Dak Prescott has been the story of the Dallas Cowboys season so far, but he consistently deflects praise to those around him. And near the top, if not at the top, of his list is offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
“I couldn’t ask for a better offensive coordinator, play-caller to start my career off in this league,” Prescott said. “He’s just been phenomenal in the play-calling, allowing me to feel comfortable in everything. The drop-back passes, the play-action, he’s just allowing me to play my game. A lot of credit to the way he coaches me.”
Linehan’s reaction to the rookie quarterback’s praise?
“I paid him money to make him say that,” Linehan said, chuckling. “He’s always going to be a person that sheds the light. That’s what leaders do. Tony [Romo] does it. All of the guys who have those qualities as leaders are always keeping guys pumped up and positive about what they say.”
Still, even though it’s coming from a rookie who is only four games into his career, it has to feel good for Linehan, who has been coaching in the NFL since 2002.
Linehan and the entire coaching staff struggled a year ago to get the offense moving without Romo and a healthy Dez Bryant much of the season.
They’ve found themselves in a similar scenario this season and have managed to win games. The third-down conversion and red-zone efficiency, in particular, have improved drastically.
And Prescott has shown enough that the Cowboys aren’t afraid to be aggressive with him under center. Look no further than the wide receiver screen from Prescott to Cole Beasley that closed out last week’s victory at San Francisco.
“We’re running our offense and the aggressive nature of our offense always kind of applies to situations in the game,” Linehan said. “There’s nothing we’re holding back with Dak when it comes to what we do on offense. We do the same things we do with Tony. It’s no different.”
The same couldn’t be said a year ago.
The staff talked up Brandon Weeden as much as they could, but he was intercepted as many times as he threw touchdowns (2-2) and went winless in three starts. Matt Cassel didn’t fare much better with his interception (7) to touchdown passes (5) ratio, although he won a game. And Kellen Moore also had more interceptions (6) than touchdowns (4) in two losses to end a 4-12 season.
The Cowboys finished with the league’s 22nd-ranked offense last season. That was Linehan’s worst offense since he had the 26th-ranked unit in his first year as the Detroit Lions offensive coordinator in 2009. In ’09, though, Linehan had inherited what had been the 30th-worst offense in the league.
“I think we did a great job of looking at last year and evaluating that and learning from it,” tight end Jason Witten said. “I think coach Linehan calls good games. I mean, we talk about it, what type of offense we wanted to have. You really have to check your ego when you go into this deal. Everyone has to put it aside to run this system. Your number is going to get called.
“We believe the coverage and the fronts are going to dictate where the ball goes, whether it’s a run or a pass, what route you run. That is what’s made it fun. We have this formula. Then to see it go out there and execute with a lot of great play calls at critical times.”
This season the Cowboys have a near 50-50 balance between the running and passing game, and Prescott has completed passes to 10 receivers so far.
So it’s no surprise they have the second-best offense. That’s more the norm for a Linehan-run offense than what last year might have suggested.
“He’s done an excellent job,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s been a good coordinator in this league for a long, long time. I think you’re seeing that.
“He’s done a really good job of understanding the strengths and possible weaknesses of guys and constantly putting not only the quarterback, but everybody in really favorable positions to succeed. We have not, in any way, lost the identity we have talked about coming into the season.”
Cowboys vs. Bengals
3:25 p.m. Sunday, KTVT/11