By Dwain Price
FRISCO – As the Dallas Cowboys’ offense has stalled during the last three games like a car submerged in high water, the one person no one can truly blame for its failure is quarterback Dak Prescott. At least that’s the company line according to Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
Prescott showed splashes of greatness during the first 24 games of his NFL career. But in the last three games, he’s looked like he’s been floating downstream in search of a life preserver. In the past three games, Prescott has no touchdown passes, has thrown five interceptions and has been sacked 14 times. It is as if his game has been taken out to sea by a large tidal wave.
Granted, the absence of running back Ezekiel Elliott has cramped Prescott’s style. Elliott has missed the last three games while serving an NFL-mandated suspension for violating the league’s domestic abuse policy. Still, Linehan insists that Prescott has not been exposed while Elliott – he’ll also miss the next three games — has been sidelined.
“One thing I told (Prescott) the other day, I said: ‘You’ve set such a high standard of unrealistic expectations your first 24 games,’ ‘’ Linehan said. “I think (the media and fan criticism is) an over-reaction to a little bit of a dry spell, in my opinion.”
While losing their last three games, the Cowboys have dropped to 5-6 and are in danger of missing the playoffs. The Cowboys will try and right the ship Thursday night at 7:30 when they host the Washington Redskins (5-6) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Even if the Cowboys win their last five games, they’re still going to need other teams in the wild-card race to lose games in order to advance to the postseason.
Prescott was 20-of-27 for 179 yards and two interceptions and was sacked twice during last Sunday’s 28-6 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Desmond King returned one of those interceptions 90 yards for a touchdown.
“Specifically this last game, I felt like I played well early in the game,” Prescott said. “It’s just the game got away from us and I wanted to just try to make plays when I should have just stayed within the game plan instead of trying to do a little too much.”
Coach Jason Garrett, who has been under fire himself from fans for not making any adequate halftime adjustments, sort of defended Prescott.
“These last three weeks there’s been a couple of decisions that he’s made that have been uncharacteristic of him, and again probably a little bit of trying to do too much,” Garrett said. “At times when things haven’t gone well, some decisions he’s made may have been a bit too aggressive and may have hurt him and hurt our football team.”
Linehan defended Prescott profusely, saying what he’s encountered lately is simply part of a quarterbacks’ maturation process.
“You’re going to have a couple of dips in your seasons,” Linehan said. “What you’ve got to do is just not focus on them. You just got to get back to the basics and get ready to go. When the chips are down, Dak always answers the bell. He’s the most accountable kid I’ve been around, he takes losing hard, but doesn’t focus on it, and comes back to work ready to go. The last three weeks he has worked his butt off even more. It’s a real healthy part of his experience. He’s going to use these days for his benefit down the road.”
Part of the Cowboys’ struggles are also due to the lackluster play of wide receiver Dez Bryant, who hasn’t produced a 100-yard receiving game since last year’s playoff loss to Green Bay. Linehan believes Bryant is still the same player fans are accustomed to seeing, although he appears to have difficulties getting open.
“He’s played some really good games for us this year,” Linehan said. “I really felt like the last eight games of the season last year he played really well. My answer is that he’s the same player. We haven’t been the same team we were for at least seven of our first 8 games, but that’s not an excuse or an explanation either. We just got to get back out there and coach better and play better.”
The Cowboys have been outscored 92-22 over the last three games while producing just two touchdowns and five field goals. Meanwhile, as the Cowboys’ offense has endured some storms, the defense has also been drenched with its share of dark clouds. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, in particular, accumulated 11 ½ sacks the first nine games. But while facing double- and triple-teams hasn’t manufactured any sacks the past two games.
In the meantime, opponents have recently rambled through the Cowboys’ defense – mostly after halftime – like water once the floodgates have opened. The Cowboys have been outscored 72-6 in the second halves of the last three games.
“We’ve self-destructed as coaches and players,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “So you look at that and you watch the tape and go through it. Sometimes the last thing to show in a successful business is profit. I just think a little more attention to detail, that’s what it’s about.”
As far as Prescott goes, tight end Jason Witten pointed to the second-year pro’s body of work as a method of saying he’s not concerned about the Mississippi State product.
“Whatever people’s expectations are for (Prescott), his expectations for himself are a lot higher,” Witten said. “I think any time you play that (quarterback) position you experience the successes, but then also when you don’t have that success, that’s where the blame goes first. He handles that well.”
“Truth be told, we all have to do a better job as an offense in getting back to our style and our identity,” he continued. “We’ve got to remind ourselves we’ve done a lot of good things. At the same time we’re not just going to roll the ball out and beat teams. We have to do all the details that go into it.”