Sophomore Prescott

Last season, the NFL world marveled as the Dallas Cowboys’ fourth round pick, quarterback Dak Prescott out of Mississippi State became an overnight sensation in the league.  Each week,  Cowboys fans were on the edge of their seats and Cowboy “haters” did the same as well while watching Prescott thinking to themselves “is this kid truly, the real deal?”

It sure looked that way last season.

Dak finished the season with over 3600 passing yards, 29 total touchdowns (23 passing, 6 rushing) and 8 total turnovers.  He played within head coach Jason Garrett’s system and it paid off for him and fellow rookie, Ezekiel Elliot (the Cowboys first-round pick who ran for over 1600 yards in a remarkable rookie campaign).

The only question now is – can Dak do it again?

Dak was considered by many to be a better version of a “dink and dunk” passer.  This argument may be one Cowboys fans can choose to ignore but keep in mind that Cole Beasley and Jason Witten were the most targeted options for Prescott (75 and 69 respectively).  Add on to the fact that Elliot had 32 receptions, you are looking at a small slot receiver, aging tight-end and running back as the primary targets – this kind of screams “dink and dunk.”  Granted, the teams number one wide-out Dez Bryant missed three games, his yards per game were second lowest in his career and his 2.8 YAC was the lowest of his career.

Prescott was of course playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL last year and was playing alongside a running back who was pretty much unstoppable behind those same monsters.  These monsters probably looked more beastly than originally expected due to the level of defenses they saw for most of the year.  The Cowboys played only two defenses in the top ten last year – losing both times to the Giants and edging out the Vikings by two points another time.  The Cowboys offensive line, matched up SEVEN times against defenses that ranked in the bottom half of the NFL last season.

A positive note on Prescott (because I feel the need to prove that I am NOT, a Cowboy-hater) is that most of these games were relatively close.  Of course that means “shame-shame” on the Cowboys defense, but three cheers for Prescott and the Cowboys offense who were able to maintain poise in late game situations and either hold on to leads, or get a score in the closing minutes.

This season, Dak Prescott will be tested in the first four weeks of play as the Cowboys square off against the Giants, Broncos, Cardinals and Rams.  All four of these teams are projected to have good defensive seasons, based on the talent and depth they all provide on that side of the ball and the Cowboys will have to do more than just “ball control” against these teams.  All four of these teams have keys to eliminate that “short-pass-safe-haven” for Dak Prescott.  The Rams have a talented linebacker rotation and the other teams have  a play-maker at the safety spot, which is key against the tight end position.

Two other interesting match-ups this season which doesn’t include playing against tougher defenses is the match ups between the Redskins, Packers and Falcons.  These three teams have offenses that can score against anybody and in the case of the Packers and Skins, it’s all about revenge for last year.  Aaron Rodgers and the Packers lost by 14 points to the Cowboys and we all know Mike McCarthy and the Packers are looking to run up the score on them if given the opportunity; the Redskins lost both times to the Cowboys – once by four points, the other time by five points.  The Falcons return with high expectations with their high octane offense and will look to work the Cowboys defense heavily.  These games will put Dak on the spot – Can he keep up with these high powered offenses?  What happens if he’s down by 14 or 17 points early and the offense becomes one dimensional, forcing him to pass the ball?

Granted, the Cowboys defense needs to step up this year so it isn’t ALL on Dak Prescott, but the odds do not match up in his favor.  He can, and very likely will be the long-term answer for the Cowboys at quarterback, but to expect better production out of him in his second year is asking a lot.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

New Niners Era

When John Lynch was introduced to the world as the new general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, most of the world kind of shook their collective heads, or just let out a collective “huh?”  There was good reason for that at the time.  When he retired from the game that saw him as a nine-time Pro-Bowler in 2008, we saw him for just about the next nine years being a color commentator for FOX.   Last time we saw somebody do something similar to this was the disastrous Matt Millen to the Lions ordeal.   Matt Millen was viewed much like Lynch is – a smart player on and off the field, has an eye for talent, so on and so forth. . .

