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Nick at Nite

Nick at Nite: Fearless football is needed from Dak in 2023


FRISCO, Texas — Throughout the course of the bye week and into this week leading up to the game against the Los Angeles Rams, I was having a hard time putting a qualitative word on what I wanted to see from Dak Prescott through the next ten games.

On one hand, Prescott has been efficient in running Mike McCarthy's Texas Coast offense down the field – throwing at nearly a 70-percent completion rate (5th in NFL) as he marches his wide range of weapons on the backs of methodical gains in the pass game when it's sprinkled into the mostly dominantly utilized run game.

On the other hand, you have repetition of those simplistic actions that can move an offense down the field at times, but don't help capitalize in the red zone with the same philosophies and little aggression into tight windows. Prescott averages just 222.2 yards per game (18th in NFL) and has a 13.7-percent aggressiveness rate (23rd in NFL) as a result leading to the pass game feeling somewhat stale at times.

So, what can Dak do?

You want him to be aggressive and to take shots downfield and into tight windows. You want to see him take some chances with his variety of weapons. Shoot, you'd love to see him continue what he's found running the ball a bit again in 2023. But also, you don't want to see the turnovers that plagued him in 2022 reoccur this season. You don't want him trying toomuch to make things happen.

I struggled to put a pin on exactly what was lacking in my eyes from Dak, but in a conversation I had on an episode of the Cowboys Break with Danny McCray on Monday, Danny finally found a fitting label that I had been looking for: fearlessness.

We've seen fearless Dak at times. Early in 2020 and in 2021, Prescott consistently finding plays outside of the pocket, utilizing his legs in both the pass and run game, taking chances downfield and along the sidelines. The Dak that everybody had gotten used to was predicated around his athleticism paired with his dagger accuracy into tight windows.

Have we seen that in 2023? Absolutely. Have we seen it as often or to the same effect? No, and definitely not as much as this offense needs.

If McCarthy's system is going to be the short, methodical offensive game plan that's been shown through six games, then it will take Dak extending plays with his feet, throwing on the run and not being afraid to put the ball into throws he knows he can make.

At times this season, things open up downfield and Dak resorts to the checkdown or whatever is underneath. I won't put words in his mouth, but it seems as though taking the easier option is more beneficial in his eyes.

Other times, we've seen Dak unleash in quick spurts or when put in certain situations. In Los Angeles, it was while under a pass rush attack that forced him out of the pocket on numerous occasions where he was able to find improvisational success with a sixty-yard gain to Tony Pollard across the middle being the highlight of that consistent phenomenon. Earlier in the game, it was calling his own number on a read option on fourth down to crack the scoreboard for the first time from 18 yards out.

Overall, when Dak Prescott is pressured, he's been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the entire NFL as he's completing 72.2-percent of his passes against the blitz (3rd in NFL). When blitzed, it's either put him in a situation to make a quick decision or to escape and improvise, with the latter being more prevalent. I simply want more of that.

All in all, it points to a fearless mindset that will be needed from Dak Prescott for the offense to be able to do its part in leading Dallas where it wants to go in 2023. It will take more of the same traits he's already shown this season, just at a higher rate.

What does that look like tangibly for the offense? It's allowing your speed weapons in Brandin Cooks, KaVontae Turpin and CeeDee Lamb to improvise and extend plays with their quarterback. It's allowing Michael Gallup to go up and make the contested catches that we've seen a bit of so far this season. It's integrating his legs in either designed runs, option takes or scrambling out of a pass play to keep the second and third levels of a defense honest.

As the Dallas Cowboys quarterback, the outside noise can get loud. It's no secret that it can get to anyone at times. Over the offseason, it was the turnovers. Early in the season, it's been red zone production. All throughout his career, it's been about winning the big games late in the season or in the postseason.

When Dak takes the field, I want him to be able to fully put all of that rhetoric and dialogue aside and get back to what he does best: playing fearless football. Because when that happens, we might be able to find what the full potential of this offensive system can be.

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