Cowboys strategy with Dak Prescott makes no sense, and has to change now

Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

Dak Prescott has thrown the ball more than anyone so far his season, but the Cowboys strategy must change now.

The Dallas Cowboys are 1-3, with the NFL’s worst scoring defense. Quarterback Dak Prescott is on pace to obliterate the single-season passing yardage record (1,690 yards through four games), as deficits have force him to air it out.

Only a botched onside kick recovery by the Atlanta Falcons has prevented the Cowboys from being 0-4. They trailed that Week 2 game 20-0 at the end of the first quarter, followed by trailing Seattle by as much as 15 in the second half of Week 3 and the Cleveland Browns 41-14 at end of the third quarter in Week 4.

So it’s not surprising Prescott also leads the league in pass attempts (201). With the new left tackle Tyron Smith (neck) will miss the rest of the season, the Cowboys are now down both of their starting offensive tackles. And, going back to the start of the offseason and looking at it now, the entire offensive line picture looks bleak.

The Cowboys’ defense was not expected to be good this year, but the unit has been outright abysmal under the direction of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. So Prescott has been forced into negative game scripts. In the last two games, running back Ezekiel Elliott has almost a many targets (19) as carries (26).

The Cowboys have to protect Dak Prescott better, but not necessarily with better blocking

Without both starting tackles, the Cowboys have to move toward better offensive balance. They have thrown the ball on 68 percent of their first and second-down plays so far this season. Sunday against the New York Giants looks like a good opportunity to do that, but their defense is 11th in the league in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and 10th in the league against the run. That said, the Giants’ offense is not likely to create a big lead and the Cowboys should be able to be more balanced.

Looking beyond the last two weeks, Elliott is seventh in the league in carries with 70. He has also been heavily involved in the passing game, with 23 catches on 30 targets. So it’s not a question of getting Elliott a lot more touches, just shifting a trend in how he’s getting his touches. Running the ball more, or at least ideally a good bit better (Elliott is averaging 3.9 yards per carry) would also keep the defense off the field.

For all his pass volume, Prescott has taken a very low number of sacks so far (nine; 4.3 percent sack rate). But behind a further injury-thinned offensive line that’s in line to change, and the Cowboys have to alter their offensive strategy in kind.

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