Lynch is different though.  For the 49ers sake, he must be. 

Lynch knows what it takes to build a Super Bowl team because he was on one in 2002 with the Bucs.  He knows what kind of personalities will work with each other, the necessity of comradery in the locker room and of course, the kind of coach needed.  This is why the hiring of Kyle Shanahan should have come as no surprise.  Much like John Gruden, Lynch’s head coach during his day’s in Tampa Bay – Gruden is an offensive minded coach, who is a “quarterback – whisperer” of sorts – much like Shanahan.  Shanahan’s demeanor can at times remind folks of Gruden as many have mentioned how Shanahan’s ego is a bit, well – out there.

The “Great Heist of the 2017 Draft” was a perfectly drawn up by Lynch and his associates, who pretty much “hood-winked” the Chicago Bears into trading then two third round picks (one of which is for 2018) and a fourth round pick – and only moved down one spot.  Lynch was able to get the player he wanted originally in Stamford defensive linemen Solomon Thomas.  They also traded back into the first round to select Alabama line backer Reuben Foster.  His initial draft was a success with a focus on the defense – Ahkello Witherspoon is an athletic 6’3″ cornerback out of Colorado and in the seventh round they may have found a steal in safety Adrian Colbert, who ran a 4.38 in the combine.  If Colbert, may be a steal, Lynch’s fourth-round pick, running back Joe Williams out of Utah is definitely a steal. 

Remember, this is only the draft.

Lynch, decided to keep a focus on the side of the ball he’s most familiar with. .  Lynch, 45, years old isn’t too far removed from a “rougher” NFL but has also seen the transition of, let’s just say a “different” NFL.  Shanahan has developed successful offenses in this NFL and truth be known, it’s easier to get an offensive system in put then it is for defense.  Sure, this season is pretty much a wash for San Francisco – you’ll see a lot of Carlos Hyde and you should see a lot of the rookie Williams as well.

Let’s look at the rest of this division for a second.

The Cardinals: They have talent, but last year was a bit scary to see if you’re a Cardinals fan.  Things just weren’t working out well for them and it’s apparent Carson Palmer is on the wrong side of 37. . .

The Rams: Are terrible.

The Seahawks: Let’s be honest.  Aren’t they just a ‘tad-bit’ over-rated these days.  Nobody is scared of the Legion of Boom like they used to be, and with rumors circulating that Richard Sherman was on the trading block, it seems Seattle isn’t too fond of it either.  All of their young talent that helped build that team up under Pete Carroll (including coordinators) have gone off for bigger paychecks.  The NFC West is their division by default.

Okay, back to the Niners.

Looking ahead to 2018, the 49ers will have money to spend and there are free agents who might find it intriguing to land in San Francisco.  It’s already been mentioned that Kirk Cousins will run to San Fran once his time is done in Washington, but another option might be New England’s Jimmy Garappolo.  Wide receivers Alshon Jeffrey and Terrelle Pryor are both playing on one-year “prove you’re real” deals and they could both be pleasant options as well.  There are a couple of veteran offensive linemen available in 2018 who might want to play in a Shanahan offense  – Johnathan Cooper, Nate Solder and Greg Robinson to name a few.

Remember, in the NFL, fortunes can flip within a year in any given division.  Seeing already how the 49ers are positioning themselves, it would not be hard to believe, if in three years – maybe even two – the NFC West belongs to the gold-diggers out of San Fran.

G.W. Gras

@GeeSteelio

The “Franchise” Quarterback

I grew up in a time when it was beat into your head that “defenses win championships.”  And it seemed to be true.  The ’85 Bears, 2000 Ravens, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and even the New York Giants that ruined a perfect season – they all had amazing defenses.  Even Bill Belichick’s Patriots were more defensive minded and oriented before Belichick realized the rules of the game would favor the offenses.

And that brings us to today.

