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Striking A Balance For Dak As A Ball Carrier


FRISCO, Texas – We on the outside can debate how often Dak Prescott carries the ball all we want. In reality, that number will likely depend on one thing – his opponent.

"I leave that to Coach Linehan and the offense," Prescott said Thursday. "We have that threat in, so when that threat is there you never know – it depends on how the defense plays it."

It would be easy to forget that Prescott is actually the Cowboys' quarterback in the wake of their 20-13 win against the New York Giants. That's to be expected when Prescott's mobility sparked the Dallas offense, as he set a career high with 45 rushing yards on seven carries.

"Some games present themselves that way," said offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. "I was a little more inclined to do it last week, because they were giving it to us. The week before, they were not going to let Dak run on the zone-read game or any of that stuff."

That goes back to Prescott's point. It's easy to highlight Prescott's athleticism as a benefit for this offense – especially given that the Cowboys have yet to develop any consistency to their passing game, which is currently ranked 30th in the league.

But if an opposing defense -- like Carolina, for instance – decides to key on him, it only makes so much sense.

"Each week is going to be different, but he certainly can impact the game positively with his legs," Linehan said.

Having said that, there's definitely an early trend at work here. It's only two games, but Prescott's 12 total carries to this point is a big increase on his previous work. In 2016 and 2017, he finished with exactly 57 carries, averaging between 18 and 22 yards per game.

At this early stage of 2018, his 64 rushing yards is putting him on pace for much more than that. Although, for a guy who carried the ball a whopping 536 times in college – an average of 11 times per game – Prescott said he's not concerned about getting tackles a few times.

"I guess a little more sore than the usual NFL game," he said. "But as you said, not anything like when I was taking 20 to 25 carries. I'm alright."

Opposing game plans might dictate this to a degree, but it also doesn't seem smart to deny the obvious. Prescott is athletic enough to do legitimate damage as a runner. Factor in the misdirection element of the zone-read, not to mention the focus that defenses put on Ezekiel Elliott, and there is a recipe there for some success.

"If they let him keep it on the zone-read, he's going to make them pay," Elliott said.

Elliott is used to stacked boxes, and it doesn't look like that trend is going to change any time soon. It's obvious that the Cowboys will need to improve their passing game to make life easier on their All-Pro running back – but it's also fair to say Prescott could ease some of that burden, too.

"The zone-read and the RPO, it's just tough on defenses. It makes numbers equal in the box, and it works to our advantage," Elliott said. "If they want to take the running back away, then the quarterback is going to be outside with a tight end lead blocking for him and there's just that much more space for him."

That was the case in Week 2. Among his seven carries, he managed gains of 15, 13, nine and eight. He also used his legs to convert on crucial third and fourth downs on the touchdown drive that put the game away.

The only criticism anyone could come up with was that Prescott could have gotten down sooner, rather than taking on tacklers.

"I'd like it more if he got down a little bit," Elliott said. "I don't really want him to run like me, I want him to get down. But Dak's a big guy, he's a big athlete and he's smart."

Two games doesn't quite identify a trend, but it's something to watch as the season continues. For an offense still in search of its identity, perhaps Prescott & Co. will have to take what they can get.