The Dallas Cowboys need to find a balance.
At the moment they are not.
The cowboys competing after the season desire to be aggressive on offense, to control games and game plans complementary to a spirited defense.
But there are costs involved.
Namely, the worst interception clip of quarterback Dak Prescott’s career. Prescott has thrown nine interceptions in eight active games. Team owner and general manager Jerry Jones confirmed Tuesday morning that he is concerned about this liability.
“Anxiety about interception can neutralize great execution and effort in other parts of the game,” Jones said on Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan. “The definition of aggressiveness need not include turnover. That doesn’t have to be there. Not aggressive.
“I like aggressiveness without turnover.”
The Cowboys offense has been explosive since Prescott returned after five weeks of rehab from a fractured thumb in his throwing hand. Dallas has averaged 35.7 points per game and scored a touchdown on a whopping 82% of red zone visits.
But Prescott went into this season with a generally clean record in security, from his 23-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his rookie year to a 37-to-10 last season. From 2016 to 2021, Prescott’s pass-interception rate of 1.7% ranked 13th out of 97 quarterbacks attempting at least 100 passes. This year: His rate of 3.6% ranks third. Of the 40 quarterbacks who made at least 100 passes this season, only Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields and New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston fared worse.
“I’m damn sure not a fan of it,” Prescott said. “It’s frustrating. It’s very, very frustrating.”
Interceptions are sometimes fluky. Prescott’s have featured at least two trends. The first: several have come across the center of the field on alternate routes, quarterback and receiver interpret the ideal depth of a route relative to defenders differently. Some of that will probably only improve through time on task, Prescott’s injury spell and receiver Michael Gallup’s rehabilitation from an ACL tear that slows chemistry accumulation. The second trend: Prescott threw eight of nine picks in the first half. To be more precise, seven landed in the second half of the second quarter. Is Prescott pushing a bit and overprioritizing a halftime score as time ticks down?
And perhaps just as important: Should he insists, given how the Cowboys’ punishing run game can support the production? Dallas ranks seventh in the league with 144 rushing yards per game. Since Prescott’s return, the Cowboys have recorded 166 ground yards per game.
Prescott maxed out the expiring clock with high stakes, including directing a 98-yard drive that resulted in a game-winning touchdown in the last minute of Sunday’s near loss to the Houston Texans. But twice that game he had pushed, first trying to “fit into too tight a window” on a ball bouncing off his receiver’s hands, then trying to throw despite his throwing arm being hit by a rusher. The dangerous gift put Houston 4 yards from the end zone. Coaches said Texas head coach Lovie Smith used more quarter-zone coverage and “vision” defenses—defensive backs that looked at the quarterback instead of a goal in the field—with varying results that clouded communications between Prescott and his receivers.
“Unfortunate for some of them, but I have to find a way to take better care of the ball,” said Prescott. “But I’m not going to be aggressive. I’ve worked too hard and this team has worked too hard. We’ve created too much chemistry not to be aggressive and not try to make the throws that I know I can make.
The Cowboys will take on the Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles, Tennessee Titans and Washington Commanders for what is expected to be a wild card road game. Hosting Philadelphia on Christmas Eve is arguably the most important and hardest game on that list.
The Eagles defense leads the league in both takeaways and interceptions and made the Cowboys pay in the teams first game, a 26–17 win in Philadelphia in which defenders intercepted Cowboys backup quarterback Cooper Rush three times.
Cowboys coaches and players expect teams to repeat the defensive strategies that have led to mistakes in recent weeks. Prescott’s interception trend has become a target. He knows he has to fix it.
“Damn, I need to be smarter and weigh the risk versus the reward in a split second,” Prescott said. “It’s part of my preparation. Something I promise you all I will clean up.