple.
It shows in the short-to-intermediate game. Prescott’s 69 percent completion rate is tied for 2nd, behind Sam Bradford. Most of those passes have been dump offs to slot receiver Cole Beasley and tight end Jason Witten, to the tune of 27 and 24 receptions, respectively.
So far, it’s worked out great. What the offense hasn’t shown, however, is the ability to stretch the field. The Cowboys rank in the NFL’s basement for pass plays of 25 or more yards. In fact, they have called for a pass on just 48.9% of their plays – the lowest rate in the league.
They haven’t had to. That’s largely because of rookie-back Ezekiel Elliott, who just happens to be leading the NFL in rushing. Behind a talented, offensive line, “Zeke” has already rushed for 546 yards and 5 touchdowns.
With his combination of vision, patience and unreal burst, Elliott is the sparkplug of the Cowboy’s offense. Dallas has been deadly on play-action, freezing linebackers and buying precious seconds for Prescott, in the pocket.
Garrett and company haven’t hesitated to call his number. In fact, Elliott is on pace for a 349 carries – an albatross workload for a veteran player, much less a rookie. Dallas will need to strike a better balance of passing and running, if they want to keep their rookie star fresh and intact, down the stretch.
In his last, full season, the veteran quarterback paced the league with a 69.9 completion rate, throwing for 3,705 yards and 34 touchdown passes. He also finished first in quarterback rating, at 113.2.
He has shown the ability to make receivers better (Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams both enjoyed career seasons in 2014). Those players haven’t been nearly the same, without him. Only Beasley is on pace to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark, and just barely.
The Cowboys offense is efficient, under Prescott. With Romo, it could be explosive. The threat of Elliott will buy him the extra pocket time he hasn’t enjoyed since DeMarco Murray’s departure. With the threat of the deep ball, safeties won’t be able to cheat up to the line of scrimmage. This will open up the second level for some truly monster gains.
Prescott has been good, as a runner, averaging 3.4 yards per attempt. Romo won’t beat him in a foot race anytime soon, but his signature-elusiveness in the pocket will help him overcome that deficiency.
At 4-1, the move might not make sense now, but the Cowboys will eventually play better teams. Facing a deficit, on the road, when the opposition knows you are going to throw: Prescott hasn’t truly had to shoulder those burdens.
It’s not a shot against the rookie, but Romo has been there. He has four seasons of 4,000+ yards on his resume, sacrificing his body for some awful, Cowboys teams.
The injuries have taken a toll, but Romo deserves a shot to play, until he proves otherwise.