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Sports 'Andy's been Andy': How Dallas Cowboys will forge ahead this NFL season without franchise QB Dak Prescott

01:55  20 october  2020
01:55  20 october  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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FRISCO, Texas — The buzz was palpable.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was back at the Star for medical treatment early Thursday morning, just a few days after surgery for a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle. Teammates and coaches were thrilled to catch a smile on the face of the player whom they’d last seen carted off the field of AT&T Stadium, his ankle in a sterile splint,  tears streaming down his face.

a baseball player pitching a ball on a field: Andy Dalton brings plenty of experience as he steps in for injured Cowboys QB Dak Prescott. © Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports Andy Dalton brings plenty of experience as he steps in for injured Cowboys QB Dak Prescott.

“The reaction everybody has that he's here … speaks volumes about him as a man and just the electricity that he brings to our football team,” coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday. “You can never take for granted the presence and the command of Dak Prescott.”

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a person standing in front of a crowd: Of his injured quarterback, Cowboys' coach Mike McCarthy says, “You can never take for granted the presence and the command of Dak Prescott.” © Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports Of his injured quarterback, Cowboys' coach Mike McCarthy says, “You can never take for granted the presence and the command of Dak Prescott.”

Then Prescott left the Star for a post-operation visit with his doctor. The Cowboys resumed their practice schedule, the quarterbacks opening with their usual series of indoor drills that McCarthy calls “quarterback school.” Andy Dalton cycled through footwork, target practice and two-minute drills. Rookie Ben DiNucci followed. No. 4 was missing.

“It was definitely noticeable,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, it hit me (then). But you have to turn the page on all injury situations. I think we were so fortunate and blessed to have Andy Dalton.”

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Fortunate, perhaps, is a generous word for the Cowboys’ backup quarterback arrangement. No doubt the Cowboys are thrilled to have a nine-season starter to replace Prescott, who will miss the rest of the season beginning Monday against the Cardinals (8:15 pm, ET, ESPN). But the acquisition of Dalton was a calculated move. A veteran backup was a priority when the Cowboys hired McCarthy, executive vice president Stephen Jones said.

“When Coach McCarthy came in, he obviously really was fired up about Dak,” Jones said Friday on Dallas radio station 105.3. “But at the same time, his goal with us when we started working through the roster, what his strategies were at Green Bay and how he had success — his thought process was one, he’d like to draft one and (the) other: get a more veteran-type quarterback.

“He understood our cap situation, and we probably weren’t going to be in the mix for the backup quarterbacks that required bigger dollars.”

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Dalton was still available after the draft and was living with his family nearby in North Texas. The Cowboys believed they were investing in quality when they paid $3 million guaranteed plus incentives. Dalton believed a one-year deal would allow him, if not to play, then to at least assess a less bloated quarterback market in the 2021 offseason.

When Dalton came on for Prescott in the third quarter against the Giants, his message to teammates was clear.

“He's coming in here to win every time he comes into the huddle,” said receiver Michael Gallup, who caught 19- and 38-yard passes from Dalton on the game-winning drive. “That's the first thing he says: I came here to win. I came here to play. So, let's do it.

“That's all I really need to know."

‘Andy’s been Andy’

Gallup joins a long list of teammates and coaches who want to be clear: There is no replacing Prescott.

“Definitely, you don't just forget about Dak,” Gallup said. “The best thing you can do is obviously keep Dak in the loop. You got to send him some texts, go there and see him, make sure he still has his spirits up. But at the same time, you got to put all your focus on Andy.”

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Running back Ezekiel Elliott, Prescott’s draft classmate and close friend, has begun striking this balance. Outside team hours last week, Elliott visited Prescott daily, acknowledging that Prescott was working through pain and “a little loopy” but “definitely in good spirits.” Elliott brainstormed ways to ensure Prescott stays involved rather than be isolated due to the injury and coronavirus risks. While at the facility, Elliott focused on the crisp offense the Cowboys hope will balance run and pass than than the first five weeks.

“We have a lot of pieces in this offense,” said Elliott, who, like most of his teammates, will compete as a pro without Prescott for the first time Monday. “I think we should still be one of the best offenses in the league.”

