Pocket presence, a sixth sense (to know when the hell to run and not look so dense), field awareness, pronounced peripheral vision, fabulous footwork, passing touch, and accuracy (while standing still or from an on-the-run thrill) were all features of “that announcer guy” before he was deemed over the hill.
Such skills, of course, had but one often-horrible enemy . . . the incredible urge towards impulsivity. There were, of course, numerous games when that announcer guy was (quite unfairly) tasked with magically overcoming the mistakes of everyone else in the gridiron vicinity. He often could not help himself – owning the burden of winning for the entire team – taking exciting and excruciating risk after risk, leaving fans in a mood to say anything but “Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.” It was admittedly not until his last few years in the league before he was able to truly tackle that urge and really help the Cowboys surge.
“Fans are no longer praying that announcer guy is healthy enough to be playing! Dak is now the man, and it may be high time you followed that plan! Cut it out!” you would shout.
Yes and no. Garrett and Linehan are running a “Dak-friendly” offense that oddly resembles the very same one that announcer guy used to run. It is no wonder (even with poor offensive line protection) that Dak looks like he is mentally trapped, unwilling to bend with a broken play, and proactively run away. Dak excels (like that announcer guy) at identifying pre-snap defensive coverages and (when necessary) calling an audible but – just like his offensive coordinator’s struggle with rigidly-designed calls – Prescott’s post-snap ability to (naturally) adjust is far from laudable.
Improvisation was his vocation, and it is beyond well-documented how that announcer guy spent most of his career navigating broken plays in myriad ways. He would sometimes implode with an impulsive, Favre-like, “I can thread the needle” mental spike, but most of the time, he would simply amaze. Whenever his O-line would collapse, he would use his basketball agility (while keeping his eyes downfield with his court, err, field awareness) to avoid most defensive traps.
One might argue (after years of seeing no other recourse but to carry an often-unbalanced Cowboys team on his back) that announcer guy finally chose to “trust the (announcer guy-friendly) system” while maintaining an ever-present dose of critical curiosity. That announcer guy would play within the system . . . without ever, robotically having to take what the defense gave him. Once he found that Zen rhythm (and was able to pair it with far less of a team talent schism), exactly one-and-a-quarter of the last three years of his career would take on a whole new velocity.
During an almost magical 1.25-year span, that announcer guy did, indeed, have his best offensive line since 2007. One particular 17-game stretch paired him with a dominant running attack, allowing him to more trustingly spread the offensive burden, and making “the system” almost like heaven.
And yet – for all that momentary magic – there is one brow-beaten fact that remains so incredibly tragic. Scott Linehan’s offensive philosophy requires top quality characters at every key position . . . or his system succumbs to functional attrition. Success and playoff dreams pop. Full stop.
That announcer guy – as (most but not all of) the football world will admit – made Linehan’s system look so much better than was possible in his injury-prone absence. Just when 2016 was set to arrive and that announcer guy seemed all set to pronounce the Cowboys’ offense ready “to go to 11,” he exposed himself to more injury crap (and would eventually take his final football career lap). It seemed all of Cowboys Nation was going to need a “Spinal Tap,” until one Rayne Dak(ota) “The Project” Prescott stepped up to stop fans from throwing up their hands and saying “that’s a wrap.”
Prescott seemingly convinced so many fans and prognosticators (some of whom wanted to see the Cowboys finally crawl out from under their injured QB curse) . . . that – suddenly – that announcer guy was not the only player capable of preventing the rest of “America’s Team” from looking a whole lot worse. “How ‘bout them Cowboys!” Champagne was ready to pop. Who knew how far the latest Dallas locomotive would go or when it would stop?!
After a collectively braindead first half of playoff football that gave Cowboys haters a good laugh, Prescott would help a determined Dallas get within 35 seconds and a blown-by-Byron-Jones defensive coverage from at least taking the Green Bay Packers into overtime. Perhaps a mature-beyond-his-years Prescott (and some of his first-time playoff partners) bowed to 30-minute butterflies . . . or maybe – after such a furious late-game comeback – his inability to finish out was a crime. Perhaps judgment on a rookie sensation was completely unfair, and he would experience invaluable growth from a dose of both.
That is neither here nor there, as the promise of 2017 (from Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension to o-line destruction to zero play call alteration to resultantly bad execution) would be picked clean. Prescott was exposed without more of the perfect players required by Linehan’s inconceivably unmodified system. The Dallas Cowboys had a chance – all offseason – to recover from their various mental and physical wounds and reset the team’s structural bones . . . but who would have the stones?
After the hire of several new position coaches (with the promise of significant change in multiple areas) and the righteous resolve towards a more Dak-friendly offense . . . a very 2017-ish result following 2018’s game one against Carolina has placed an immediate dent in that improvement romance.
And that announcer guy? He would have told Linehan to give his narrow-minded game plan a rest, Velcroed the Superman logo back onto his chest, and done his Houdini best. While his game plan continues rusting, Linehan seems only capable of telling Dak “in the system you must keep trusting.” One guy – even THE guy – having to regularly overperform to make up for a system not so creatively blessed is something only the insane have never confessed. Yes, of course, within the Cowboys’ coaching staff, “I give you Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan, err, exhibit A and exhibit B.” Tee-hee, tee-hee.
Will They Or Won’t They?
“Everyone knows” Dak is not that announcer guy nor will he ever be, but Prescott understands (having spent sufficient buddy-and-study time with his predecessor) there are several basic game day options available to him towards more success regardless (or until the demise) of the current system.
“You gotta’ have a mental clock in your head. When you know it ain’t there, the throw-away is a lot better than a minus play.” – Bill Parcells would say to that announcer guy back in 2003, blessed be he.
Dak – since entering the league – has almost always been a throw-it-away guy, but it is a combination of his slow mental clock and fast inaccuracy that has made a growing number of fans want to cry. While Dak will not improve everything under the sun, if “it ain’t there,” will he be more prepared to tuck and run? If his protection fails to abide, will he use his wheels when downfield receivers and defenders collide . . . or at least when there is simply nowhere left to hide?
Will Dak take advantage of more unscripted lateral movement? Will he acquiesce to the (current) fact that – compared to his pocket passing – his on-the-fly accuracy has almost always been an improvement?
And if Dak continues going out of his way to be the passer who will never stray, will he enhance more of his frozen ropes with some much-needed touch? With respect to his super clean 2016, will Prescott discover – before it is too late – that for quarterbacks who don’t have touch, it is harder to amount to much? Will Dak be able to bridge the reliability gap that was exposed when he lost a generational security blanket (in Jason Witten) so regularly clutch?
The New York Giants have all but guaranteed they will be daring Prescott to show ‘em what he’s got. If the Cowboys’ receivers can take advantage of some resultant single coverage from a large nine-man clot, will Dak flash scattershot or successfully connect a lot? If the receivers get regularly free-and-clear, will Prescott (more often than not) be able to aim and arch his passes reasonably near?
We shall see. We always do.