If you watch enough sports you are going to see injuries, all kinds of injuries. Minor ones, major ones that don’t look all that bad, injuries that make you do a double take and the absolutely gruesome. Dak Prescott’s injury falls somewhere in between those last two categories. Initially it looked like his shoe had just come off or a brace had been twisted around. After seeing the replay, you know that is not what happened at all. He suffered a compound fracture and a dislocation in his ankle. It is a terrible injury and comes at a terrible time for Dak. He bet on himself by not accepting a long-term deal and it looked like that would be the right decision. Who knows what happens with that now. This also comes just months after Dak’s brother committed suicide and Dak talking publicly about his battle with anxiety and depression. He has been through a lot this last year and now his season is over.
(Watching Dak being carted off the field after all of his teammates and some Giants players came to talk to him, was one of the most emotional things I have watched in sports in a long time. I have seen a lot of players carted off over the years and you always feel bad for that player, but there was something different this time. This one felt like a gut punch. I felt terrible for Dak and still do.)
The recovery timeline that has been given is about 6 months. One doctor described this injury as season ending if not more. With how medicine and surgery have advanced, career ending injuries aren’t common, outside of neck/back injuries. The big question is how close can Dak be to what he was before the injury. There’s a lot that goes into that. The surgery reportedly went well. Now comes rehab. Logan Ryan, the player who tackled Dak on that play, told him after to just think What Would Kobe Do? If Dak attacks rehab like Kobe Bryant did over the years, he will come back just fine. But the question of what happens with his long-term future will hang over this Cowboys team and possibly next year’s team.
But now this Cowboys team, already struggling will have to go on without #4.
If you read my preview articles, I was wrong about a lot for this season. The pass rush has not been good, the secondary has showed no life, Jaylon Smith has been bad and Leighton Vander Esch has been hurt, so the linebackers get an incomplete grade at best, the offensive line has been decimated by injuries, but hey I was right about the receivers and Dak.
It’s easy to say this team is doomed but the NFC East is the worst division in recent memory, so there is still a chance they could make the playoffs as a division winner with 6 wins. The defense will have to improve for them to have any kind of chance, they don’t have to become the 2000 Ravens, but maybe something like the 2014 Cowboys might be enough. Many people have spent a lot of words writing and talking about what this defense needs to do to improve, but there are so many ways and places they need to improve, it’s almost guessing game trying to pin down how to fix the defense besides just saying the simple things like better pass rusher, better communication and better tackling.
On the offensive side, Terrence Steele has been very bad since he has been plugged in at RT. Tyron Smith and La’el Collins aren’t coming through that door to fix that problem. Cam Erving should be an improvement when he comes back. Once Looney returns, kicking Zach Martin out to RT, Tyler Biadasz at Center and Looney can play guard. Another option could be kicking Connor Williams, who hasn’t been bad this year, out to tackle where he played in college and maybe giving Connor McGovern a shot or Looney is an option as well. Blocking will become even more important with Dak out for the year.
The Cowboys will probably look to Ezekiel Elliott to carry more of the load, which all the old football guys will love. He hasn’t been great so far this year. Zeke is yet to crack 100 yards in a game this season, some of that can be due to the Cowboys trailing all the time. Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the 22nd running back this season with a grade of 68.7, which isn’t what you want when the guy is making 15 million per year. Could all of that change with Kellen Moore rededicated this team to the running game? Possibly but the blocking will have to improve as well.
Finally, we get to the man who has to step in for Dak. The guy who played his college ball right up the road, The Red Rifle, Andrew Gregory Dalton. Dalton is a very good backup, and maybe better than some starters. As a QB, he goes as his supporting cast goes. When the Bengals had a good line and weapons, Dalton was very good, when the team started to fall apart Dalton looked terrible. He does have some mobility to escape from pressure, not enough for the read option to still be a play call though. Dalton also has a quick release, so if these receivers get open quickly, he can hit them and with this offensive line, that might be the only way to move the ball. He showed he can make the big throws on that final drive with those throws to Michael Gallup. Ceedee Lamb has emerged has a deadly over the middle threat and Amari Cooper, while he does seem to take plays off, he can get open at will against almost every DB. Dalton has the weapons in the passing game, but there will have to be some changes.
This season is not over for the Cowboys. The defense has to improve, and the offensive line and Zeke need to step it up for Dalton to have a chance to lead this team to a playoff berth. It won’t be easy and if making the playoffs is even the right things for this team to do long term is a discussion for another time. No coach or player is thinking about tanking, depending on how the next few games go, the front office and fan base may start thinking about that a lot