He has thrown four interceptions the past two games and committed turnovers in four consecutive games for the first time in his career. Has Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott suddenly become reckless with football?
At least, that is the narrative in some circles as pundits try to explain the Cowboys’ two-game losing streak, which has them facing a must-win game Sunday against the hapless New York Jets (0-5).
The Cowboys can’t tolerate more setbacks caused by self-inflicted wounds considering their rough upcoming schedule, starting Oct. 20 against the Philadelphia Eagles, who are tied with Dallas atop the NFC East at 3-2.
With the fifth-best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history, Prescott has a history of taking care of the football. Before this season, he had never had interceptions in more than two straight games, dating to 2016 when he fashioned the finest rookie season by a quarterback in NFL history.
He believes a few of the 2019 picks — including two in Sunday’s 34-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers and a desperation attempt in a 12-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints — were more about being unfortunate than being reckless.
“I take a lot of pride in ball security,” Prescott said. “It’s not something I’m proud of, it’s not something I like to see, regardless of if it happens for this reason or that reason. Ball security, job security is something I’ve always said and always believed in. It’s not fun turning the ball over. ... But at my position you’ve just got to let them go, keep moving forward.
“That’s the great part about this position. You get the ball in your hands the next play. You’ve got to put that behind when things like that happen again. I just worry about executing and moving on to the next play.”
Again, Prescott plans to be more mindful but not necessarily more careful.
And if you think the answer is to run the football with Ezekiel Elliott as the focal point of the offense and having Prescott simply play to avoid mistakes, then you don’t know this Cowboys offense and don’t understand the evolution of this Cowboys quarterback.
Prescott is coming off a career-high 463 yards passing against the Packers and is the only quarterback in the NFL with two games of more than 400 yards passing.
Prescott’s job is no longer to just be the bus driver and keep things between the white lines.
“I’m not going to change the way I play this game,” Prescott said. “I’m confident in where I’m at. I like where I’m at, so I’m not going to change that up. I’ve got a lot of confidence in what I can do. A lot of confidence in these guys making plays.”
Under new coordinator Kellen Moore, the Cowboys offense is an aggressive, vertical attack that wants to beat teams in a variety of ways.
Prescott is leads in the league in yards per attempt, and is second in passing touchdowns and fourth in yards. Receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup are in the top five in yards per game.
The Cowboys are second in the league with 17 pass plays of 25 yards or more.
“I would say we are aggressively attacking as an offense,” tight end Jason Witten said. ”It helps when you have playmakers on the outside that can make those plays. 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. Kellen has done a good job feeling out when to make those calls. And they have been some big plays for us. We are going to keep taking shots.”
Witten, a 16-year veteran, played with Prescott from 2016-2017 before retiring in 2018 to work for ESPN only to return to the game in 2019. He said the Cowboys are more vertical now than they were before.
But he said it’s not about them being more quarterback-focused and moving away from running game with Elliott.
“We say we are going to be an attacking offense,” Witten said. “But we are going to do it a number of different ways. We are going to run the football. We believe our strength is the offense and obviously Zeke. It’s a mindset. But there are a number of ways you can get to that. We feel like we can take the vertical passing game and wearing them down and then Zeke can get his carries too.”
It’s all possible because of Prescott’s evolution over the past three years. He said the light came on for him last season, when the game started to slow down for him.
The aggressive coaching of Moore and quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna has resulted in him taking more shots downfield.
But there will be no thinking about risk/reward and playing it safe avoid turnovers come Sunday.
“Once you’re in the game, that word (risk) doesn’t necessarily crawl in my head,” Prescott said. “I don’t think about it as I’m getting ready to throw the ball. Once that happens, I’ve got all the confidence and every throw’s a reward to me at that point.”