Dak Prescott started the 2021 NFL season as one of the hottest quarterbacks in football. But in recent weeks, neither he nor the Cowboys’ offense has been quite as sharp.
Dallas started the season with a 6-1 record but they have gone just 4-3 in their last seven. That’s by no means bad, but it’s certainly a decline from what we saw in the early stages of the season, especially on offense.
The Cowboys have averaged a respectable 351.4 yards of offense per game during their last seven games. They had averaged 454.9 yards of offense per game in their first seven games, so that has led many to wonder what exactly is wrong with the Cowboys’ offense.
Owner Jerry Jones seemed to have an idea. He said that Prescott was mired in a “slump” during a weekly radio appearance on 105.3 The Fan on Dec. 14.
“I don’t want to say [it’s a] slump, but that’s probably fair,” Jones said. “It’s such a multifaceted evaluation. I would say that our offense is definitely away from where we were 5-6 weeks ago.”
When breaking down the numbers, it certainly seems that Jones’ assessment is fair. Here’s a look at why Prescott is slumping and what the underlying causes of his issues may be.
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Dak Prescott stats pre- and post-injury
Jones was quick to dismiss that Prescott was nursing any sort of lingering injury during his radio appearance.
“Yes, he is [healthy],” Jones said of Prescott. “He’ll figure it out.”
That may be true, but it’s also worth noting that since missing one game with a calf injury suffered on the final play of Dallas’ Week 6 win over the Patriots, Prescott has been markedly worse. He has declined in every major statistical category when comparing his seven most recent games post-injury to his six games before the injury.
|Passing yards per game||302.2||255|
|Yards per attempt||8.4||6.5|
|PFF passing grade||87.6||69.2|
Seemingly, Prescott is feeling some lingering effects from this injury. Either that or he’s just not as confident in his leg as he was at the beginning of the year. The calf problem occurred in his right leg, the one in which Prescott suffered a compound right ankle fracture that ended his 2020 season, so perhaps that is impacting him either physically or mentally.
Regardless of what the problem is, the fact that it began after Prescott’s injury may not be a coincidence. He well may be fully healthy — or close to it — but he either way, he needs to figure out a way to get back into a rhythm.
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How Ezekiel Elliott’s injury has impacted Dak Prescott
Prescott isn’t the only one that might be dealing with the lingering effects of an injury. Ezekiel Elliott has been dealing with a knee injury in recent weeks. He hasn’t missed a game yet, but he has clearly been impacted by the malady.
Elliott first suffered the injury, a bone bruise, in Week 9 against the Broncos. As a result, his production has waned, as he has handled nearly four fewer carries per game and is averaging a paltry 3.3 yards per carry post-injury.
|Carries per game||16||12.2|
|Yards per game||77.8||40|
|Yards per attempt||4.9||3.3|
How has that impacted Prescott? Well, the Cowboys’ run game has been less efficient and is averaging 4.0 yards per carry in total compared to 4.9 in the games during which Elliott was healthy. And while Tony Pollard was able to make up some of Elliott’s lacking production earlier in the season, he is dealing with a foot injury that kept him from playing in Week 14.
Normally, the Cowboys might lean on the run a bit extra with Prescott having his share of issues. However, the Cowboys’ lacking running game has instead put a bit more pressure on Prescott to make plays. He simply hasn’t been able to do that.
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How Tyron Smith’s absence has impacted Dak Prescott
Generally speaking, quality offensive line play has a big impact on NFL quarterbacks, and Prescott has been no exception. Thus, it’s no surprise to hear that he has struggled during his career when his star left tackle, Tyron Smith, has been unable to play.
Smith has dealt with a handful of injuries throughout his career that have knocked him out of action. He notably has dealt with back injuries and foot injuries, but in 2021, he has also had an ankle problem. That has caused him to miss four games and has left him limited in some other matchups.
When Smith has been out of action this season, Prescott has continued to struggle without him. Smith has missed a total of four games, and Prescott’s passing numbers have declined with him out and he is also taking an extra sack per game with Smith out of the lineup.
|Dak Prescott||Completion %||Passing yards||Passing TDs||Interceptions||Times sacked|
|With Tyron Smith||69.6||293||2.2||0.8||1.6|
|Without Tyron Smith||66||240||1.3||0.8||2.5|
Having Smith back and fully healthy would be a boon for Prescott, so the Cowboys are surely focusing on getting Smith right as the end of the season draws near. It could be argued that Smith is the most important player to Prescott’s success. He might not be the flashy, skill position stars like Elliott, CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper, but the protection that he provides to Dallas’ quarterback is paramount.
Will Prescott snap out of his slump soon? The Cowboys will certainly hope so, but it could take some time if Smith remains out during their Week 16 clash with the Washington Football Team.