FRISCO, Texas -- Dak Prescott can’t wait for Sunday’s game against the Washington Football Team.
It has little to do with the Dallas Cowboys quarterback’s 7-1 record against the NFC East rival or his 13 touchdown passes to one interception or even his four rushing touchdowns.
It has everything to do with his belief in what is in store for the Cowboys as they open the stretch run with a crucial NFC East contest in Washington on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox) against a team that has won four straight games.
“We’re going to have a lot of production coming forward,” Prescott said. “I still think our best ball is ahead. Obviously, we started off hot, went through a little bit of a lull. It’s growing pains. It’s just getting some kinks out.”
The Cowboys’ offensive lull has coincided with Prescott’s return from a right calf injury in Week 9.
For the season, the Cowboys have the No. 1-ranked offense in terms of yards per game (416.3) and are No. 2 in points per game (29.4), but the past five games tell a different story.
Since Prescott’s return after he was sidelined for the win over Minnesota in Week 8, the Cowboys are averaging 25.6 points per game, down from the 32.1 points they averaged in the first seven. The offense isn't running as smoothly across the board (see the chart).
Every successful offense starts with the quarterback, and Prescott has been “off, out of sync,” as one NFC executive said.
Before suffering a calf injury on his game-winning touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb against the New England Patriots in Week 6, Prescott had 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions. He averaged 259 yards per game. He looked like an MVP candidate.
Since coming back, Prescott has averaged 271.4 yards per game but has seven touchdown passes and five interceptions. The Cowboys are 2-3 in those five games, and the offense has been ineffective.
“There’s definitely a trend against Dallas now -- teams are playing a lot of man coverage and robber coverage, putting a guy in the middle of the field,” ESPN analyst Matt Bowen said. “Dallas likes a lot of high/low crossers, and I think Denver [in Week 9's Cowboys loss] started the trend. They set a trap for the quarterback, had a free player, and Dak doesn’t read it because he doesn’t expect it. There’s a lot of late rotations. Vegas played more man [coverage] than they usually do (in the Week 12 Cowboys loss).”
Coach Mike McCarthy mentioned time clocks and footwork.
“It’s never just one thing,” the coach said.
But he said he believes Prescott is ready for a December run.
“I’m fine with where Dak is,” McCarthy said. “You go over the course of the season -- actually, one of the things I went through was a trend line of our production and comparables and things like that. And I think the most important part of the statistical breakdown is the fact that you do have the spikes and it shows capabilities and production levels and so forth. But it also shows all the different challenges that we’ve been through. And I think these are all great experiences that pay forward.”
Prescott has likely been hurt by change on the offensive line. Left tackle Tyron Smith missed three games. The Cowboys moved Connor McGovern to left guard in favor of Connor Williams. La’el Collins and Terence Steele have shared the right tackle duties.
This week, Prescott has taken time after practice to throw with his receivers. According to NFL Next Gen Stats data, the Cowboys receivers and tight ends are tied for the third-fewest yards of separation on targets (2.84).
“The plays or the routes you don’t necessarily feel as comfortable with, you’ve got to talk through them, make sure you get on the same page, do that in our signal-caller meetings and just throughout the day to make sure you’re on the same page,” Prescott said. “You’re thinking what they’re thinking. They know where you want them to be and I know where they expect the ball in certain coverage.”
The calf is not an issue, according to the Cowboys and Prescott. Those outside the organization have not seen Prescott favor his leg, either. But the numbers are different, especially from outside the pocket. He has gone from a 91 QBR, 10.5 yards per attempt and 79% completions before the injury to a 31 QBR, 5.8 yards per attempt and 50% completions.
“Obviously, going back and looking at film, there’s some times that I wish I would’ve [gotten out of the pocket more], but that’s just a self-scout and checking yourself game after game,” Prescott said. “I think there’s a time that’s going to happen, and, yeah, as I said, we’ll continue to get better.”
In last week’s win against the New Orleans Saints, Prescott said there were times he was too greedy, like on his interception. There were other times he was too quick to move on from his reads.
“When you're at that point where you see things -- and I think Dak is starting to see things so quickly that sometimes you get past someone rather quickly -- you kind of get to the answers to the test a little too fast,” offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said.
At least five more tests remain, starting Sunday against Washington. Prescott hopes there will be more tests, which would mean a long playoff run.
“It’s almost one of the sayings, ‘See a little, see a lot. See a lot, see little,’ just knowing the game, knowing what everybody’s supposed to be at, yeah, sometimes I got to keep it simple,” Prescott said. “I think sometimes I’m getting ahead of myself, and as I’ve said before, coming back from injuries sometimes I go through reads fast and there’s a fine line of that. That’s part of, I’d say me, personally, my self-scout. I’ll get better at it, and as we go through these last five games of the season, I’ll be better and everybody around me will be, too.”