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NFL

Dallas' QB is leading them to the playoffs; still, he needs better support from his coaches

If Mike McCarthy can improve real-time game decision-making, Prescott's execution is at a level that could give the pass for the Cowboys into a Super Bowl.

Update:
Dallas' QB is leading them to the playoffs; still, he needs better support from his coaches
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Every year at the beginning of the NFL season, theorists and bystanders are struggling to find why this could be the Dallas Cowboys' year.

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The exception in 2021 is they may be right.

Since their Super Bowl win at the end of the 1995 season, the Cowboys have never reached the NFC Championship Game.

But performing a five-game winning streak after a miraculous 35-29 overtime victory over the New England Patriots in Foxborough, there is no uncertainty the Cowboys are genuine contenders.

And, though there are additional factors behind their progress on both sides of the game, the primary reason for that status is apparent: Dak Prescott is playing arguably the best football of his career.

A stellar three-quarter century

On his 75th career start, Prescott was once again imperious against the Patriots.

He passed for 445 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, posting a passer rating of 108.7.

It marked his 39th game with a passer rating of at least 100, surpassing Philip Rivers (38) for the third-most such games by a player in his first 75 starts.

The two players above him are the man he replaced in Dallas, Tony Romo (41) and Aaron Rodgers (43).

Should he continue performing at the standards, he has displayed through five weeks, and a Prescott vs. Rodgers conference title game is not out of the question.

Accurate in every situation

The Dallas' QB returned from a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle in Week 5 last year and entered the season with concerns over a shoulder injury. There were plenty wondering whether Prescott could recapture the form that saw him receive a four-year, $160million contract extension from Dallas in the offseason.

Any such doubts have been emphatically dispelled.

Helming a Dallas offense that leads the NFL with an average of 6.58 yards per play, Prescott is second in the NFL with a completion percentage of 73.1. At the same time, he and Matthew Stafford are tied for the league lead in throws that have resulted in a first down, moving the sticks on 44 percent of attempts.

Completion percentage is not necessarily connected to a quarterback's accuracy, yet in Prescott's case, the link is clear.

According to Stats Perform data, Prescott has delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball on 82.9 percent of his attempts. That is fourth among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts this season, trailing Kirk Cousins (84.6), Kyler Murray (84), and Patrick Mahomes (83.3).

Prescott's poise has allowed him to maintain his accuracy almost irrespective of the situation. This quarterback has also received comparisons to Peyton Manning for his work at the line of scrimmage.

His well-thrown percentage under pressure is 77.1 percent. The average is 70, with only Murray (78.1) and the Patriots' Mac Jones (81.4) above him among quarterbacks to have come under duress on at least 20 attempts.

Prescott has also been precise when throwing on the move, producing an accurate pass 85.7 percent of the time in that scenario.

The former fourth-round pick's composure under pressure and ability to deliver on the move shone through in the biggest moments at Gillette Stadium.

On second-and-11 early in the fourth quarter, Prescott connected with CeeDee Lamb for 33 yards, shuffled to his right, and reset his feet before delivering with late-arriving pressure in his face.

Dallas's final drive of regulation saw Prescott put the ball where only Cedrick Wilson Jr. could go up and get it on a critical fourth-and-five with Matthew Judon bearing down on him following a spin move on correct tackle Terence Steele.

His first throw of overtime was another hookup with Lamb while rolling to his right. That drive culminated in Prescott finding the same receiver after executing a play-fake left and moving the opposite direction, hitting the second-year receiver on the over route on a throw delivered with his weight falling away to give Dallas a walk-off win.

It could be argued that the Cowboys' miscues put themselves in such a tight game, and his coach is perhaps Prescott's most significant obstacle to him delivering long-awaited glory to Dallas this season.

McCarthy's mistakes

The Cowboys will be glad of the upcoming bye week, having seemingly survived a scare when left tackle Tyron Smith limped off with an ankle injury on Sunday, only to return after having it taped.

Smith will have the chance to rest and nurse his ankle and a troublesome neck problem, and by the time the Cowboys are back in action, they should have the entirety of their starting offensive line, with right tackle La'el Collins set to return from a five-game ban.

Dallas and head coach Mike McCarthy could also use the extra week to evaluate in-game decision-making, making life a lot harder on Prescott in Week 6.

Whether it was the decision to call four successive runs from the New England one-yard line in the second quarter, a sequence that ended with Prescott fumbling at the goal-line. Or McCarthy's call to settle for a go-ahead 51-yard field goal on fourth-and-two late in the final quarter, the Cowboys' game management was a problem throughout.

McCarthy was bailed out after the latter mistake, Greg Zuerlein's missed kick followed by a pick-six of Jones from Trevon Diggs, but the Cowboys cannot expect to get away with such misjudgments every week.

The Cowboys have an offense teeming with playmakers that is the most efficient in the league by yards per play and a defense second in takeaways with 14, Diggs (seven interceptions) accounting for half of those.

A potent offense and an opportunistic defense are formulas for a Super Bowl challenge. Yet, it can be ruined if the head coach consistently comes up short with his decisions in situational football.

Prescott has the Cowboys firmly on the path to the title push they have long since craved. The man they hired to lead that charge is the biggest threat to their dreams coming to fruition.

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