Cowboys Need Dak Prescott to Play Better, Avoid Mistakes

Dak Prescott's 446th pass this season resonates more than any other, because it was a panic throw — the kind of pass you never, ever saw him throw last season.

One of the most impressive aspects of Prescott's rookie season is that he always seemed in control, whether he was making his preseason debut as a starter on the road against the Los Angeles Rams or starting the season-opener against the New York Giants.

No game, no moment seemed too big for him. He made few mistakes and protected the ball just like he did at Mississippi State, where he threw just 23 interceptions in 1,169 career attempts.

Obviously, he threw some bad passes as a rookie just like he's thrown some this season. And he's made some poor decisions. Every quarterback has done that.

But this third-quarter pass against Seattle last Sunday was different.

On the Cowboys' second offensive play in the third quarter Prescott seemed jittery in the pocket, because he couldn't go to Dez Bryant, his first read, on the left. He looked right and pumped, but Terrance Williams was covered.

Left tackle Byron Bell had been knocked back within a couple feet of Prescott, speeding up the quarterback's internal clock. Standing flat-footed, instead of bouncing on the balls of his feet, he jumped and threw a pass that sailed a couple feet over Ezekiel Elliott's head.

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Justin Coleman intercepted the pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown and a 14-9 lead the Seahawks never relinquished.

"On the first interception, I did a poor job of staying with my pre-snap plan. I was going here, going there, then just changed my plan mid-play," Prescott said after the game. "Then eventually, I tried to get back down to the check down, and my feet weren't underneath."

"I tried to throw it off-balance, throw it over people, and it sailed on me," he said. "I went and threw the pick. It was a bad throw, and I credit, or don't credit, my lack of following my plan."

That rarely, if ever, happened last season.

Last year, Prescott played well when the Cowboys had a lead, averaging 8.37 yards per attempt with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. When they trailed, he was even better with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

This season, he's thrown 13 interceptions.

"It makes me respect this league, the game, the preparation, and everything it takes to be great in this league so much more. Having a first year like I did, I think you almost want to take things for granted," Prescott said, "And then you come in the second year and a lot of things just go against you, and it's tough. On the field, off the field, you have to battle through it, and I feel like I've done that. I've given my all, I'll learn from it and get better."

"Again, I don't know if there's one thing I could say, because I bet if I could, I wouldn't be throwing them. That makes you respect this game that much more. Going from the few interceptions I had last year to going to the many I've got this year, I know it's frustrating for me and this team. And I'll clean it up," Prescott said.

Prescott owns his mistakes, and that's admirable. It's more important to find out why he panicked against Seattle.

After all, the Cowboys had the lead and the ball. A punt would've been fine the way the Cowboys' defense was playing.

First, you must understand that the most important folks in the Cowboys' front office — besides Jerry Jones — have no doubts about Prescott's ability to ultimately lead Dallas to a title.

Prescott certainly still has confidence in his ability to play at a high level, but in the past few weeks, it's clear he's not playing with confidence. The difference is subtle, yet important.

Too many times, Prescott waits for receivers to come open instead of throwing them the ball early. The result is players either get tackled before they can make a play, or the passes lead them out of bounds because they don't have time to turn upfield.

The Cowboys use a timing-based passing game, and it's imperative for the receivers to be where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be there. If Prescott isn't confident that's going to happen, for whatever reason, he plays tentatively.

It's too simplistic to say Prescott has struggled just because Ezekiel Elliott missed six games as he served an NFL-mandated suspension.

That said, in the eight games to start the season Prescott averaged 227.3 yards passing per game with 16 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 97.9 passer rating. Those numbers are pretty similar to his rookie numbers.

In the six games without Elliott, Prescott averaged 191 yards passing per game with five touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 76.6 passer rating.

"It's important to me. I hope it's important to my teammates, this organization," Prescott said. "I'll be damned if I'll finish the season with that performance last week. It's big for me to go in and finish this season, like I said, this team, this offense, the right way and the way we want to."

Now you know why backup quarterback Cooper Rush hasn't received any snaps with the first-team this week in practice.

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