On Monday night, the Andy Dalton era arrives for the Dallas Cowboys. It’s something no rational fan wanted, but it’s here.
Indeed, even with the season-ending injury to starting quarterback Dak Prescott, the team is lucky to have a veteran backup who is capable of playing well and winning games.
Prescott’s string of 69 consecutive starts dating back to Week 1 of the 2016 season is still currently the third-longest active streak in the NFL. That will be broken once Dalton takes the first snap under center as the Cowboys welcome the Arizona Cardinals to Arlington for Monday Night Football.
Even though Dallas brought Dalton in over the offseason to hedge for exactly this scenario, they still won’t be getting the early years of Dalton from his days leading the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs. Nevertheless, Dalton is still capable of doing enough to put up points for an offense that is loaded at the skill positions.
We’ll never know just what this offense could have achieved if it had been allowed to continue with the NFL’s leading passer Prescott out there making plays at a top level, but there’s no reason to believe that they won’t continue to be aggressive and successful through the air.
Dalton, as a 9-year veteran, won’t be scared of playing on the big stage, and he has already let the offense know that he’s ready to go full-steam ahead after a performance off the bench that included a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of the Week 5 victory over the New York Giants.
Dalton isn’t Dak, but the team now looks extremely smart for adding a valuable backup QB this offseason. If this were the Cowboys of the past few years, they’d be in big trouble with an extremely inexperienced backup like Cooper Rush as the starting QB playing for the rest of the year. With Dalton in tow, the Cowboys at least have a chance.
The veteran signal caller also does some of the same things that Prescott did for the offense. Dalton isn’t as athletic as Prescott, but he does have the mobility to escape the pocket and make plays on the move. He did just that on the final series against the Giants when he found wide receiver Michael Gallup for a critical first down.
That ability to make plays when things break down will be key in the game against the Cardinals, who have the seventh-most sacks in the league.
Arizona will be without top defensive end Chandler Jones, but they have a strong group of pass rushers who can harass Dalton against Dallas’ makeshift offensive line. Five Cardinals defenders not named Jones have at least two sacks this season, so the pressure will be on.
The offense will also likely have to keep up with the Cardinals’ high octane offense. Arizona ranks eighth in total offense and sixth in rushing while averaging over 25 points per game. The Cardinals play at a fast tempo with QB Kyler Murray and star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins leading the way.
In order to keep pace with the Cardinals, Dalton will have to play well on Monday night. Dalton will be looking to prove that he isn’t washed up and the Cowboys have the pieces on offense to help him be successful.
Even with all the talk about leaning more on two-time NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys don’t need to stop doing what’s made the offense so good through five weeks of the season. Throwing the ball to the intermediate and deep parts of the field should still be expected with Dalton. Mike McCarthy isn’t changing the offense. Dalton remains capable of throwing the ball around, just as Prescott did before getting injured.
It feels like the season ended when Prescott went down and now a new season is beginning in earnest for the Cowboys with a new quarterback in charge. The Cowboys should be in good hands with Andy Dalton and the NFL will be watching on Monday night to see if the offense can keep rolling in Dallas with the Red Rifle leading the way.
Do you think Andy Dalton will be able to come close to replicating Dak Prescott’s effort behind center? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.