Risky business for Cowboys’ Prescott
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.