Dak Prescott's play is much better than Cowboys' record indicates

FRISCO, Texas -- As Dak Prescott emerged from the shadows of Highlander Stadium, it didn't take long for members of the Highland Park High School football team to recognize the Dallas Cowboys quarterback.

It helps that the Scots' quarterback is John Stephen Jones, the son of Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, so they are familiar with Prescott. It helps that Prescott has become one of Dallas' most visible athletes.

A year ago at this time, Prescott was a little more than a month into his time as the Cowboys starter, keeping the seat warm for Tony Romo's return from a back injury. But he never gave the job back to Romo.

Now Prescott is a spokesman for a number of companies, including Campbell's Chunky Soups, which produced a surprise appearance on Wednesday in which Prescott took over the end of practice from legendary Highland Park coach Randy Allen.

"I mean, I can say I did [see the off-field opportunities], just knowing the direction we were going in last year and knowing what comes with the territory," Prescott said. "So yeah, I was ready for it."

Prescott is the first to say the off-field prospects came from the on-field success. His rookie season was far from easy, but the Cowboys' 13-3 record certainly made it seem that way.

With a 2-3 record as the Cowboys heading into this weekend's bye, things have been more difficult this season, but Prescott's play is not why the Cowboys are in this position. He has matched his interception total from last season with four, but two passes deflected off the hands of his intended target and into the hands of a defensive back.

He has 11 touchdown passes, putting him on pace for 35 this season, after having 24 last season. After five games of his rookie season, he had four touchdown passes and no interceptions.

He was a conductor of the offense a year ago.

Now he is the engine of the Cowboys' offense, having to do more.

"He's playing really well," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. "He's really doing everything we ask him to do. He makes so many plays within the scheme, throwing the ball to the right guy on a consistent basis. And then when things break down, making great plays with his feet and his arm out of the pocket."

Take the first third down of Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers. With pressure coming straight at him from Ahmad Brooks -- who pushed back right tackle La'el Collins into Prescott's lap -- and Nick Perry slipping under left guard Jonathan Cooper, the quarterback slid up into a falling pocket and to his right. As he was throwing deep for Brice Butler, Perry had a hold of one of his legs.

It didn't matter. Butler had a 49-yard gain, and the Cowboys found the end zone nine plays later.

In the 28-17 win against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 25, it was Prescott's work out of the pocket that led to big plays down the field when the running game was struggling. His head-over-heels touchdown run against the Cardinals started the Cowboys' comeback with a willingness to risk his body for a score.

Prescott doesn't view it as him having to do more for the Cowboys to succeed. It's just what he has to do.

"That just comes from being a kid and just loving the game and playing backyard football," Prescott said. "The moment you break the pocket and you're scrambling, all of the routes are out the window at that point. It's about who can be on the same page with the quarterback and getting open in zone or against a man. For the most part, it's backyard football."

A year ago, the Cowboys' offense was much more precise. The running game performed better, leading to more favorable third-down situations, which allowed Prescott to follow his reads. That first third down against Green Bay came with Dallas needing 13 yards for a first down.

Prescott also is finding out what Romo found out: He can play great and the Cowboys can still lose. Prescott had three touchdowns in back-to-back games for the first time in his career and lost both games. He threw for 503 yards in two games and lost both. He ran for a go-ahead touchdown with 1:13 remaining against the Packers and lost.

"My game's getting better from the first game to the last; these first five games, I'm getting better each and every week," Prescott said. "This team, myself included, is headed in the right direction with the standards that we hold ourselves to."

The standards that Prescott set last season were high. He spent an offseason deflecting questions about a potential sophomore slump. The Cowboys' record might not show it so far, but he is exceeding the standards and expectations.

"He's really getting more and more comfortable in the offense," Garrett said. "Trust me, he's been very comfortable right from the start, but you can just see him taking more command of it. The guys around him respond to him."