Officially being eliminated from playoff contention after falling to the Seattle Seahawks, the Cowboys season comes to an end. Losing 21-12 and being outscored 14-3 in the second half, the biggest issues that took place in the game could be a foreshadowing for what is in store for Dallas’ future.
Sophomore Slump or Simply Prescott?
In two years, Dak Prescott has performed in ways that have landed him in MVP conversations, as well as fans clamoring for a new quarterback. Completing only 62 percent of his passes against a Seattle secondary without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor to go with 182 yards and two interceptions is brutal. Especially considering it was in a moment that required strong quarterback play in a win-or-go-home situation. Furthermore, even though pressure remained constant and the early loss of Tyron Smith would be exposed, the luxury of Elliott’s return could not have come at a more opportune time.
On the season, Prescott would lead the league in turnovers that resulted in touchdowns for the defense with five. One of those came on Dallas’ first possession in the second half. That turnover would be the turning point in the game. Having no way to explain what happened, is this the Prescott people should become accustomed to?
Also, Dallas would score 12 points or less in four of its last seven games. Known to be a safe, accurate quarterback who limits turnovers, Prescott saw his interception rate increase by 1.9% this season. Also, his completion percentage dropped from 68 percent in 2016 to 63 percent this season.
Yes, he had to deal with the injuries/suspensions of Elliott, Smith, and La’el Collins at times in the season, but personal traits never consistently grew or were shown. His feet would stall out in the pocket and his mental processing of anticipating routes or reading defenses pre-snap caused this offense to become stagnant. Losses were bound for this team, but fans still want to see players perform in times as such. Expect Prescott to remain as the starting quarterback entering next season, but it will be a season where he has to prove it to the league and fans.
Garrett should feel good, but what about Cowboys fans?
In his weekly radio spot, owner Jerry Jones commented on coaching changes stating:
Ever since Garrett became the Cowboys head coach in 2008, Dallas is 66-53. Having only two full seasons above .500. The past four seasons have been the most successful in his eight-year stint. Records consisting of 12-4 in 2014 and 13-3 in 2016, were highlights.
A trend that exists with Garrett though, and it continued to prove itself this season, is the Cowboys struggle indefinitely when losing a key player. At the time, Elliott and Romo were perhaps Dallas’ best players, but the stubbornness to adjust the gameplan fails the team as a whole.
How should Cowboys feel about this? Garrett has become a coach that is more of a meme than an actual talent. Even though Scott Linehan is responsible for play-calling, both are without excuse for what took place in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Down nine points with six minutes left, the Cowboys found themselves at the three-yard line with first and goal. They would pass the ball two out of the three times, failing to reach the end zone. While Elliott was averaging nearly five yards per carry, Garrett and Linehan neglected their best bet, drawing boos and chants of “Zeke” from the crowd.
Questions seem to remain open if Rod Marinelli or Linehan will return.
The Next Best Secondary?
If there’s any part of the Cowboys organization that seems to remain constant, it’s finding starting talent in the draft. Revisiting the departures of J.J Wilcox, Barry Church, and Morris Claiborne, secondary was the biggest need heading into last offseason. Four of the Cowboys’ nine picks in the 2017 NFL Draft would be defensive backs. Chidobe Awuzie in the second, Jourdan Lewis in the third, Xavier Woods and Marquez White in the sixth.
As Awuzie struggled to start a full game to begin the season due to a hamstring injury, once he got healthy, the pieces came together. Awuzie and Lewis ended up as boundary corners for the team, and even though Woods position as a safety is still in play, Marinelli used him as the slot/nickel corner. The on-field troubles of Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, and Byron Jones eventually led to significant changes across the secondary:
Since then, the Cowboys have given up an average of 164 passing yards per game. Now, the opponents have not been the best. This is simply a three game stretch against the Giants, Raiders, and Seahawks, but in their time, they have risen to the occasion. When Awuzie has started in a game for Dallas, teams have averaged just 207 yards passing on more than 40 attempts per game . Xavier Woods has demonstrated the ability to transition his great instincts into the pros.
Not being fully unleashed yet to maximize his potential, if Brown can solidify the slot cornerback position, Woods has a chance for a lot of growth and a long career as a safety.
Last but not least, and probably the one who brings the most personality out of three, is former Michigan Wolverine Jourdan Lewis. Though teams have been able to give him some trouble with crossing routes, he had to learn faster than anyone. Missing the off-season dealing with legal issues, he was immediately thrown into the fire during the Broncos game due to injuries. Since then, he has been a spectacular addition to this defense and he should find himself as a starter next year. Proving the doubters wrong on being able to play outside corner, here is one of the few things he achieved this season:
A bright future to a young defense, the potential is there to be the next great unit in the NFL. Even though “Prime Time” had a few words on social media after Russell Wilson’s 93 yard display against the Cowboys, Lewis had something to say himself.