The Dak Prescott rollercoaster has its pros and cons.
Last week, Prescott achieved the highest results of his career. He threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns — and scored another goal on the ground — to take the Dallas Cowboys past the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (31–14) and advance to the divisional round of the postseason. He was so effective that it didn’t even matter that Dallas kicker Brett Maher missed four extra points in a row and that Tom Brady was the quarterback on the other sideline—the Cowboys just ran with him.
But on Sunday the lows came. Against the San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys and Prescott flopped. Duck threw for 206 yards and a touchdown, as well as two grueling interceptions in the first half…and could have easily thrown a few more passes on some sloppy throws. These interceptions were essentially the difference in the game, with one giving the 49ers a short field that quickly turned into a field goal, while the Niners turned the other into a long field goal that also resulted in a field goal. San Francisco ultimately won the game 19–12.
Both interceptions fell on violent throws. In the first, Prescott did not seem to see Deommodore Lenoir:
— NFL (@NFL) January 23, 2023
In the second, Prescott just missed CD Lamb hard and found 49ers linebacker Fred Warner:
FRED WARNER! @49ers second half int.
— NFL (@NFL) January 23, 2023
Even some of Prescott’s biggest draws on Sunday were accompanied by terrible passes:
— NFL (@NFL) January 23, 2023
This is Dak Prescott’s experience: in one week he can dissect completely (still pretty hard) Protecting Tampa Bay. Then he looks completely lost against the (admittedly absolutely ferocious) 49ers. One week, he’s probably as good as any quarterback. Dallas fans then wonder if Prescott is just Kirk Cousins with a more shiny coat of paint.
Dak Prescott roller coasters exist not only on the field. In the last few seasons, he has become one of the most controversial players in the NFL. Earlier this year, when Prescott missed Weeks 2 through 6 with a thumb injury, a group of highly paid NFL artists insisted that Dallas would be better off with Cooper Rush as the quarterback. (It wasn’t.) Then, when Prescott returned, the team quickly climbed to the top of the league’s offensive leaderboardthose questions about Prescott dissipated…for a while.
Prescott’s trip took another dip as the calendar moved to December, and he had 11 interceptions in the team’s last seven games. Prescott ended up leading the league in picks despite missing five games, which created a whole host of new questions about the QB Cowboys.
Yet Prescott seemed to answer those questions in that win over Tampa. Only six days – and a lot of ugly throws and decisions – later the opposite is true. The roller coaster goes into the off-season at a low point.
How are Cowboy fans supposed to understand all this? If the idea is that Prescott’s biggest mistake is taking too many risks and making too many interceptions, they might want to look into the rest of his career. Prescott has been above the league average in steal percentage in five of his seven seasons as a starter, and in one of those poor seasons (2017), he was only accurate below the average. Before this season, Prescott’s critics may have been saying the opposite – that the quarterback was too risky.disgustand as a result didn’t play as widely as the league’s other all-star QBs.
Despite all the choices this season, there is still some truth to these criticisms. According to Pro Football Focus, Prescott finished the 2022 regular season ranked 13th in games worthy of a loss (18) and 11th in percentage of games worthy of a loss (4.4, minimum 166 retreats). Here’s what it looks like on the field when a player has an equal advantage in interceptions, but is average in games worthy of a loss:
Proof A of why we track profitable draws for QB ⬇️
— PFF (@PFF) December 30, 2022
If anything, Prescott’s problem this season was that he wasn’t playing well enough. The PFF also charts big shots, which they define as “a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown farther down the field and/or into a narrower window.” Prescott finished 17th in scoring percentage. He was 21st in PFF offensive scoring, 12th in ESPN’s QBR, 11th in above-expected next-gen stat completion percentage, and eighth in expected points added per game. Cut all those numbers down — all those ups and downs — and you get this: Dak Prescott has been slightly above average this season.
But Prescott was much better than before. In 2019, he was one of the first MVP candidates. In 2020, he was one step ahead to break league passing records before suffering an injury. Those highs didn’t last long – and now we’re back on the roller coaster.
There is another aspect to all this: the Prescott contract. He once cost the Cowboys next to nothing as a fourth-round pick who surprised the team as a rookie and took the starting position for Tony Romo when Romo was injured. Dallas rode that cheap contract as far as it could go, and after many ups and downs on the coaster — some of which are still far too similar to today’s peaks and valleys — the Cowboys ended up paying their quarterback handsomely in 2021. .
Prescott earned $19.7 million this season, according to Spotrac. That figure will jump to $49.1 million next season. Next season it will be $52.1 million. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones seized on this aspect of the trip, implied in September that some gaps in Dallas’ roster are partly a by-product of the team not having much money to spend after Prescott’s contract renewal. There is some truth in this thinking. (Last offseason, the Cowboys traded wide receiver Amari Cooper to save money, and the receiving body remained in doubt all season.)
The reality is that Prescott can’t just be above average at this salary if the Cowboys ever want to break through and make it out of the divisional round. It should be much better. A week ago he was just like that. On Sunday, he collapsed to the ground.
Some Cowboy fans are sure to be done with Prescott after Sunday night. Dallas is still hoping to make it to its first conference championship game since 1995 — after four poor playoff appearances with Prescott in the QB, they may be convinced Prescott is not the player to take them there. Others will preach more patience, noting Prescott’s injury this season and the times he’s ignited the league in the past. If he can just be consistent, Prescott could be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFC with a weak QB.
What exactly happens next is not clear. The only thing that seems certain for the Cowboys and Prescott is that there are bound to be many more ups and downs.