Sure it’s great to have a good defense, but what does that get you in today’s NFL?  Last season the Cardinals and Jaguars ranked 3rd and 4th respectively in defensive yards allowed.  A stat that is really over-rated is “sacks” as half the teams in the top ten of that category didn’t even make the playoffs.  And although last year’s Patriots defense allowed the least amount of points per game, it was more because of WHO they played then HOW they (the Patriots played).  The Patriots DID have the number three offense in the NFL last year though – and they ended up playing against the number one offense in the NFL, the Falcons, in the Super Bowl.  Last year’s game featured a game with two clean cut quarterbacks with “video game” like statistics.  And the fans loved that.

Now a days, it’s not about the defense winning championships.  Its about the “quarterback.”  Not even the offense – just the quarterback.  Nobody wants to see a “defensive battle” on television anymore.  In a sport who’s fan-base has basically tripled because of fantasy football and daily fantasy football games – defenses are the devil.  The NFL knows that – which is why with today’s rules being adjusted, you can’t touch a quarterback, you must keep your hands off of a receiver and don’t you even THINK about hitting somebody too hard!  Because of these rule changes and a desire/need to see big numbers put up by offenses, the quarterback has become the focus of the league.

Before I go into why the quarterback is the “focus” of the NFL, let me just say. . . I’m still true to the belief of “owning the line of scrimmage.”  An offensive line is truly the key to any successful offense.  An offensive line adds balance to an attack, and security for the quarterback position.   With that said,   NGSC’s own Kyle Nash, has made sure to painfully and constantly remind me that Aaron Rodgers is probably the only QB to win a Super Bowl with a below average offensive line, which only ADDS to the fact that having a QB in today’s NFL is crucial.

Some quarterbacks can make average receivers look better than they are, for example: Tony Romo, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Dan Marino (sorry Clayton and Duper fans. . .) – these are the guys who can master their system and build guys up within it.  Then there are guys who need some talent around them so they can really flourish, for example Eli Manning, Carson Palmer and Kurt Warner – their is nothing wrong with being in that latter category – it’s just facts.

The quarterback has not only become the leader of a team on offense, who must have the skill set to take advantage of the rules set forth today in the NFL – they must also be “the face of the franchise.”  It used to be running backs for the most part, but the quarterback determines how a team will be perceived and welcomed by the media – not just with his stats, but with his demeanor and personality.

Quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler and even at times Cam Newton – make themselves easy targets for the media to pick apart what they do.  Anything from body language, social media posts or post game comments – can leave a negative affect on the media and in turn become what is talked about to each quarterback’s respective teams.

Quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning helped to usher in this new era of quarterbacks.  All time greats, who smile when they have to smile, say all the right things and stay out of trouble (stop it with deflate-gate already. . .).

This poses a problem in today’s microwave-society though.   Fans want their favorite team’s franchise QB to become Manning or Brady overnight.  Fans have no patience for a quarterback to mature or grow within a system.  This usually ends up in coaches being fired, and the quarterback left in a position where he is doomed to fail.  Remember Jason Campbell?  Early Alex Smith?  And soon to be, Blake Bortles?  The media ends up destroying the mold of a team’s franchise quarterback because the “results” are not immediate.

Even Andrew Luck is feeling that pressure right now.  Unfortunately for Andrew Luck, he is playing with one of the worse rosters in the NFL, and in a division that has become increasingly more competitive (eh, the Jaguars still have Blake Bortles at quarterback though so. . .).

The Chicago Bears moved up in the draft to take Mitchell Trubisky number two overall.  That kind of move means the franchise has all the faith in the world for him to become their “guy” in the near future.  But wait, didn’t the Bears just sign Mike Glennon to be their starter at a ridiculous price?  And when they did, weren’t they making all kinds of ridiculous praises about him?  Yes. Yes, they did. Teams like the Bears are desperate at the quarterback position and need the media and fans to believe they have someone under center who can lead.  The Jets need it.  The 49ers.  The Texans.

In short, the quarterback position is more than just the most important piece of the puzzle in building a roster.  The quarterback is also the chip that puts a franchise in a better light.

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio