That is a question that has been answered with rave cheers from Dallas Cowboys Nation through the first six games of the 2016 season. To answer the question in terms of a bio, he is Rayne Dakota “Dak” Prescott, the Cowboys’ rookie quarterback from Mississippi State University who stands 6-2 and weighs 223 pounds. Drafted in the fourth round with the 135th pick overall this past spring, Prescott was pressed into action much sooner than expected due to the compression fracture of the L1 vertebrae suffered by veteran starting quarterback Tony Romo in a preseason loss at Seattle on Aug. 25. Since then, Prescott has played well and above his rookie status. He has opened his NFL career with a 5-1 record as a starter and has already set an NFL record by throwing 176 passes without an interception to start a career, surpassing the record of 162 formerly held by Tom Brady. While he lost a fumble and threw the first interception of his career in a 30-16 win at Green Bay on Oct. 16, Prescott has shown tremendous poise. He has guided Dallas to five straight wins, the team’s longest win streak since 2014 when they won six straight and were 6-1.
Prescott is a sturdy quarterback with a strong arm and mobility. He has made smart decisions with where he throws the football which is perhaps his most impressive quality. Six games into his NFL career, Prescott is 125-for-182 for 1,486 yards and 7 touchdowns. Even more impressive is his completion percentage of 68.7 and the fact that he has only thrown one interception thus far. He is averaging 247.7 passing yards per game and has an average per attempt of 8.2. While Prescott benefits from playing behind the best offensive line in the league and the impact running of rookie Ezekiel Elliott – who leads the NFL with 703 yards rushing – , he is also capable of avoiding the rush. Prescott has run for three touchdowns this year while totaling 67 yards on 20 runs. Prescott stands to only benefit from a healthy Dez Bryant – a pro bowl wide receiver – who is schedule to return from a knee injury on Oct. 30 when the team hosts Philadelphia.
Someone else due back soon for the Cowboys is Romo.
Now in his 14th season, Romo has been sidelined all season due to his back injury but is close to a return date. This leaves Dallas owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett with a huge decision to ponder. Do they stay with the hot hand in Prescott, or return to the veteran experience of Romo? It is a dilemma which will be closely scrutinized even after the decision is made. The Cowboys have a bye on Oct. 23 and then hosts division rival Philadelphia on Sunday Night Football on Oct. 30. By the time Dallas kicks off against the Eagles it will be nine and one half weeks since Romo sustained his most recent injury. The initial prognosis for Romo was that he would miss six to 10 weeks meaning it is possible that he could play against the Eagles.
This decision will no doubt have to be made via feedback from Romo’s doctors and careful evaluation from Jones and Garrett. There are pros and cons for both Prescott and Romo playing. Here is a look at each view in both players.
Pros: The biggest plus Prescott offers is his tremendous poise. This is a positive reflection on him as it shows that the pro game itself and pressure moments are not too much for him to handle. He is a focused player who prepares well and has the physical tools to execute the offense. His ability to move out of the pocket and make a play with his feet gives him something to fall back on when and if the pocket collapses. Prescott has run for three touchdowns this season giving opposing defenses something extra to scout for in preparing for him. Prescott is also accurate as dictated by his 68.7 percent completion percentage. Riding a five-game winning streak, Prescott and the Cowboys have built momentum and confidence which are not easy to do in the NFL. While Prescott has stated that this is Romo’s team and that he is doing all he can to navigate the team until Romo can return, his strong play has gotten the attention of the team and the entire league which is news in itself. Prescott’s approach here is terrific because it shows he is a team player which is great for team unity.
Cons: His small sample size of just six NFL starts leaves him short on sustainability. While what he has done in those six starts is impressive, the jury is still out on his long term success. Tougher competition and more meaningful games lie ahead with road games against Pittsburgh (4-2), Minnesota (5-0), Philadelphia (3-2), and the New York Giants (3-3). If Prescott is still the starter or plays in these games, his lack of experience could surface and thus impact the outcomes of these games or other ones. While this is just speculation right now, that speaks to how important experience is in the NFL and that it should not be taken lightly.
Pros: Romo is a tough veteran who brings a lot of experience over this his 14th season. That means a lot in the NFL even if someone has missed time with injuries as Romo has in his career. While Romo is only 2-4 in the playoffs, that still gives him the experience of having been there. Romo missed 12 games during the 2015 season due to two fractures of his left (non-throwing side) clavicle and the team missed him in a big way. With Romo, they were 3-1. Without him, they were 1-11. There is no substitute for live regular season game experience in the NFL. This is even more true in close games that are decided in the closing minutes. The mental game of a quarterback in terms of time management, anticipation, knowing your teammates’ tendencies, and decision-making in these situations can determine whether your team wins or loses. While Romo has frustrated Cowboys’ fans with multiple late-game gaffes in his career, he has had a lot of success in close encounters as well. This is experience that any rookie can just not offer.
Furthermore, Romo has been the unquestioned leader of this team for a decade. He is viewed as someone who competes at the
highest level. That was on display in the 2015 season opener when he threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten with 13 seconds left in regulation to beat the Giants 27-26 following Dan Bailey’s extra point. The play capped a 6-play 72-yard drive that Romo orchestrated with no timeouts and without the benefit of Bryant who had been injured earlier in the game. Chemistry is another factor on Romo’s side. While it is only to be expected that he will need a game or two to get his feet back under him, playing him near what will be the midpoint of the season will allow Dallas to see how his back holds up to game action. It is better to find that out now while the Cowboys are in first place rather than to risk that standing late in the season when the division and playoff race is heating up. Ultimately, what Romo can offer from his experience is invaluable. Factor in a healthy Dez Bryant returning from injury and this gives Romo a full plate to work with. Furthermore, with Elliott leading the league in rushing, this is balancing out the offense which will help to protect Romo. The timing of Romo’s possible return could be ideal. The team is coming off a huge win in Green Bay, has a bye Oct. 23, and has two weeks to prepare for a key division game against the Eagles. This gives Romo an extra week to continue his rehab and work his way more into the teams’ practices in preparation for Philadelphia.
Cons: At 36, Romo is aging. While he can still move around, he is not as mobile as he was earlier in his career. There is always risk with any football player who has had recurring injuries that he is only one wrong hit or tackle away from the same injury again and thus being sidelined again. To protect himself, Romo will have to play smart by throwing the ball out of bounds on plays that break down. He will also have to slide on plays where he runs with the ball to avoid being subject to hits and tackles. Putting Romo back in poses the possibility that it will disturb the high level of efficiency that Dallas is currently playing at. The Cowboys have momentum going for them behind Prescott which is hard to build in this league. That will be a big factor for Jones and company to consider in making this decision.
Stay tuned on this topic in Dallas and beyond. It will be very interesting for the Cowboys and the whole NFL.