With Dak Prescott done for the season after suffering a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle that required surgery on Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys toss the keys to backup quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton got off to a rocky start once he stepped in against the New York Giants in the third quarter, losing a fumbled snap that added to the Cowboys’ giveaway woes. He would bounce back to complete nine of 11 passes for 111 yards, leading Dallas to a narrow 37-34 victory to take the team to 2-3.

The win is bittersweet for Dalton, who wishes it didn’t come at the cost of Prescott’s health.

“You absolutely hate it for Dak,” he told media following the game. “The way that he was playing this year and everything he’s put into it; I hate to see that for him. It’s emotional. You hate that injuries happen in this game, but unfortunately they’re part of it. I’m definitely praying for him. It’s been a lot of fun to be around him since I got here, just to see how he works and prepares. You can see that by the way he was playing this year, so I absolutely hate it for him, and I am definitely praying for him.”

A capable starter in the NFL, Dalton is not so arguably the most qualified backup QB the Cowboys have employed in a very long time — the Tony Romo situation in 2016 notwithstanding. When Romo went down with a fractured clavicle on two separate occasions in 2015, the club marched a carousel of bad signal-callers onto the field who, as a collective, could muster a record of only 1-11. 

Dalton is hoping for much better results as the interim starter, but to get him started on the right note, the Cowboys might have to tweak the offense a bit. This isn’t to say they’ll need to revamp, because that’s not the case, but instead to point out the chemistry that exists between the three-headed wide receiver hydra and Prescott wasn’t born overnight. Timing, anticipation, trust and the like will now build between Dalton and the bunch as he takes first-team snaps in practice, but it’s not a microwave situation.

He is already off to the races with one receiver though, and that’s Michael Gallup — the two connecting on two consecutive game-changing receptions to put the Cowboys in position to kick the game-winning field goal. 

“He’s so good at it,” Dalton said of the potency of Gallup. “You just put the ball up anywhere close to him, and he’s been able to come down with them. On the first one, I got out of the pocket and he did a great job of coming back and making a great catch on the sideline with two feet in. The play at the end to win it, that was huge. 

“For him to go up and make the play, that’s what he does. We’ve seen it all year. We’ve seen him do it in other games and we’ve seen him do it in practice, so no surprise there. That’s why you go to him in those moments.”

The more difficult task will be quickly getting on the same page with an electric player like CeeDee Lamb and the incumbent No. 1 wideout Amari Cooper, who operate primarily underneath and rely on timing and anticipation by the quarterback. This is something already refined by Prescott with them, and something Dalton must now polish himself. As that gets worked out over the next several practices and potentially a game or two, expect to see more from two-time NFL rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott. 

Elliott has consistently been the steady hand when the Cowboys are playing out of sorts offensively, as again evidenced in the timeliness of his two touchdowns and how offensive coordinator Kellen Moore routinely uses him to settle things down and control the time of possession. Now operating primarily as a pass-first team, Elliott has been underutilized at times and that’s likely what’s fueled his odd and uncharacteristic stretch of turnovers in 2020, but when he gets going early — great things usually happen for the Cowboys. And it’s for this added reason that owner Jerry Jones also wants to see more of Elliott starting on Monday night against the visiting Arizona Cardinals. 

“We very much need to more balanced — which means more running,” Jones told 105.3FM the Fan on Tuesday.  

But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys are going back to their days as a run-first unit. They’re confident Dalton has the arm and veteran NFL IQ to take full advantage of having arguably the best and deepest WR unit in football, and so minor changes won’t equal a major overhaul here.

“Andy gives us the ability to run our offense as we’ve got it structured right now,” Jones noted.

That is mostly true. Dalton gives Moore the opportunity to keep doing what he’s doing in leading an offense that averages 32.6 points, but don’t expect to see many — if any — run-pass options like you have with Prescott under center. It’s likely those plays now become direct handoffs for Elliott and Tony Pollard, or indirect handoffs by way of bubble screens and quick hits to the flats. 

Either way, things won’t look exactly the same in Dallas, but Dalton feels ready for the task at hand.

“There’s a lot of talent on this team, and we know that,” he said of the weapons surrounding him. “With the group of receivers that we have — Zeke and everybody. This is a really talented group, and it’s nice to have those guys out there.”

To say it’s “nice” is quite the understatement. It’s quite literally a quarterback’s dream. 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here