Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott had a distinct decline in the second half last season.
He went from throwing for 1,818 yards and 16 touchdowns in the first eight games to 1,506 yards and six touchdowns in the final eight games. He threw just four interceptions in the first half and nine in the second half.
He was sacked 10 times in the first eight games and 22 times in the final eight.
A simple answer is that Prescott’s decline in production coincided with Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy. But coach Jason Garrett doesn’t think it’s that easy.
“There’s a couple things that you have to evaluate there,” Garrett said on Wednesday from the NFL Scouting Combine. “After the eighth game, Zeke was out. We had a couple other guys who were out [in left tackle Tyron Smith and linebacker Sean Lee] and we didn’t handle that as a team as well as we needed to. I think as the season progressed after that three-game stretch, we did a better job of that, winning four out of five down the stretch and you say, ‘OK, the offense wasn’t quite as good.’ But we won those games down the stretch and I thought he did a good job helping us win those games.
“The numbers weren’t as gaudy. It wasn’t as productive. We’re going to look at the reasons why as we continue in the offseason. But, again, I thought he handled himself well. I thought he gave us chances to win those games.”
With that being said, the Cowboys are firmly committed to Prescott being their franchise quarterback. He’s got the poise they like. He’s got the intangible leadership qualities they like. He’s got the physical tools to get the job done.
That’s why the catchphrase this offseason has been making the Cowboys’ offense more “Dak-friendly” in 2018.
Maybe that means parting ways with Dez Bryant. Maybe that means installing plays where Prescott is more of a running threat. Maybe that means relying on fresh voices such as new quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore to provide a different perspective.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones went with the obscenity description when asked about what “Dak-friendly” would entail.
“You’ll know it when you see it,” Jones said.
Added Garrett: “You are trying to have a system that is comprehensive enough and flexible enough that you can fit players in it and play to their strengths. No position does that apply to more than the quarterback position. We have always felt that way whether a quarterback is comfortable throwing certain routes or doing certain things in his drop. If he is better outside the pocket or inside the pocket, you always want to play to his strengths and in some way minimize things he doesn't do quite as well.
"All the while you are trying to develop all those skills, particularly at that position. If you look at Dak, his growth and development in a short time in his league has been impressive. Thirty-three starts in his first two years, not many guys do that. And the success he has had in those games has really been significant. We are excited about where he has been but more excited about where he is going. It has more to do with the kind of person he is and the approach he takes.”
Prescott is determined to bounce back after what he acknowledged will forever be known as a “sophomore slump.” It doesn’t matter what he did the first eight games, or how the season unfolded.
His numbers in 2017 aren’t going to change. And they weren’t pretty.
But the Cowboys are banking on him to get it right and lead them to better days. They’re all-in with Prescott.
“He has these unique leadership qualities that we saw from Day 1," Garrett said. "His ability to interact with players and coaches and get them to follow him, that’s Line 1 with him. That’s his No. 1 trait. And so we saw that from the start. That’s mature. That’s something you see in veteran players. That will continue to grow the more you play, the more experience you have, the more confident you become.
"I think you see that in him, and that’s a good thing for our football team.”