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Spagnola: Solving This Not-So Difficult Riddle Of What Dak Friendly Really Means

FRISCO, Texas –Dak Friendly.

         The term keeps coming up, time and time again.

         So I've been asked time and time again, what exactly is Dak Friendly? What do people mean when they use that term?

         Well, here we go, a primer on Dak Friendly, and exactly what I believe it to mean.

         First, *Dak Friendly *is not having the running back who wins the NFL rushing title the year before suspended for six games of the final eight games of the season.

*Dak Friendly is *having receivers quit dropping passes, especially into interceptions.

And *Dak Friendly *is protecting the poor guy in the pocket when he drops back to pass.

Pretty simple, to me.

Like, was this offense not Dak Friendly in 2016, he but a rookie, yet the guy completes 67.8 percent of his passes (311 of 459), third highest in franchise single-season history. He throws for 3,667 yards, and only one quarterback in Cowboys history not named Tony Romo has thrown for more, that being Danny White in 1983 with 3,980, also meaning more than Hall of Famers Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman ever threw for in a single season. Dak also had 23 touchdown passes and just four interceptions, most TD passes by a Cowboys rookie quarterback and 14 more than the No. 2 guy, Aikman with nine, while producing the lowest percentage of passes intercepted in a single season among qualifiers (.87). He averaged 8.0 passing yards per attempt, and finished with a 104.9 QB rating, second in franchise history to only Romo's 113.2 in 2014.

Again, as a rookie.

Hate to bring facts into the equation, always serving as perception busters, but that offense sure must have been mighty friendly to Dak to produce numbers like that.

Now then, let's inspect.

First, to have Zeke or not to have Zeke, what's the effect?

Over the first eight games with Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup, Dak owned a 97.9 QB rating. Only twice in those first eight games did he finish with a QB rating less than 90. And at the halfway point of the season, the Cowboys were averaging 28.1 points a game and had scored at least 28 for six consecutive games. Dak had 16 TD passes to just four interceptions. Zeke's 783 yards rushing were just 17 behind then NFL leader Kareem Hunt (800), who finished the season leading the league with 1,327 – some 304 yards less than Zeke's total from 2016.

Also, get this: In those first eight games of the season, the Cowboys rushed for 11 touchdowns, seven belonging to Zeke and four to Dak. Zeke also had two touchdown receptions, one for 10 yards and the other for 72. But in the final eight games of the season, Zeke missing six, the Cowboys rushed for only seven touchdowns, two of those also by Dak. And when it came to touchdowns of at least 8 yards out, Zeke accounted for five of them. Without Zeke, the running backs and Dak produced three TDs of more than 8 yards, Dak an 11-yard TD run and the 81- and 15-yard touchdown runs by Rod Smith.

Consequently, the Cowboys averaged just 16 points over the final eight games.

Hmmm, guess *friendly *went right out the window.

Now, as for catching the ball. A rough estimate by a couple of stats services had the Cowboys charged with 15 dropped passes. Not all that much.

But here is the rub: Four of those dropped passes accounted for four of Dak's 13 interceptions. Worse, two of those were returned for touchdowns. He also had another interception when throwing where Brice Butler was headed across the back of end zone only to have Butler reverse field and go the other way. And another returned for a 102-yard touchdown by Denver's Aqib Talib when Dez Bryant was running to the back corner of the end zone while Dak was throwing a stop route.

That's about as unfriendly as it comes.

Yet, they don't place those asterisks next to Dak's total, saying but it was really seven on his part, and he's too cool to ever make an excuse. But had it been just seven, that would have been only three more than his incredible rookie season, and come to think of it – OK, I looked it up – the next fewest by a Cowboys quarterback over an entire season since Troy had five in 1998, but that over just 11 games, not Dak's 16.

Catching my drift?

         Now, No. 3, and the biggest culprit to Dak's numbers falling off: Protection, sore subject we previously visited a month or so ago.

         Dak was sacked 32 times, the most by a Cowboys' full-time starter since Romo went through that horrendous stretch with a struggling, sub-par offensive line from 2011-2013. He was sacked 36, 36 and 35 times, respectively, the impetus for the Cowboys to start rebuilding that offensive line, trying to impose a Romo Friendly offense. Like remember, Romo was taking a beating back there until the Cowboys began using first-round picks on the likes of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, along with taking free-agent flyers that hit on Ron Leary and La'el Collins.

         So Dak started taking a beating back there, too. And not just from sacks, since he was hit another 74 times over the season, 20 of those taking place in the three-plus games Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith missed. In fact, Dak suffered two more interceptions when either hit while throwing, the ball fluttering up into the air, or when a defender pushed one of his offensive linemen into him while throwing, causing him to elevate his arm angle and overthrowing Zeke on a simple dump-off pass.

         Oh, and get this, of the 32 sacks he did suffer, 23 occurred in the seven games the Cowboys lost and just nine in the nine games they won. Sense a trend?

         But again, no asterisk there, either.

         Not friendly one bit, all of this, and one of the reasons his QB rating dropped to 86.6, just less than 20 points lower than his rookie total, ranking him 17th in the NFL for 2017. As a rookie, Dak finished third last year behind only Matt Ryan and Tom Brady, his 104.9 setting the NFL rookie record among qualifiers.

         I'm just saying: What changed?

         The Cowboys ran for nearly 300 yards fewer than they did in 2016. They ran for six fewer touchdowns. And get this: While the Cowboys had 11 TD runs of at least 8 yards last year and at least 14 TD receptions of at least 10 last year, this year they only had eight rushing touchdowns of at least 8 yards, but six of those in the first half of the season. And when it came to double-digit passing touchdowns, they finished with 15, but 10 of those were in the first half of the season, and three of the five in the second half came against the woeful Giants.

         Starting to sense a correlation?

         No Zeke for six of the final eight games. No Tyron Smith for three-plus of those second-half games. Dez only had two touchdown receptions in the final eight games. Cole Beasley none. Jason Witten just two, Terrance Williams none, but then he had none for the season. Brice Butler just one of his three, and that in the final games of the season.

         What the heck happened?

         Me, I see an offensive trend, with and without.

         And I'm just not buying it took opponents 24 regular-season games and one playoff game to figure out Dak, to induce that ridiculous notion of a sophomore slump. Come on, be honest, there were so many extenuating circumstances that second-half of the season to propagate this Cowboys need for a total offensive makeover.

         I'll give you they must do a better job compensating for the loss of Pro Bowl players. I get it. But hey, just remember the Packers were 4-1 with Aaron Rodgers and 4-7 after he suffered his broken collarbone. Yeah, I know, all about what the Eagles are doing, heading to Super Bowl LII next week, but how many times do you win a playoff game, 15-10, scoring just one touchdown, and at that a gift from high above when they fumbled at the goal line on third down, only to have backup quarterback Nick Foles recover at the Atlanta 1-yard line, allowing them to score on the fourth-down play.

         Now then, let me give you one more stat to smoke in your perception pipe: Dak Prescott's QB rating after the first 24 games of his career was 102.4. His QB rating those final eight games was 74.0.

          Let's be honest, you tell me what Dak Friendly really is.

         There is no need to make stuff up. 

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