Cowboys prep for Bucs QB Jameis Winston, who's not playing like a rookie

IRVING, Texas -- After facing some of the league’s best quarterbacks the past few weeks, the Dallas Cowboys finally get to face a rookie.

Of course, Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston isn’t a typical rookie.

He was the first player selected in the 2015 draft, and he just happens to be playing his best football of the season.

In his past four games, Winston has averaged 232.5 yards passing, with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

He’s averaging 8.2 yards per attempt, while the Buccaneers have gone 2-2. Still, Winston doesn’t compare to Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Eli Manning, QBs the Cowboys have faced during their six-game losing streak.

"I think his transition, although challenging for anybody, has probably an opportunity to be smoother than most because he's played at a high level and has a lot of experience playing in big-time games,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Winston, who played at Florida State. "So I think you're seeing a lot of that right now. They've done a nice job with him, allowing him to get himself acclimated to this level."

Tampa Bay has done a much better job the past month helping Winston manage the offense. In his first four games, he threw more than 30 passes three times. He also had seven interceptions and six touchdown passes.

The Bucs have relied more on the running game of late, limiting Winston’s opportunities to make mistakes, and the results have been much better.

He’s thrown more than 30 passes just once in his past four games.

"He's as good as advertised," Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said during a conference call with Dallas reporters. "That's the best compliment I could give him. There haven't been any major surprises because we really thought highly of him coming in, but you still need to see it.

"We saw him have to fight through adversity a couple of different times. You assume that you'll have to do that with a rookie.”

Winston is catching Dallas' defense at a good time. The Cowboys have just one sack in the past two games, and one interception in the past six games.

So it’s not a unit that forces many mistakes. And the Cowboys don’t do many complex things on defense because defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli wants his players reacting, not thinking, on the field.

All of that gives Winston an opportunity to succeed Sunday against Dallas.

"Last four weeks, he's played outstanding ball,” Smith said. "He's played like a veteran quarterback -- protecting the football, great decisions, making the big throws when he needs to and being a great leader."