As the Cowboys lost another winnable game Sunday night versus their in-state rival, there was plenty of blame being thrown around on social media. Play-calling and general coaching is a popular complaint among Cowboys fans. A pass rush and blitzes that more often than not couldn’t get home was another. The secondary – and especially Jeff Heath – was called out, particularly on the back-breaking catch and run in overtime.
The glaring deficiency, though, was the quarterback play. This wasn’t just a winnable game. This game should have been in hand in the first half. The difference between the execution of each team’s quarterback was striking. The Cowboys’ defensive backs continued their recent run of very good/great play. Many of the Texans’ completions were to receivers that were covered about as well and as close as you could ask for. Watson just put the ball exactly where it needed to be and often while he was on the run, whether by design or because he was flushed from the pocket. He made quick decisions and executed almost flawlessly.
By contrast, Prescott looked slow to read and see open or potentially open targets. He looked slow to pull the trigger. Instead of throwing a receiver open or throwing at the second one created separation, he waited too long. Balls were being released when they should have already been to the receiver. When he delivered, few balls were on target. They were short, they were high, they were behind…making the receivers adjust or requiring acrobatics to catch the ball and, therefore, robbing them of potential after-the-catch yardage. Even on his one touchdown pass, Hurns had created separation and taken several strides before Prescott finally pulled the trigger. An NFL quarterback cannot wait until a receiver is open before deciding to throw the ball and have the kind of impact that the Cowboys need him to make. He needs to see and anticipate the receiver being open and deliver the ball to where they will be, not where they are once they’ve created the space.
We have seen enough at this point to know one thing, for sure. Prescott is no Romo. Romo was not perfect, nor was he on-target on 100% of his throws. He also had deficiencies. Cowboys fans had plenty of complaints about him for much of his career. He wasn’t slow to read or pull the trigger, but he did gamble much more than Prescott, which is great when it pays off and maddening when it doesn’t. The one thing he did that Prescott so far has been unable to do is elevate an average or below-average team. We know the Prescott that stepped into a championship-caliber team in 2016. 3,667 yards, 23 TDs, 5 INTs, and a Quarterback Rating of 104.5. We now also know the Prescott that has to find a way to win when offensive linemen are hurt and the stable of receivers draws no respect from opposing defensive coordinators. His Quarterback Rating fell by nearly 20 points last season and has fallen another 5 this season.
Romo elevated the team. Without him, those teams that drove some fans crazy for just coming up short would have been middle of the pack or lower. Yes, he also made decisions and throws sometimes that led to or contributed to a loss here and there. But, if not for his play, the team would not have been in a position to win those games. He made a difference. So far, Prescott has not. He has proved very capable of functioning well on a team with a healthy, dominant offensive line, a league-leading rusher, and a wide receiver and tight end that each demand attention from a defense. Romo did not have the luxury of all of those things at the same time very often in his career and he only got to play in one game with the best team that Dallas assembled during his career. Prescott currently has a league-leading rusher behind him. His line suffered a devastating loss in Travis Frederick, but it remains very good. His much-maligned receivers may not be household names, but they are doing their jobs.
The Cowboys need Prescott to step up from game-managing a great team to elevating an average team. So far, he hasn’t shown he can do that.