Blogging The Boys co-editor Dave Halprin and yours truly are two of the old hands among the football writers here at SB Nation. We have been trading questions about the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants for nearly a decade now, and with the dawn of a new season here we are again.
Our first regular-season “Five questions” of 2016 is, of course, about the Cowboys. In advance of Sunday’s game, here are Dave’s answers to my questions.
Ed: Let's get to it right away. What are your thoughts on Dak Prescott and your comfort level with him at quarterback for the first portion of the season?
Dave: It's certainly a tough thing to get a handle on. Initially we thought there was no way Prescott would be ready for substantial action in his rookie year, he was way down on the depth chart behind Tony Romo and Kellen Moore and the general consensus was he needed more seasoning. Then Moore got injured and Prescott was thrust into the backup role for the first preseason game. He was phenomenal. The stats only tell part of the story even though they were off the charts. It was the way he looked calm and composed running the offense, he just didn't seem like a rookie. He continued that in all three games he played, even playing well against a first-team Seattle Seahawks defense in the third game when Romo got hurt.
So on the one hand you have a quarterback who has excelled when called upon and has done it looking like a five-year veteran. That gives you hope. On the other hand, it's a very small sample size against vanilla defenses that weren't really game-planning for Prescott. And he's a rookie. So I guess you could say guarded optimism is the way I'm looking at it. He has a fantastic offensive line with a multitude of weapons at the skill positions to help him, and so far he's been successful at what has been asked of him. But I guess we'll find out for real this weekend what kind of player he is, only then will we get a clearer picture.
Ed: A related question. Your thoughts on Tony Romo's future? Obviously, he will play again. Can Dallas continue with Romo as their guy, though, when he keeps missing games?
Dave: This is a very tough question to answer. There are just so many variables here. One will be how well Dak Prescott plays in Romo's absence. I mean, theoretically, you could have a Brady/Bledsoe situation, I don't think it's likely, but it's at least feasible. The most likely scenario is that Romo returns sometime after the first month of the season. But will he get injured again right away? That's the way last year played out so it's definitely on everyone's mind. The team tells us this latest injury has no relation to his previous back injuries, and that all of his recent injuries are unrelated, making it seem like it's just bad luck. Still, you can't help but wonder is he injury-prone, is he snake-bit, is his body failing him, does his style of play contribute to him getting hit too often by defenders? I don't think there will ever be a time again when I don't hold my breath whenever Romo takes a hit, wondering if this is the one that ends his career. The Cowboys would probably like to roll with Romo for a couple of more years, that would line up with his salary cap situation and they still believe he's their best shot at a title. How Prescott plays in his absence will have some bearing on that, and Romo's health obviously plays the major role. There's no real answer until we see if Romo's body can hold out for at least the 2016 season once he returns. If he can't remain healthy this year, Dallas will have to make a huge decision in the offseason.
Ed: Was Ezekiel Elliott the right pick for the Cowboys at No. 4? With a defense that needs help can't you argue that no matter how good the guy might be Dallas would have been better served by taking whoever they felt was the best defensive player on the board?
Dave: The Cowboys are actually looking at this in a different way, and they have some evidence to back up their view. The theory is that Ezekiel Elliott can help out the defense in a major way, maybe more than a Jalen Ramsey would have been able to. How? Because the Cowboys will be able to run the ball, control the clock and put points on the board. By controlling the clock you keep your defense off the field, but that's not enough. Dallas actually managed that part last year. What they didn't do is put points on the board, and they believe Elliott will help with that in two ways, he can take it to the house at any time (unlike Darren McFadden last year), and he'll force defenses to commit to stopping the run, leaving plenty of one-on-one opportunities for Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, etc. When a team can score points, it forces the opposing offense to keep up, and that means they take chances. Taking chances leads to turnovers, something the Cowboys defense was sorely lacking in last year. If you want to see all of this in action and actually working, just look at the Cowboys in 2014 with DeMarco Murray. That team was built very similar to this team with a very suspect defense, but you could argue that Elliott is an upgrade over Murray, and they went 12-4 in that year, won a playoff game and came one controversial Dez Bryant non-catch from beating Green Bay to go to the NFC Championship Game. So this is the theory they are working under, that it is easier to win games by overpowering teams with their offense, than try to significantly upgrade their defense by drafting a player like Ramsey.
Ed: My go-to question. If you could take one player off the Giants' roster and put him in the Cowboys' starting lineup, who would it be? Why?
Dave: If it's for just this game, probably Eli Manning. I think the reasoning behind that is obvious. If it's for the long-term, Odell Beckham seems like an obvious choice, but the Cowboys have Dez Bryant, so I might want a resource at a position of need. So give me Olivier Vernon to help with the pass rush, beating out JPP because the latter still needs to show full recovery from his injury.
Ed: Are there any young, under-the-radar players on the Dallas roster we should be looking for on Sunday?
Dave: I don't know how under-the-radar he is since he was the Cowboys number one pick last year, but Byron Jones at safety looks like he's on the path to stardom. He has the agility to cover wide receivers and the size to cover tight ends. He can read plays well and has a great break on the football. He'll help to solidify the back end. Watch out for David Irving at defensive end, he showed really well in limited playing time last year, and has been talked about a lot in training camp and preseason. He has the potential to be a breakout player for Dallas.
Thanks to Dave for taking the time. Head over to BTB to find out what is happened with the Cowboys. As always, please remember to play nice with the Dallas faithful and represent BBV — and the Giants — with some class.