Andy Dalton Faces Enormous Challenge to Improve Cowboys' Atrocious Record With Backup QBs

Life after Dak Prescott could have hardly got off to a more inauspicious start for the Dallas Cowboys, who were on the receiving end of a 38-10 shellacking at home against the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football.

Prescott suffered a compound fracture to his right ankle against the New York Giants in Week 5, ruling him out for the remainder of the season and handing Andy Dalton the keys to the Cowboys' offense for the rest of the year.

The former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback acquainted himself well when he replaced Prescott last week, completing nine of his 11 passes and leading the Cowboys in position to kick the winning field goal.

Dalton's first start for Dallas, however, was far less promising as the Cowboys lost their 19th game out of 25 started by a backup quarterback in the last 10 years.

Worryingly for the Cowboys, head coach Mike McCarthy's record when starting backup quarterbacks is just as patchy. McCarthy's teams have won six games and lost 12 times when he has been forced to start a backup quarterback.

Dalton completed 34 of his 54 passes for 266 yards and one touchdown, but threw two interceptions—one of which should have arguably been overturned because of pass interference.

After a scoreless first half, Ezekiel Elliott fumbled on back-to-back drives, with both turnovers leading to Cardinals touchdowns as Arizona scored 21 unanswered points.

According to NFL Research, it was the first time Dallas had found itself in a 21-point hole in the first half of a game since they trailed 24-0 to Washington in Week 17 of the 2015 season.

Significantly, the loss to Washington was the last game the Cowboys started without Prescott at quarterback—the Cowboys drafted him out of Mississippi State in the fourth round of the 2016 draft.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Dalton averaged a paltry 1.3 air yards per completion through the first half, during which he passed for only 82 yards as the Cowboys scored just three points.

Prescott, on the other hand, averaged almost 7 air yards per completion through the four games and three quarters he played prior to his gruesome injury.

It would be unfair, however, to pin the loss against the Cardinals entirely on Dalton. As it has done throughout the season, the Cowboys loss again looked far from formidable, conceding over 30 points for the fourth consecutive game. It has now allowed 218 points through the first six weeks of the season at an average of 36.3 points per game—both NFL-worst figures.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Cowboys have been decimated by injuries. In the loss against the Cardinals, Dallas offensive line featured a rookie center, two undrafted rookies at tackle and a second-year player with two offensive snaps up until Monday night at guard.

The Cowboys were widely praised for signing Dalton in the offseason and he is arguably the best quarterback in the league. A starter in all of his nine seasons in Cincinnati, the second-round pick of the 2011 NFL Draft has thrown for at least 3,000 yards in all but one of his seasons in the NFL and has passed the 20-touchdown passes threshold in six of his nine campaigns for the Bengals—ranking 11th in both categories among active quarterbacks.

Unfortunately for Dalton, replacing Prescott would have been nigh-on impossible for most quarterbacks this season. Prescott entered Week 5 on pace to finish the campaign with 6,760 passing yards, which would have seen him obliterating Peyton Manning's all-time record of 5,477.

Before his injury Prescott averaged over 50 passing attempts per game, which put him on track to shatter Matthew Stafford's all-time record of 727 attempts the Detroit Lions quarterback set in 2012.

While Prescott's figures would have almost inevitably suffered a natural regression as the season continued, it speaks volumes that he still leads the NFL in passing yards after six weeks, despite not playing on Monday night.

A combination of Prescott's blistering start to the season and a banged-up offensive line have made Dalton's job even harder.

Andy Dalton, Dallas Cowboys
Andy Dalton #14 of the Dallas Cowboys looks to throw against the Arizona Cardinals during the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium on October 19 in Arlington, Texas. Ronald Martinez/Getty