FRISCO, Texas -- Last Sunday’s win against the Washington Football Team marked the 16th game quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver CeeDee Lamb have played together in the last two years.
While the NFL has adopted a 17-game schedule this season, the Prescott-to-Lamb connection has shaped up as one of the best in recent Dallas Cowboys' history.
Lamb has 85 catches for 1,204 yards and eight touchdowns from Prescott.
Prescott missed 11-plus games last season because of a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, and one game this season due to a right calf strain. Lamb missed one game this season because of a concussion.
The Cowboys have had some legendary quarterback-receiver combinations, starting with quarterback Don Meredith and wide receiver Bob Hayes, then on to Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson. Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin had Hall of Fame careers together. Tony Romo started off with Terrell Owens then moved on to Dez Bryant.
Comparing passing numbers from previous eras is difficult because of how the game has changed, but in looking at the Romo/Owens, Romo/Bryant and Prescott/Amari Cooper combinations, the Prescott-to-Lamb duo is right there.
In their first 16 games together, Romo and Owens combined for 77 receptions for 1,219 yards and 13 touchdowns. Romo and Bryant combined for 56 receptions for 831 yards and seven touchdowns in their first 16 games and did not hit their stride until Bryant’s third season. After being acquired from the Raiders, Cooper and Prescott connected 101 times for 1,345 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Lamb did not have a traditional offseason program as a rookie in 2020 due to the coronavirus protocols the NFL put in place. He and Prescott got together for the first time at the quarterback’s backyard turf field.
In their first four games last season, Lamb became the sixth player in NFL history to start a career with at least five catches. Before Prescott’s injury, Lamb was on pace for 86 receptions for 1,318 yards and six touchdowns. He finished with a club rookie record 74 receptions for 935 yards and five touchdowns.
“Building that trust factor between each other,” Lamb said. “I feel like he trusted me as soon as I came in as a rookie and I trusted him when I was a rookie. Just building that foundation early and kinda getting tit-for-tat with each other, understanding what he does well and what I don’t do well. Kinda working on it. I mean I wish I could really just pinpoint what it is but I can’t. The rhythm, it’s getting there.”
This season, Lamb leads the Cowboys with 64 catches for 890 yards and six touchdowns. He has three 100-yard games (two with Prescott) and four more with at least 80 yards. He has two multi-touchdown games.
“Things the coaches draw it up the way they draw it up, (we) perfect it, execute it,” said Lamb, the Cowboys' first-round pick in 2020.
The last two games, however, the connection has hit a bump similar to the entire offense. Spacing and timing have been off, not just between the two but also Cooper, Michael Gallup and tight end Dalton Schultz.
Lamb has 14 receptions on 23 targets. He had a drop against Washington. A week earlier against the New Orleans Saints, they missed a big connection on an improvisational play on a fourth-down call when Lamb admitted he messed up the entire play.
Normally Prescott and Lamb see the game the same way, which made that misconnection so strange.
"Whether you do or not, you communicate it to make sure that you are (seeing it the same),” Prescott said. “That's part of it, making sure that me and the receivers see the game the same way, whether it didn't happen instinctively or not we're able to talk through it, communicate, get on the same page, and at that point it's a body language thing, whether it's option route or whether it's man to man, I just want you to fight through and come back to the ball this way, or go over the top. It's a process that never stops."
Coach Mike McCarthy witnessed several legendary combinations in his years as coach of the Green Bay Packers first with Brett Favre and later with Aaron Rodgers. Favre and Donald Driver had a connection that produced two 1,000-yard seasons and two Pro Bowl spots in McCarthy’s first two seasons. Rodgers went from Jordy Nelson to Randall Cobb to Davante Adams producing Pro Bowl seasons.
McCarthy said time on task matters.
“It’s not something that just shows up, that’s for sure,” McCarthy said. “That’s something that goes through and one thing our group has [is] the work ethic. You see the extra routes after practice, you see the extra time and I always feel that’s where the little things in the route running, the time clock development really, really grows. ...
"As far as today’s modern NFL player, just the amount of time guys spend together in the offseason ... is a huge benefit, too. Most of these guys work out together. That’s where the timing opportunities are developed ... and our crew does a great job with it.”
There are times where a connection just doesn’t get there despite the effort to make it work.
Take Romo and Roy Williams. Acquired in a trade from the Detroit Lions in 2008, the Cowboys believed Williams would be a vital piece to the passing game after posting 28 touchdown receptions in four seasons and one 1,300-yard season with the Lions.
With the Cowboys, Williams never topped 38 catches for 596 yards and seven touchdowns.
Despite the recent issues, the Prescott-Lamb duo is working just fine.
"He's a playmaker, and when you're very skillful and you have great awareness it's easy to get on the same page,” Prescott said of Lamb. “That's credit to him of just being a young player and communicating through everything, us talking, whether it's option routes or whether it's whatever it is.”