Mike McCarthy joined the Cowboys three years ago. Every offensive decision the head coach has made from then until now has been designed to make the system as comfortable as possible for Dak Prescott.
Maybe it’s time to make the quarterback a little uncomfortable.
But it’s time to come to grips with who Prescott is seven seasons deep into his career. The Cowboys quarterback is better than most but not transcendent. He can win you a big game but also lose you one.
Prescott chafed earlier this season when asked about his erratic performance, pausing an unusually long time before finding a polite way to answer. Several days later, after one of his better regular season performances, he addressed the question unsolicited in his post-game press conference.
How Prescott played against Tampa Bay is good enough to beat any team in this league in a meaningful game. How he played against San Francisco Sunday and in last year’s playoffs?
Not so much.
There’s no doubt Dallas would have beaten the 49ers if Prescott came close to his performance against the Buccaneers. That’s the issue. Which quarterback will the Cowboys get?
This shifts the conversation to finding the best personnel to surround Prescott and how much freedom he should be given — or restraints imposed — within the system.
Does the coaching staff ask too much of him? Does the system itself need to change? Would Prescott benefit by hearing from different voices?
Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has been with him in some capacity from the start. Doug Nussmeier has been his quarterbacks coach since McCarthy’s arrival. Moore has one year left on his contract. Nussmeier’s contract is set to expire.
Moore and Nussmeier are very good at their jobs. But perception can become reality when dealing with the intense interest in the Cowboys.
Owner Jerry Jones isn’t going anywhere. Neither is McCarthy or Prescott. That trickles down to a change at the level of coordinator or position coach to send a signal to players and fans that a different outcome is possible.
Cries on Twitter tend to focus on how Prescott needs help on the field. Most treat the trade of Amari Cooper to Cleveland as organizational malfeasance and argue that Dallas tied the quarterback’s hands behind his back and made it more difficult for him to win.
Cooper is better than any receiver on the current roster not named CeeDee Lamb. But ask yourself this: how often did the Cowboys advance past the divisional round when Prescott and Cooper were together?
Prescott must also ask himself some hard questions. He’s clearly a better quarterback now than he was when he entered the NFL back in 2016. Why is he less efficient?
Maybe the focus should be on getting Prescott back to the quarterback he was rather than focusing on why he isn’t getting better. Maybe he needs to adjust his risk/reward compass.
No maybe on that last point. He does.
Jones voiced his unqualified support of Prescott — as he did McCarthy — in the pop up press conference that took place outside the Cowboys locker room immediately after Sunday’s loss. A smaller group of reporters followed Jones out of the stadium on his way to the car, asking several more questions about his thoughts on Prescott’s performance and the faith he has in No. 4 going forward.
“You’re asking me, I guess, how do I feel with my confidence there with Dak,” Jones said. “It’s just as strong as ever.
“It’s great to have him out there.”
A few minutes later, Prescott conducted his press conference. He was, as always, accountable for his performance. Asked directly what it will take for the Cowboys to get past the divisional round, a hurdle he’s been unable to clear in three appearances, Prescott willingly offered he must play better.
“Simple as that,” he said.
That’s the simple part. The hard part is figuring out what must change for that to happen.
These are the complex conversations that will take place at The Star in the coming days and weeks. It’s time for everyone, Prescott included, to be uncomfortable.
“All I can think about right now,” he said, “is this game and how disappointed I am in my play at this point.”
Cleanout day at the Dallas Cowboys looker room
Catch David Moore and Robert Wilonsky as they co-host Intentional Grounding on The Ticket (KTCK-AM 1310 and 96.7 FM) every Wednesday at 7 p.m. during the Cowboys season.