What the Cowboys are losing in Prescott is a leader who started 69 consecutive regular-season contests, during which he completed 66% of his passes for 17,634 yards, 106 touchdowns and 40 interceptions. He scored 25 more touchdowns   running (24) and receiving (one). Through roughly four and a half games this year, Prescott led the league in passing yards (1,856).

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What the Cowboys gain in Dalton is a quarterback who took Cincinnati to the postseason four times but also oversaw four consecutive losing seasons before being released. Dalton left Cincinnati with 70 wins in 133 games, completing 62% of his passes for 31,705 yards, 204 touchdowns and 118 interceptions.

Dalton’s vocal approach to Week 6 meetings did not surprise teammates. His film study and body maintenance routines have been honed across 10 professional seasons. He had not tweaked his habits because he spent the first five games largely on the sideline. He’d already felt comfortable speaking up in quarterback and team meetings while Prescott was healthy, “just to make sure everybody is clear on everything.”

Rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb and veteran pass rusher Aldon Smith arrived at the same description of Dalton’s demeanor this week.

“Andy’s been Andy,” each said in his own media availability.

Dalton laughed when asked to explain that.

“I’m being myself, I’m being how I was, I was running scout team so the same way I was in the huddle there is the same thing I’m bringing to the first group running our offense and everything. I’m just trying to be myself throughout that whole process. I think that’s what everybody means by that.”

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McCarthy described it as a “direct” leadership style.

“He has a very, very smart way of getting his point across in as few words as possible,” McCarthy said. “And Andy's a guy that everybody loves. How do you not?

“If you don't like Andy Dalton, then there's something wrong with you.”

‘Force Andy Dalton to beat us’

Dalton’s first start in Dallas comes against a 3-2 Arizona team that ranks fifth in the league with 20.4 points a game allowed and fourth in passing yards allowed at 222.4. The Cowboys could look to Elliott more to set up the run, against which since Arizona ranks 19th at 124.2.

Cardinals Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson said his defense prefers Dalton try to beat them.

“We definitely got to stop the run and force, not saying he can’t do it, but we have to force Andy Dalton to beat us,” Peterson said on his All Things Covered podcast last week. “We feel if you take the ball out of Ezekiel Elliott’s hands, there’s more opportunities for bad things to happen when the ball is in the air versus the ball getting carried.”

A 2-3 Cowboys team has bigger issues with Arizona than whether Dalton, with three star receivers, can score. Dallas’ offensive line is down three starters this season and its defense is allowing a league-worst 36 points a game. Just two weeks ago, the Cowboys ceded a franchise-record 307 rushing yards in a 49-38 loss to the Browns. Enter Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who leads all quarterbacks with 296 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.

McCarthy said he was more concerned about DiNucci being ready to back up Dalton than Dalton integrating seamlessly into Dallas’ game plan. Dalton and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore were in constant communication through the week, working toward a game script Dalton was comfortable with.

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“We don’t see things changing much,” Dalton said Friday. “I feel like we can just run this offense. I’ve been in a lot of different systems and kind of been through it all so I like everything that we’re doing and my job is to keep this thing exactly how Dak had it. Dak was playing really well and we don’t feel like we want there to be any drop off since he’s not going to be in there.

“I feel like we still have a lot of good football left, and I’m anxious to go show that the rest of the season.”

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones agrees. Dallas will play consecutive divisional games. As Dalton assumes role of starter, the Cowboys are atop the NFC East at 2-3. The return of injured defensive stars and the team's increasing familiarity with a new coaching staff gives Jones hope, as does Dalton’s extensive experience.

“Dak is a very, very integral part of the success of this football team,” Jones said Friday on Dallas radio station 105.3. “On the other hand, if we don't reach where we want to go ultimately — and the ultimate success is to win the championship — it will not be because of Andy Dalton. It will not be because of our play at quarterback.

“He is capable of stepping in and playing at that level.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Andy's been Andy': How Dallas Cowboys will forge ahead this NFL season without franchise QB Dak Prescott

Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Nolan pauses interview after getting Tabasco sauce in eye .
Before talking about how rookie Trevon Diggs got burned on the field, Cowboys DC Mike Nolan had his own unpleasant eye incident.“That wasn’t good,” the Cowboys defensive coordinator told reporters Monday evening. “Ugh. Terrible. Jeez, I’m sorry.

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