The good news for the Dallas Cowboys is Dak Prescott showed improvement in their Week 15 victory over the New York Giants, but the bad news is he still made a couple of errors that simply can’t happen. Both of those things are true, as is the fact wideout CeeDee Lamb’s rash of drops (3) helped cost the already uneven offense critical first downs. Had Lamb contributed those to the bottom line, he would’ve not only changed the entire conversation about Prescott and the offense this week, but also helped his side of a locker room wager in Dallas.
Earlier in the season, Prescott and the offense were back to their prolific ways following the return of the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback from a season-ending ankle injury suffered in 2020 and a preseason run-in with a shoulder strain. It was the defense that carried a ton of question marks in the wake of one of the worst defensive seasons in franchise history, but the firing of Mike Nolan and subsequent hiring of Dan Quinn tied into the selection of first-round pick Micah Parsons to provide hope for 2021.
Fast forward to Week 15 and it’s the defense continually playing lights-out football and the offense is the unit that can’t seem to get their act together, having scored just five touchdowns in their last 12 quarters — a poignant divergence from when they were No. 1 in the NFL in points scored per game during the first half of the season.
Having wagered they’d score more touchdowns than the defense, Prescott and his offensive weapons are currently on the losing end of that running bet.
“I’ll let everyone know the defense is kicking our ass, but it’s turnovers versus touchdowns,” Prescott told media following the 21-6 victory at MetLife Stadium that capped a sweep of the Giants. “They obviously won this one, but we’ll make sure it carries over — they’re doing a great job getting the ball.”
It was yet another multi-takeaway game for the Cowboys defense, who bullied Mike Glennon into throwing three interceptions and Saquon Barkley, renowned for rarely fumbling, into losing one after All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence sized up the ball and threw a punch at it that would make Sugar Ray Leonard proud — recovered by Carlos Watkins. But for all of the takeaways they’ve racked up over the course of the season, but more notably the last several games, it’s becoming a disheartening affair for Prescott and coordinator Kellen Moore when the offense is unable to consistently turn them into touchdowns.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Prescott confessed. “As I said, the defense is doing a great job giving us the ball, giving us the ball in plus territory. We’ve got to find a way to get in the end zone, simple as that.”
Again, Prescott himself did play an improved game, but he also made a couple of mistakes he simply shouldn’t have. One such error occurred with just under nine minutes remaining in regulation and the Cowboys attempting to put the game away for good, and on a drive that followed an interception by safety Malik Hooker (the second INT of the day for Dallas).
Prescott dropped back and didn’t have time to blink before linebacker Lorenzo Carter was in his personal space — having blown past Lamb’s blocking attempt — then rolling out to his right to escape a likely sack. But, instead of seeing Michael Gallup open in the flat for what might’ve been a 10-yard gain, simply running for a short-yard gain or even throwing it away to live and fight another day, Prescott stopped short to set his feet for an attempt at a deep pass across the field, despite Carter bearing down on him from behind with reckless abandon.
The result is what you’d assume it to be: a sack and a fumble recovered by the Giants.
Those are the plays Prescott must eliminate, and especially considering the errant pick-six he threw to linebacker Cole Holcomb just one week prior that game the Washington Football Team late life in a game that should’ve [also] been a blowout victory.
“I know the fumble was me being greedy,” said Prescott. “Trying to get the ball to [Amari Cooper] when I should’ve just taken Michael Gallup on the hitch.”
That said, again, two things remain true.
The first is that, as of Week 15 (the fumble not withstanding) Prescott is trending in the right direction, but he still needs to regain his complete mojo and players like Lamb have to join him in doing so, because the latter contributes largely to the former — a key note to remember is in how the rushing attack got back on track (aided by the return of Connor Williams to starter at left guard, a healthier Ezekiel Elliott and the return of Tony Pollard from injury).
Second, quiet as it’s kept, the Cowboys are 10-4 overall with an 8-1 conference record and are 4-0 in division play, currently sitting in the No. 2 seat in the NFC with a shot at stealing away the top seed and landing the conference’s only first-round bye along with home field advantage.
But if they’re to truly make waves in the postseason, they’ll need to finally combine a prolific offense with what is now a prolific defense, to make themselves as bulletproof as possible in January and potentially beyond.
“Celebrate and enjoy this plane ride with your teammates, but watch the film at the same time, and be critical,” Prescott added. “Be critical of my decisions, be critical of the offense, but make sure we’re taking notes and doing everything we need to progress and to learn from this and move forward in the right way.”
If they can manage become a complete team, and at the right time (ahem, now), you can … er, um… bet … they’ll be a handful in the tournament.