An admittedly frustrated Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is not concerned with the outside criticism of his disappointing play and accuracy woes in leading the league’s 29th ranked pass offense through five weeks of the season.
He’s built for that.
“I don’t care too much what people say,” Prescott said.” I never have. And if I ever gave that a thought or allowed that to seek into my confidence I wouldn’t be in this position at all that I am in today. I never really cared for it.”
What he does care about heading into Sunday’ game between the Cowboys (2-3) against the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-2) and the league’s top-ranked pass defense is the continued struggles of the Cowboys offense and his precipitous decline in production since fashioning the finest rookie season of any quarterback in NFL history in 2016.
Prescott threw 20 touchdowns with just four interceptions and setting a team record with 11 games with 100.0 quarterback rating or better as a rookie. He has 27 touchdowns and 17 interceptions and just six games over 100.0 in the 21 games since, including five touchdowns with four interceptions in 2018.
“I know I’m a better player mentally and physically than I was a year ago or two years ago,” Prescott. “I know I am better mentally, I see the defense. I know what is coming at me a lot more than I did my rookie year, a lot more.
“That’s what’s frustrating about all of it. But it’s about sticking to what I know, believing in the people I know and the coaches and just fighting through it and knowing it’ll get better.”
He also admits he hasn’t played his best and didn’t blink in the face of criticism from Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman over his accuracy and anticipation.
“Obviously, I haven’t had my best showing of that here recently,” Prescott said. “There’s area for improvement. I can do that. That’s why I go out there every day and just try to do that in everything I do, get my feet right, make sure it’s all in line, feet and eyes in line, just make sure the ball is coming out of my hand the right way.”
Prescott completed 67.8 percent his passes as a rookie and 62.9 percent in 2017. He is down to 61.8 this year. And also includes a steady decline in yards per attempt and yards per game over the last three years.
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said it’s unfair to hold Prescott to the standards of his rookie season because he is still a young quarterback and the team is totally different from 2016 with the retirement of tight end Jason Witten, the release of receiver Dez Bryant and a revamped receiver corps.
“We are a different team than that year,” Linehan said. “We are a different offense when it comes to a lot of things. We changed a lot of personnel at the receiver and tight end positions. It’s going to take some time. We are a work in progress. He knows that is part of is. He is still a young player going into the sixth game of his third year.
But while there is frustration with the results so far there is also some growing optimism amidst the struggles that things are getting better.
“The personnel we have is going to help us as we grow,” Linehan said. “The guys have distinct things that they do well that we like. Every game we are going closer to where we need to be. We might not show it quite yet we feel like we have made some strides and have some things we can start focusing on as far as guys’ roles on our team.”
Prescott agreed, saying “I don’t think we’re far off”, pointing out some missed plays in last Sunday’s loss against the Houston Texans that would have gone for big-plays, possibly game-deciders, if not for some fixable breakdowns with protection, execution, misreads or miss communication.
He regrets most a misread to tight end Rico Gathers running wide open down the middle of the field. Receiver Allen Hurns missed two pre-snap reads that he believes would have gone for big completions. The second one came in the fourth quarter and resulted in a four-yard loss after he had to hand to running back Ezekiel Elliott on the game-tying field goal drive. Prescott thinks Hurns could have turned the hitch pass (smoke route) into a tackle-breaking touchdown run if had seen it.
A break down in protection on the ensuing drive resulted in a sack by Houston defensive end J.J. Watt that prevented a potential game-winning touchdown pass or at least a completion to set up a field goal to a wide-open tight Blake Jarwin with 2 minutes, 46 seconds left in a tie game in the fourth quarter.
“I just knew that play was going to work and I was about to let it go,” Prescott said of the throw the Jarwin. “Yeah, that’s what’s frustrating as (expletive). It’s there it’s the game. The game is in the bag. Boom. Watt didn’t get there, you make that throw, you run the ball three times, they use their timeouts, kick a game winner or go score. Game is over.”
Prescott said the near misses are also why there is hope and why they can’t listen to the outside criticism.
“You can’t let the outside seep in here and get in your head because they don’t see those plays,” Prescott said. “They don’t see that Jarwin’s wide open. You’re hear negative, all this, that sucks. Nah, it’s not. We’re this close. We get that smoke (hitch pass to Hurns), if he recognizes that smoke signal he might break that tackle and who knows, that might be a touchdown. It was one on one, Hurns and the DB. He might break that tackle and go score and yet we can’t do that, I hand it off and we’re at a 4-yard loss. We put ourselves in a bad position. They didn’t do anything great. We go from a smoke that was going to get 5 to maybe more, to I had to hand the ball off late to Zeke for negative 4 yards.”
And then there is the fact that all four of Prescott interceptions this season have come off tipped passes from the wide receivers. The two against the Texans bounced off the hands of Tavon Austin and Deonte Thompson.
Prescott acknowledges his accuracy issues have hurt the Cowboys but is also begging, pleading and demanding that the receivers help him out by coming back strong to the ball and making contested catches on a more consistent basis.
“I mean,(expletive), I’m not perfect by any means, I don’t make every throw,” Prescott said. “That’s when we go to the sidelines and I say exactly that, ‘hey, help me out’. It’s just about knowing ‘’hey,help me out, come back to the ball, don’t stop coming back to it’.”
“That’s where I give these guys a lot of credit because we talk, we communicate, there’s not any beef or tension from when I go to you on the sidelines and say, ‘hey, come back and help me out.’ The timing may seem like I’m (cursing) you out but it’s not. It’s great communication and that’s why I give these guys a lot of credit because they allow me to do that and we can be straightforward with each other.”