Cowboys Should be Stout on Defense, But Dak Prescott Could Disrupt the Flow

With a young, dynamic linebacker duo and a fundamentally sound secondary led by Byron Jones, the Cowboys' defense should be one of the NFL's best this season. But how well will Dak Prescott adjust to a new offensive coordinator?
By Andy Benoit ,

The 2019 NFL season is just a few weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he analyzes the Dallas Cowboys, who finished 10-6 and first in the NFC East last year.

Dak Prescott’s contract becomes a distraction. Talks are dragging on because he’s difficult to appraise (he reportedly turned down a $30 million contract). Prescott’s arm is merely adequate, and he’s not always a quick field reader or anticipation passer. And yet, he’s capable of converting the occasional big-time throw. He sometimes struggles to I.D. coverages pre-snap, and yet he plays more assertively out of spread-empty formations, where he must marshal the field. He spent his first three seasons in a limited scheme comprised of iso-routes, yet it’s anyone’s guess how he’d perform in a modernized, quarterback-friendly approach involving advanced formations and intertwined route combinations. (And will new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore even adopt this approach? Most young guys do, but Moore has spent his entire pro career in predecessor Scott Linehan’s system.)

Perhaps most difficult to measure is that Prescott’s mobility makes him a feared perimeter running threat, which prevents edge defenders from attacking down on Dallas’ zone runs. This aids the running game in an offense that, with the league’s best foundational runner, Ezekiel Elliott, and top O-line, must be built around its rushing attack. So how much is that QB worth? (And how much is he worth when you still must pay Elliott, top receiver Amari Cooper and a few stud defensive players?)

Jason Witten picks up where he left off. A more limited rotational role keeps the 37-year-old’s stats low, but Witten, whose game has always been built on technique, helps stabilize the offense.

Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch become football’s best linebacker duo. Smith plays the Bobby Wagner role in coordinators’ Rod Marinelli’s and Kris Richard’s Seahawks-style scheme. He is the primary blitzer and, in man coverage, running back defender. Vander Esch plays K.J. Wright, the bigger-bodied glider who can battle tight ends. Like the veteran Seahawks, both Cowboy ‘backers play fast.

The Cowboys finish top five defensively. Besides great linebackers, Dallas has a deep, heavily schemed four-man front and a talented, fundamentally sound secondary, led by star Byron Jones. Their Cover-3-based zone scheme can easily shift to man coverage, including on third downs, where the Cowboys like to swoop a “robber” (often underappreciated safety Jeff Heath) down across the middle.

BOTTOM LINE: There’s talent on both sides, but it’s hard to forecast Dallas’s outlook without knowing new mystery offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s scheme.

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