Andy Dalton gives the Dallas Cowboys a fighting chance

Andy Dalton, Dallas Cowboys - Mandatory Credit: James D. Smith via USA TODAY Sports
Andy Dalton, Dallas Cowboys - Mandatory Credit: James D. Smith via USA TODAY Sports /

After a gruesome injury to star quarterback Dak Prescott, the Dallas Cowboys now turn to Andy Dalton. Can he step up and give the team a chance to compete?

When Dallas Cowboys‘ star quarterback Dak Prescott went down with an ankle injury in the third quarter of Sunday’s 37-34 victory over the New York Giants, you could just feel the air sucked out of AT&T Stadium.

Prescott was in the middle of the best season of his career and was a large reason the Cowboys had been in every game this year regardless of how many points the defense surrendered. In his place will now walk Andy Dalton, the former Texas Christian University and Cincinnati Bengals signal-caller.

A three-time Pro Bowler with a career 70-61-2 record over 133 starts, Dalton offers the Cowboys a competent veteran who can steer the ship and even make some big plays when needed. Drafted out of TCU in 2011, Dalton spent the better part of the last decade as one of the few bright spots for a Bengals franchise that was frequently outmatched and outcoached.

In fact, Dalton is better than you likely remember. He leaves Cincinnati as the franchise’s all-time leader in consecutive starts, winning percentage, completions, game-winning drives, 4th quarter comebacks, passer rating, and touchdowns. He ranks second in franchise history in wins and yards.

With the Cowboys, Dalton will have undoubtedly have the best supporting cast he’s ever played with, something that should help him considerably. Coming in cold off the bench to replace Dak on Sunday afternoon, Dalton went 9-11 for 111 yards.

Those numbers were boosted by two spectacular catches by wide receiver Michael Gallup that ended up making all the difference in the game. Dalton’s poise, strength, and accuracy on those throws to Gallup showcase the kind of arm talent he’s bringing onto the field.

The experience alone that Dalton brings to Dallas is gigantic. Having a veteran quarterback who is both capable and confident that they can make all throws gives the team a fighting chance to win the division. Not to mention the fact that it has to give the rest of the locker room some confidence that 2020 doesn’t need to be a lost season.

Play-calling will likely now change to alleviate pressure off the passing game and run through running back Ezekiel Elliott. He’s in his fifth season but has already led the league in rushing twice.

While Elliott has struggled to get going at times this season, he’s been so good over the course of his career that it’s hard to not have confidence in him to pull it together and the lead the offense. A running back like Elliott, along with the three-headed monster that Dallas has at receiver with Gallup, Amari Cooper, and CeeDee Lamb should help Dalton settle in nicely.

Let’s be clear though, Andy Dalton likely won’t put anywhere close to the numbers Dak Prescott had been, but if (and it’s a big if) the defense can pull themselves together, he may not need to, nor should he have to. While Dalton might be the best back up in the league, he did sign on to sit behind Prescott for a reason.

He lacks Dak’s decision-making ability and mobility. He’s also struggled behind bad offensive lines in the past, something he will have to work with now that injuries have forced Dallas to construct their own patchwork line. Not to mention that his playoff woes will likely be a frequent topic of conversation among his critics down the stretch.

The NFC East is once again the worst division in all of football, it’s entirely possible that someone could go 7-9 or 8-8 and still get to host a home playoff game. The Cowboys just barely escaped a bad Giants team with a victory. While Dalton surely gives the Cowboys the best to chance to win right now, this team still has a lot of issues to overcome before we can even consider if they’d be contenders come January.

Jon Kitna, Brad Johnson, Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, the list of Cowboys backup quarterbacks who have been thrust into extended action goes on and on. More often than not these players have left fans feeling frustrated and queasy, so you could be forgiven if you feel like you’ve seen this film before.

Cowboys backup quarterbacks have been so bad that over the last 13 years that they’ve collectively registered a 7-20 record. The good news is that Dalton is a far better quarterback than any of those players were by the time they got to Dallas and because of that fans can be hopeful for a much better result.

After having  Cooper Rush serve as the backup to Prescott from 2017-2019, the Cowboys got serious about the position over the offseason. The team gave Dalton a one-year contract in the unfortunate event that Prescott would miss extended time. It’s a good thing they did, as that time is now and the team is going to need Dalton to rise to the occasion, something he has shown he is capable of doing.

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Andy Dalton is not Dak Prescott, but he gives the Dallas Cowboys a competent veteran who can make plays when he needs to. With an NFC East that is truly up for grabs, the Cowboys have a lot of things to correct, but Dalton can help ensure this season isn’t over.