Dak Prescott may need more help for Super Bowl season

Dec 26, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) before the game against the Detroit Lions at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 26, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) before the game against the Detroit Lions at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Past sophomore Super Bowl winning quarterbacks shared common pieces in their supporting casts that the Dallas Cowboys may be missing.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is attempting to achieve something only four quarterbacks in NFL history have accomplished before him: win a Super Bowl in his sophomore year.

Those quarterbacks include the following: Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson, Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, New England Patriots Tom Brady and St. Louis Rams Kurt Warner.

Interestingly, there are two similarities among each of those teams that won the Super Bowl aside from their quarterbacks’ experience. They each had a competent run game and a strong defense. Check out the numbers below:

2013 Seattle Seahawks: #1 defense points against, #4 rushing offense

2005 Pittsburgh Steelers: #3 defense points against, #5 rushing offense

2001 New England Patriots: #6 defense points against, #13 rushing offense

1999 St. Louis Rams: #4 defense points against, #5 rushing offense

The reason behind this common occurrence is likely simple: inexperienced quarterbacks need help from the rest of the team when facing the best opponents in the NFL. They’re still learning the complexities of the game and are prone to making game-changing mistakes.

Checking out their playoff numbers validates this theory. Wilson was never asked to throw the ball more than 25 times in any of the 2013 playoffs. In the divisional round he went 9 for 18 on completions with a 67.6 quarterback rating but was saved by running back Marshawn Lynch (140 rushing yards, two touchdowns).

Roethlisberger was putrid in the Super Bowl. He threw two interceptions and had a 22.6 quarterback rating. The defense bailed him out by holding the opposing team to 10 points.

Brady was unspectacular in the playoffs. He had a 77.3 postseason quarterback rating and relied substantially on the defense and special teams to win the games (such as cornerback Ty Law’s interception return for a touchdown in the Patriots’ 20-17 Super Bowl victory).

Warner put up two great performances in the divisional round and Super Bowl, but the defense saved him in the NFC Championship after he threw three interceptions and one touchdown (the Rams would win 11-6).

Each of these quarterbacks did enough to get their teams to the Super Bowl; their performances shouldn’t be overly scrutinized. It just can’t be ignored that they depended on other parts of the team to win.

For the most part, Prescott was impressive against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs. However, in the mid-third quarter he made a risky screen pass to wide receiver Cole Beasley that was easily read by the defense and intercepted. The Cowboys were less than 20 yards away from the end zone.

That mistake wasn’t the reason why the Cowboys lost. They lost because the defense was incompetent at holding back the opposing team’s passing attack. The point is that a higher quality Dallas defense would have made that interception tolerable.

Dallas can’t ask their second year quarterback to be perfect to compensate for an uninspiring defensive unit.

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The good news is that the Cowboys have already given him one of those sophomore quarterback Super Bowl-winning ingredients by providing him a quality running back in Ezekiel Elliott.

Elliott set the NFL world on fire in 2016 by leading the league in rushing yards in his rookie season. His dominant run game allowed Prescott to only have to throw the ball 459 times, which was 23rd among all quarterbacks in the NFL.

Now it’s up to the Cowboys’ coaches to get the defense up to speed. Yes, this defense was 5th in points allowed in 2016, but the Packers proved that ranking to be something of an illusion.

It’s up to the 2016 and 2017 draft picks to make this defense competent again. While the defensive rookies will have their struggles early in the season as they acclimate to the pros, they should be in much better shape by the time the postseason arrives.

If this defense doesn’t show considerable improvement compared to last season, then look no further than the 1999 Indianapolis Colts to see an example of what can happen when a quality sophomore quarterback lacks a strong defensive supporting cast.

Quarterback Peyton Manning, in his second season, was complimented by a fantastic running game (All-Pro Edgerrin James) and receiver (All-Pro Marvin Harrison). That wouldn’t be enough after the team lost in the playoffs partly due to a horrific performance from Manning (62.3 quarterback rating). The defense was 17th in points against that season.

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The Cowboys need to get this defense rolling fast if they believe the Super Bowl is now within their reach. Or they better hope Prescott does something never done before by a sophomore Super Bowl quarterback: play a perfect postseason.

Which do you think is more likely?