Dallas Cowboys

Prescott, Cowboys on target to improve shaky passing game

Dak Prescott said the playoffs start now for the Dallas Cowboys.

And if that’s the case, all eyes are on Prescott, who has gone from having the best rookie season of any quarterback in NFL history in 2016 to being mired in a bit of rut over the past month.

The Cowboys must sweep their final four games to have a shot at the playoffs, starting Sunday against the New York Giants.

And while the defense is as healthy as it’s been all season and the running game is finally finding its footing with Alfred Morris in place of the suspended Ezekiel Elliott for at least two more games, the Cowboys won’t truly be back on track and confident in their ability to win out until Prescott gets it going in the passing game again.

“Don’t think, just go out there and rip it,” Prescott said, when asked what its going to take to get the passing game on track. “It’s not a question to me. It’s just about getting the plays coach is giving me, executing them and going out and trusting my guys down the field.”

Prescott and the Cowboys are hopeful after he threw two touchdowns in a 38-14 victory against the Washington Redskins in their last outing when they snapped a three-game losing streak.

It’s still wasn’t a pretty aerial show. Prescott threw for a career-low 102 yards in the game, marking his fourth consecutive game with less than 200 yards passing to cap his most forgettable month as a Cowboy.

All totaled, Prescott tossed four touchdown passes with five interceptions in five games in November, that included three blowout losses by a combined score of 92-22. There were bookend by wins against the Kansas City Chiefs and Redskins.

The Cowboys are 6-6 and favored against the Giants. There are no guarantees with a struggling passing attack that averages just 190 per game to rank 29thin the NFL.

It’s no secret that the absence of Elliott following the Chiefs game has had a huge impact on Prescott and the passing game.

Prescott tossed 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions and had a passer rating of 97.9 in the eight games with Elliott this season.

The past four games have produced two touchdown passes, five interceptions and passer rating of 64.3.

And playing at New York doesn’t engender sweet memories. Throughout all of his success as a rookie last season, it was a 10-7 loss to the Giants in Week 13 that fostered many of the criticisms he’s getting this season.

In that game, Prescott completed 17 of 37 passes for 165 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions, and a 45.4 quarterback rating.

Giants interim coach Steve Spagnuolo has given Prescott fits in three career games, holding him to two touchdowns, two interceptions and quarterback rating 68.4. The Giants have won two of the three contests. Yet Spagnuolo remains wary and respectful of the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

“I don’t get wrapped up in the stats,” Spagnuolo said. “To me, he’s still an elite player we got to defend.”

The Cowboys remain confident and supportive of Prescott.

Owner Jerry Jones continues to rave about his leadership, mental toughness and unwavering confidence during the past month.

Coach Jason Garrett lauded his physical toughness of being able to throw two touchdown passes against the Redskins despite playing with a bruised and swollen throwing hand.

Still, they all know things must get better in the passing game, starting Sunday against Spagnuolo and a Giants team that will load up to stop the run and force Prescott to beat them through the air.

Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan made it clear that there is no lack of confidence in Prescott, who finished the second half against the Redskins playing as well he’s ever played with the Cowboys, dating to his breakout rookie season.

“When you are a heavy run team like we are, that is where it starts,” Linehan said. “Sometimes it takes a while to get the passing game going. Our passing game complements our running game. And sometimes our passing game has to take over and be the strength of our offense.

“It takes continued work. But we have had some good days throwing the ball with the young quarterback over the last year and three quarters. We are 100 percent behind Dak.”

Clarence Hill: 817-390-7760, @clarencehilljr

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram