Cowboys' Mike McCarthy backs Dak Prescott after up-and-down start to 2023 season

Dak Prescott’s career has included the highs of an unexpected stellar rookie campaign and the lows of both significant injury and postseason heartbreak.

As the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, he’s constantly in the spotlight. And because he hasn’t propelled Dallas to a title in his first seven seasons, he’s constantly subjected to intense scrutiny. That pressure is not lost on his coach, Mike McCarthy, who heard the criticism of Prescott following Dallas’ narrow win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night.

“I love Dak Prescott as our quarterback,” McCarthy said during an appearance with Adam Schein on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio. “The way he’s built all the way through, obviously his physical skill set is excellent, but what he endures mentally and emotionally compared to the other 31 (quarterbacks) is unique. In speaking on experience being around great quarterbacks, I’ve never seen a quarterback under a microscope like he is.”

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McCarthy isn’t wrong. Prescott is a frequent topic on every football-focused morning show, and each time the Cowboys falter, he’s the primary target for talking heads. Prescott received a heaping amount of criticism following Dallas’ blowout loss to San Francisco in Week 5, a disappointing result from a highly anticipated matchup between supposed NFC powers, with some Cowboys fans even admitting they’re ready to end the Prescott era in favor of something different.

The question to Cowboys fans ready to move on from him, though, is a simple one: With whom might you replace him? Cooper Rush has been a solid backup, but his ceiling is well below that of Prescott. Dallas wisely acquired Trey Lance from San Francisco prior to the start of the 2023 season, but there’s no proof he’s ready to handle the starting job, let alone thrive in such a role.

There’s a reason quarterbacks are paid the big bucks and why bad teams are constantly in the market for the next option under center: It’s the most difficult (and most important) position in sports. Prescott has handled it — and the relentless pressure of playing for the Cowboys — remarkably well, especially after arriving to the NFL as an afterthought of a fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State.

Still, the Cowboys are built to win now, and so far, they haven’t provided much proof they’re an elite, title-contending team. Prescott hasn’t exactly lit the league on fire, either, doing enough to help Dallas win some games but not to elevate the Cowboys to a win on his own volition. And until they do that — with Prescott leading the way — the narrative will remain the same.

McCarthy also has plenty of experience working with legendary quarterbacks. He coached Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre in Green Bay (either as an assistant or head coach), and served as quarterbacks coach in Kansas City, where Joe Montana finished his Hall of Fame career. He’s not just saying this about Prescott to protect his current signal-caller.

“I know when I was around those guys, it was pretty much all football. And it’s obviously a different generation that we’re dealing with, with the intensity of the external responsibilities,” McCarthy explained. “I just think the intensity of the microscope on Dak, I’ve never seen anything like it. For him to be as consistent, and his attitude’s pretty much the same every day, as far as (how) he attacks the preparation part of it, I think you have to be unique to deal with that. Especially because it’s year eight or nine for him, so he’s been dealing with this for a long time here.

“His intensity is, like I said, nothing like I’ve ever seen.”

Prescott’s ceiling may not be any higher than the player he’s most commonly compared to, Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins. That could be the cold, hard reality of his capabilities, but might also be a product of a number of circumstances: Last year, he didn’t have ample receiving talent around him, and this year, Dallas has been rather conservative offensively. In fact, Prescott scored his first rushing touchdown since the middle of last season on Monday night, an element we don’t see much from him anymore.

Conservatism isn’t the worst thing, but it seems intentional with these Cowboys, especially after Prescott finished 2022 tied for the most interceptions thrown by an NFL quarterback. Instead of asking Prescott — or giving him the agency — to take such risks again in 2023, the Cowboys seem to have taken the option out of the offense. It’s benefitted them in the win-loss column — Dallas is 4-0 when Prescott doesn’t throw an interception and 0-2 when he does — but it has also limited this team’s scoring potential.

Then again, Dallas is 4-2 and right in the thick of the NFC East race as it enters its bye week. These concerns might be overblown; after all, nothing attracts eyeballs like the Cowboys. But until Prescott proves he can leap into the next tier of quarterbacks, this will continue to be a talking point that Dallas can silence only by winning the majority of its remaining games.

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