The Dallas Cowboys have the best record in the NFL, sport an eight game winning streak, and have a rookie running back who could be on his way to historical marks or winning the league MVP. Yet, all the discussion surrounding the Cowboys is who should be playing quarterback.
Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, along with his backfield mate, fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, have lead the Cowboys to an 8-1 record in the absence of injured veteran quarterback Tony Romo. Romo, who has been synonymous with the Cowboys for the last decade, carries a career 97.1 quarterback rating and has won 61 percent of games in his career according to pro-football-reference.com. As Romo has returned to health, the question has become; who should be leading the Cowboys? In the middle of November if a team has the best record in the NFL, their primary goal should be to win the Super Bowl that season. There is only one quarterback on the Cowboys roster who can help them do that.
If Tony Romo is healthy, he has to be the Cowboys choice at quarterback. Dak Prescott has filled in beyond admirably, but can anyone envision him winning the Super Bowl this year? It would make his rookie campaign historically successful, making the Cowboys’ frosh backfield twice as incredible. It would be historically historic.
No rookie quarterback has ever won the Super Bowl. Two players famously won Super Bowls in their first chance playing when replacing an injured quarterback. Kurt Warner and Tom Brady won the Super Bowl in the 1999 and 2001 seasons respectively, but both were in their second year collecting NFL paychecks. They had at least seen one entire NFL season even though neither got to play much in their rookie campaign. During their championship ascents, Warner was flanked by an extraordinary offense, and Brady had the guidance of one of the best coaches of all time. It is unreasonable for the Cowboys to expect Prescott to make a first impression on par with these two potential Hall of Famers.
Another potential Hall of Famer, Ben Roethlisberger, in his rookie year replaced Tommy Maddox at quarterback and promptly lead the Steelers to 13 straight wins. But the magic ran out in the playoffs as the Steelers lost the AFC Championship game to the Patriots. A team can have all the momentum in the world, but the only guarantee is that the momentum will eventually run out.
The Cowboys formula to success is to push behind their super offensive line and establish the run to the point where the opposing defense has no choice but to stack the box and give up passing lanes. This has made Prescott’s job very easy, and the game will seem just as easy for an established talent like Romo. As long as the ‘Boys do not get away from their run game with Romo behind center, they will have continued success. In fact, it was the same formula during their 2014 season when Romo lead the Cowboys to a 12-4 record and the team was winning a divisional-round playoff game on Lambeau Field until a controversial call unraveled their season. The argument that Prescott has to remain the quarterback because they cannot “mess with a good thing” is invalid because Romo is a familiar presence to the entire Cowboys team with the possible exception of Elliott.
Prescott provides an element of running from the quarterback position that Romo does not, but that is the only skill advantage Dak has over Romo. The Cowboys and Elliott will still be able to run the ball effectively even without the threat of the read option/mesh point play with Prescott and Elliott. Romo will help star receiver Dez Bryant and Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten re-assert themselves in what can be a more balanced attack. The Cowboys gameplan will still center around the run, but rather than defenses trying to scheme for different running plays, they will have to seriously prepare for the threat of pass as well. The Cowboys have a good defense, not a great one. If they want to win a championship, they must maximize their offense and make it unstoppable.
The list of quarterbacks that have recently won the Super Bowl is a who’s who of pro football. Romo could plausibly join that list. Prescott, despite a great first nine games, has not established himself to that extent. The future is bright with Prescott and Elliott in Dallas, but Tony Romo has unfinished business as the calendar turns from 2016 to 2017. The Dallas Cowboys should expect to win Super Bowl LI, but they cannot expect Dak Prescott to be Tom Brady.