Risky busi­ness for Cow­boys’ Prescott

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NFL - By Schuyler Dixon

FRISCO, Texas — Dak Prescott leaves lit­tle doubt he thinks he’s a more con­fi­dent and ag­gres­sive quar­ter­back than, say, three years ago when the sud­den star threw just four in­ter­cep­tions while lead­ing the Cow­boys to a fran­chise-record 11 straight wins.

Now that the 2016 NFL Of­fen­sive Rookie of the Year has six picks through five games in his fourth sea­son, Prescott is also quick to dis­miss any cor­re­la­tion be­tween the fre­quency of turnovers and any ten­dency to take more risks down the field.

While he built his rep­u­ta­tion on pro­tect­ing the ball, Prescott isn’t get­ting cau­tious com­ing off three in­ter­cep­tions to tie his ca­reer high in a sec­ond straight loss. The Cow­boys (3-2) will try to stop that skid Sun­day at the Jets (0-4).

“I’m not go­ing to change the way I play this game,” Prescott said. “I’ve got a lot of con­fi­dence in what I can do. A lot of con­fi­dence in these guys mak­ing plays whether it’s 50-50 balls or just putting it in a tight win­dow, know­ing they’re go­ing to go get it.”

The first in­ter­cep­tion in a 34-24 loss to the Pack­ers last week­end should have been caught for a big gain by No. 1 re­ceiver Amari Cooper, who might have scored had he made the grab.

Prescott ac­knowl­edged the sec­ond pick was risky, when Pack­ers cor­ner­back Chan­don Sul­li­van made a leap­ing grab with Prescott try­ing to drop the throw be­tween lay­ers of the de­fense. The QB thought he would draw a pass in­ter­fer­ence penalty on the third in­ter­cep­tion.

While the four-game streak with at least one in­ter­cep­tion is twice as long as any pre­vi­ous run for Prescott, it’s worth not­ing that the only in­ter­cep­tion in the third straight game — a 12-10 loss to the Saints — was a des­per­a­tion pass on the fi­nal play.

“If you look at the spe­cific plays, that is how you have to eval­u­ate it,” coach Ja­son Gar­rett said. “He has been an out­stand­ing de­ci­sion-maker since he has been our quar­ter­back. We an­tic­i­pate him be­ing able to con­tinue to do that.”

There’s clear ev­i­dence Prescott is tak­ing more shots down the field.

His av­er­age yards per pass at­tempt (9.4) and av­er­age yards per com­ple­tion (13.5) are com­fort­ably higher than his pre­vi­ous three sea­sons. Prescott is tied with Jameis Win­ston for av­er­age air yards per com­ple­tion at 8.5, ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Ref­er­ence.

Still, the two-time Pro Bowler’s rep­u­ta­tion as a win­ner — sec­ond to Pa­tri­ots star Tom Brady in reg­u­larsea­son vic­to­ries since en­ter­ing the league — has a lot to do with avoid­ing mis­takes.

Prescott had 23 touch­downs with those four in­ter­cep­tions as a rookie and jumped to 13 picks with 22 TDs in his sec­ond sea­son, when run­ning back and fel­low first-year sen­sa­tion Ezekiel Elliott was sus­pended for six games and the Cow­boys missed the play­offs.

The in­ter­cep­tions were back down to eight with 22 more touch­downs last sea­son, when Prescott was sacked the sec­ond-most times in the NFL.

This year, Prescott is com­plet­ing 70 per­cent of his passes with 11 touch­downs and a 106 passer rat­ing. Both would be ca­reer highs for a full sea­son. But he’d also like to see his next 25 games be some­thing like his first 25, when Prescott threw in­ter­cep­tions in just six of them.

“It’s not some­thing I’m proud of, it’s not some­thing I like to see, re­gard­less of it if hap­pens for this rea­son or that rea­son,” he said. “Ball se­cu­rity, job se­cu­rity is some­thing I’ve al­ways said and al­ways be­lieved in. It’s not fun turn­ing the ball over.”

Tight end Ja­son Wit­ten, in his 16th sea­son af­ter spend­ing a year in re­tire­ment as a broad­caster, be­lieves the Cow­boys of­fense is more ver­ti­cally ori­ented un­der first-year of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Kellen Moore than be­fore he left two sea­sons ago.

“I wouldn’t say he is see­ing things he didn’t see be­fore,” Wit­ten said. “I would say we are ag­gres­sively at­tack­ing as an of­fense. Ev­ery­body wants to be a ver­ti­cal-at­tack­ing of­fense. Eas­ier said than done. I think we have done that. That was the plan com­ing into this sea­son.”

When the of­fense was rolling up nearly 500 yards and more than 30 points per game dur­ing a 3-0 start, Prescott ac­knowl­edged a surge of con­fi­dence that led him to un­leash­ing some throws he might have held in pre­vi­ous years. His sec­ond in­ter­cep­tion, against the win­less Dol­phins in Week 3, was such a throw.

Prescott said a surge in in­ter­cep­tions isn’t chang­ing that mind­set.

“I get hot in the game, we’re go­ing to have a heat check,” he said. “I’m sure Zeke gets go­ing in the run game, we’re go­ing to call a few ex­tra run plays. That’s foot­ball. That’s mo­men­tum.”

Prescott is try­ing to re­verse that mo­men­tum right now.


Now in his fourth sea­son, Cow­boys quar­ter­back Dak Prescott has 78 touch­downs to go with 31 in­ter­cep­tions.


Dak Prescott has thrown six INTs through five games this sea­son.

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