Call me crazy, but as devastating as the Dak Prescott injury is, and for as beloved as he is in that locker room and in the Dallas communty and around the entire NFL, and for as great as his skillset is ... I really don't think much will change for the Cowboys at the macro level.
Playing without Prescott for more than half of the season certainly comes with consequences, obviously. He is an exceptional quarterback who was amassing yards at a prodigious rate and he provides a dual-threat option in the run and pass game and he was making huge plays with his explosive receiving group. But the Cowboys were chasing games consistently, and their defense is thoroughly inept and the only win the team had prior to last week's was because the guys on the other sideline didn't know how to field an onside kick.
So will this injury have tremendous impact in the box scores and to the fantasy football world? Absolutely. Is it going to change much in the standings? I really don't think so. And in a weird way, I think playing with a backup quarterback – and a very established former playoff quarterback at that – may actually help the Cowboys in terms of game flow and protecting that terrible defense and especially from a play calling standpoint. I think they still end up winning 6-7 games, and in the NFC Least that might be more than enough. Do I favor the Eagles to edge them out? Yeah. But I already did with Prescott under center.
According to PFF, Zeke Elliott ranks fourth in the NFL in success rate (49.5) but the Cowboys are still second worst in time of possession margin (-7:09). That has to change, even if it means more work for the lead back (third in the NFL with 113 touches) and his underlings (who can get the job done, too). That total 113 touches through five games is high (24) but for a team with so much volume in the offense (Dallas has run 373 plays, 12 more than anyone else and 60 more than the NFL average) that leaning more on the running game to keep the clock moving and slow the game down is a must.
Playing with the backup QB makes it a little more natural to run that offense through Elliott, which, given the odious defense being played and given the state of the offensive line – which was the NFL's best a few years ago but is a collection of backups right now due to injuries and retirements – and given all the money they are paying the running back to play football, too, means a critical rethink of their approach was already in order.
Playing bombs away football doesn't make sense for them. Establishing some ball control, keeping those linemen moving forwards rather than backwards and eating up the clock to keep the defense off the field was always the only way to go. And now it is the only way to go. Dalton is plenty good to carve up people in play-action and tap into that array of weapons, but doing so out of more stable protections and making Elliott a fulcrum in the passing game, too, must be the MO now.
They are a badly flawed team that will remain so. If they reach the postseason, it will only be because of the deeper ineptitude of others in their division. But the path they were going down to this point wasn't going to get them there, regardless.
Eagles have tight end issues
The Eagles have a tight end problem – on both sides of the ball.
Opposing quarterbacks throwing to their tight ends have gone 31-for-36 for 222 yards and 5 TDs, and they've only faced two tight ends of any pedigree (George Kittle and Tyler Higbee, who both torched them). When opposing teams run two-tight end sets against the Eagles, their QBs are 21-for-26 (81 percent, sixth highest) with 4 TDs (tied for most) and a 138.6 rating (fourth highest). That's an issue, and they face Mark Andrews and a Ravens offense that quite often employs a second tight end (Nick Boyle).
Jackson needs a veteran receiver
Lamar Jackson this season throwing to any target not named Andrews or Hollywood Brown is 19-for-69 (27.5%!) for 432 yards (6.26/attempt) and 1 TD. That's something that better be fixed by midseason.
Hayden Hurst wasn't a high impact guy but the presence of a second move tight end was a huge factor for that offense a year ago and Boyle has heavy blocking duties and slot guy WIllie Snead's role has reduced. Third-round pick Devin Duvernay needs an expanded role, but this team also might need a veteran receiver like Golden Tate or Marvin Jones, or Darren Fells or someone else as a pass-catching option at tight end before the trade deadline.
NFL Alumni Academy deserves more attention
With all this talk about bubbles and expanding the time it takes to allow a free agent signed outside a current NFL team to enter a team facility, I am baffled as to why more is not being done to expand a program already being run at the Hall of Fame in Canton. Ohio.
The NFL Alumni Academy had been operating for weeks there, with potential practice squad players and young veteran free agents receiving daily housing, meals and training by former NFL star players and coaches. The program has focused primarily on linemen and running backs, with long time athletic trainer Chip Smith providing conditioning and strength training daily at the performance center near the HOF and coaches like Mike Tice and Anthony Munoz providing on-field training at the stadium and surrounding fields.
The program gets no attention though video of the workouts is sent to NFL teams, I'm told, and some participants remain. Guys like former Wake Forrest offensive lineman Jake Benzinger are housed in individual rooms at a nearby hotel and exist in a bubble with daily COVID testing. They get a box breakfast from a dietician at 6:30 AM every morning have a meeting every morning and have detailed off-field workouts with state-of-the-art movement equipment, have private lifting periods and work in small groups with the coaches at their specific positions and have daily meetings to review film and work on their football IQ and do position-specific technique drills as well right up to a custom dinner socially distanced every night.
They also get life coaching and financial counseling as well. It is free for qualified players, who then pay back $24,000 over time if they get signed to a practice squad and $40,000 over time if they get signed to a 53-man roster. If they get signed and then cut they can return the following year. They get six days of training a week, starting Sept. 25 and running for 15 weeks. Someone tell me why something like this wouldn't be expanded greatly given the pandemic and the need for qualified, healthy depth players more acute than ever? Seems like a no brainer to me at any time, given the player development restrictions individual teams have and with there no longer being NFL Europe, and especially so now.