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Spagnola: This Really Is Nothing New With Dak


FRISCO, Texas – Does everyone actually realize the high level Dak Prescott played at the final eight games of the 2018 season?

Come on, it's not that long ago. No excuse.

Well, at least Jason Garrett does. You can tell just by how he has been answering these questions about how much Dak has seemingly improved over the course of the nine OTA workouts and the just completed three-day minicamp.

He very diplomatically disagrees with the notion.

"I think we got better as a team as the year went on last year," Garrett very subtly paring this idea about how much Dak has improved this offseason. "I think we played like a young team early on in the year; we had some really good moments, but we were inconsistent, whether it was within games or from week to week. And I think as the season progressed, I think we got a much better understanding about what you need to do to win ballgames. Thought we played better on the offensive side of the ball toward the end of the season.

"Amari Cooper certainly was a great addition for us in that regard. Thought Dak continued to grow and get better with the guys around him as the year went on."

Hmmm. Funny Garrett should mention Amari and guys around him.

Jon Kitna certainly understands Dak's high level of play the second half of 2018, and he wasn't even here. Kitna tells me he watched every one of Dak's snaps from last year after he was hired as the Cowboys new quarterbacks coach. The 2018 official snap count says that's 1,073, all but six of the team's offensive total.

You can see it in his eyes, when faced with that same question about Dak, pausing with perplexity that the question even comes up. He, too, defers, especially when there are those trying to give him so much of the credit, and, like Garrett, politely responds.

"He's more comfortable with the guys he's working with," Kitna says. "His anticipation has gotten better, because they've been here."

He's referencing Cooper, who now has been here nine games plus two playoff games and a full offseason. He's referencing Michael Gallup, last year's rookie who grew up that second half of last season so much that now he says when asked if he's more comfortable, "Way more, not even a question. I was too scared to get reps (last year), was afraid I'd mess it up.

"Not a whole lot of trust in a little ol' rookie."

Kitna also is referencing a group of tight ends that came in with a total of nine NFL catches among the four, and all nine belonging to Geoff Swaim, who ended up missing the final six games of the season on injured reserve. Again, we saw Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin grow before our very eyes that second half, those two combining for five catches the first eight games and then 34 the second eight games.

Trust is a huge factor, and Kitna says he could tell watching all those snaps how much of a difference Cooper's arrival made, plus Dak simply becoming more familiar with what those wide receivers and tight ends can do and how they'd do it.

See there, the coaches know, the players know. Not sure why so many could not tell the difference in Dak's play between the first half of the season when the Cowboys went 3-5 and the second half of the season when the Cowboys went 7-1 to win the NFC East at 10-6 for their third consecutive winning season and then won a first-round playoff game.

Not sure why so few recognized how much this Cowboys offense struggled the first half of the season, averaging just 19.25 points a game – scoring no more than 20 points in six of those eight games – and averaging 317.1 yards a game, then flourished the second half, averaging 24.4 points a game (26.4 minus the shutout in Indy) – scoring at least 27 points in five of those eight games – and averaging 370.5 yards a game.

Dak knows, too, but he's quickly learned to give quarterbacking-correct answers to anything about himself, never one to complain or criticize or pat himself on the back. Now he'll admit his footwork is better, but as for the rest, here is his take, and please listen carefully:

"I'd say this is the best I've felt. Who knows – is it three years under my belt and just being in here and seeing defenses a whole lot more clear? Being quicker and faster in everything I want to do? Having great teammates around me? Who knows the answer, but I really feel great, confident, and I know my teammates do as well."

Twice referencing teammates if you caught that.

And if none of that's convincing enough, then now we shall look at Dak's numbers, as I've previously pointed out, B.C. (Before Cooper) and A.C. (After Cooper), so the first eight games of the season and the last eight games of the season.

So Dak's line the first eight games of the season: 149 of 237 (62.9%), 1,660 yards, 10 TDs-to-5 INTs, 28 sacks, 88.9 QB rating.

And Dak's line the second eight games: 207 of 289 (71.6%), 2,225 yards, 12 TDs-to- 3 INTs, 28 sacks, 103.4 QB rating.

Total: 356 of 526 (67.7%), 3,885, 22 TDs-to-8 INTs, 56 sacks, 96.9 QB rating.

Dak's second-half completion percentage would have ranked second to 2018 season-leader Drew Brees (74.4%), and interestingly enough, Brees and Kirk Cousins (70.1%) were the only two NFL QBs among the qualifying leaders to complete more than 70% of their passes. And when it came to QB ratings, Dak's 103.4 that second half would have ranked sixth in the final season ratings.

Not too shabby, right?

Just remember, quarterbacks are not independent contractors out there, or if I can borrow another Parcells-ism, "they aren't out there playing singles." Helps when over the final nine games Cooper caught 53 passes for 725 yards and six touchdowns, and then added during the two playoffs games 13 catches for 171 and a touchdown.

And here is the best part of all this: Dak still is improving, and maybe best of all, he knows he must, taking a page out of Tony Romo's philosophy that if you are not working to get better as a quarterback you're getting worse.

"I think the thing that jumps out now, and I've said this multiple times, is he wants to be the best," Kitna says, rejecting any notion that this is the best Dak will ever be. "Lot of people just say that, but I feel you can just watch somebody, I don't really care about what they say, you watch people. There is Jason Witten, he wants to be the best tight end . . . still. Dak is similar. He doesn't need to be poked and prodded, but he wants to be poked and prodded and pushed."

So, Kitna surmises, and maybe an even better part of the Dak analysis, "I don't think you even want to put limits on what (his best) would be, or what his best is."

But if you are willing to pay attention, Dak's been pretty darn good when considering his three-year record starting in the NFL is 32-16 so far, second over these past three seasons to only Tom Brady's 35-9, but better than the likes of Drew Brees (31-16), Russell Wilson (29-18-1), Aaron Rodgers (20-18-1), Matt Ryan (28-20) and, uh, Carson Wentz (23-17).

See there, don't be late to all this Dak goodness.