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With offense stalling, Cowboys need Dak Prescott more than ever

FRISCO, Texas — Before Dak Prescott could survey the available barbecue outside the locker room after the Dallas Cowboys’ win against the Detroit Lions in Week 11, the quarterback and coach Jason Garrett shared an embrace.

Both had smiles from ear to ear after Prescott threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns, tying an NFL best set by Joe Montana for the most games (four) with at least 375 yards passing and two touchdown passes in the first 10 games of a season.

That was Nov. 17. Not even a month ago. The Cowboys have not won since.

Coming out of the Lions game, Prescott was in the league MVP discussion. Maybe not up there with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, but certainly part of the conversation.

In the 34 possessions since the Detroit win, Prescott has three touchdown passes and two interceptions. The Cowboys need Prescott — and the team — to turn things around.

Against New England, Prescott and Amari Cooper, his top receiver, could not connect for one completion, and Prescott threw for a season-low 212 yards in miserable weather.

Against Buffalo, Prescott had back-to-back possessions with a turnover that helped the Bills take a 13-7 lead. He finished with 355 yards passing, but the Cowboys converted just two of their four trips inside the red zone.

Against Chicago, he had his sixth game with at least 300 yards passing, but he had just 110 through three quarters as the Bears took control. The bulk of Prescott’s yards came when the game was essentially decided.

In his past three games, Prescott has a completion percentage (59.5%) that ranks 24th. He is 18th in yards per attempt (6.88), and his QBR is 48.1, which is also 18th in the league.

In the first 10 games of the season, Prescott completed 67.7% of his passes, averaged 8.82 yards per attempt and had a 78.2 QBR.

So what has happened to the Cowboys’ leader?

Trailing by three scores in the past two games has played a part.

“I don’t think he’s pressing,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. “I think we’re just trying to execute and we’re calling plays that are a little more downfield because we’ve got to make things happen at that point. He’s doing a good job, managing it well, and I think all of us can do a little better.”

The Patriots, Bills and Bears brought more blitzes against Prescott than in the previous 10 games on a per-snap basis. In the past three games, Prescott has completed 19 of 38 passes for 278 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions against the blitz. In the first 10 games, he completed 67 of 104 passes for 880 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.

The field has shrunk on the Cowboys. They have gone from averaging 4.7 pass plays of at least 20 yards per game to 3.3 in the past three games.

Their third-down work has changed, even if the numbers aren’t that bad. Against Chicago, the Cowboys converted 6 of 15 third-down chances, but four conversions came on the opening drive.

Twice this week, as the Cowboys prepared to face the Los Angeles Rams, Garrett was asked about Prescott’s performance, and both times he brought it back to the team.

“When you don’t execute well, there’s probably a variety of reasons in all phases of your team. That can be one of them [trying to do too much],” Garrett said. “We have guys who are well-intended, want to play well, prepare hard, and sometimes they can get out of themselves. I don’t want to make any characterization of any one player, but sometimes that can be a problem and you have to … really remind everybody that everybody has a job to do on each play, one-eleventh of the offense, defense or special-teams unit.”

Prescott doesn’t think he has been trying too hard to make the big play.

“I know I can’t throw one touchdown or one pass and it’s going to be worth 14 points,” he said. “I can’t just throw a deep ball and say, ‘Oh, he’s going to catch it, we’re going to score, that speeds up the time of us coming back.’ I know that’s not going to happen. So for me, I don’t feel I get into that mode like I need to get it all back or I feel like I’m too conservative. I just try to stay within the play. If it’s there, it’s there. If it’s not, I’m not going to risk it.”

Prescott’s future has been talked about almost as much as Garrett’s. The Cowboys’ top priority entering the season had been to sign the quarterback to the richest contract in franchise history. Despite the offers that would make Prescott among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL, he opted to wait, betting on himself.

Regardless of how this season ends, the Cowboys view Prescott as their quarterback of the future, one who can deliver a Super Bowl.

The final three games are not about Prescott’s future. They’re about that feeling he had after the Lions game and getting the Cowboys into the playoffs with a chance to do something that right now seems unlikely.

He is confident it can happen.

“If you just looked at where I’ve come from, all the people around me that may have had something that didn’t get it, through every level I’ve traveled on, so many reasons, so many examples I can say why I shouldn’t be here today,” Prescott said. “That [brings] all the confidence that I have that when I control the things in my hand, I’ve got the pen, I’ll write the story, I’ll do what I want. Nobody can tell me what I can and can’t do.”

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