The Dak Prescott interceptions have to stop. Even his most staunch supporters understand that turning the ball over as much as Prescott has currently is problematic. However, looking at the context surrounding his 10 interceptions over the past eight weeks is essential because not all turnovers are created equal.
In a game clouded by as much nuance as professional football, a turnover is rarely ever a singular entity’s fault. Only the most egregious decisions by NFL QBs fall solely on their plate.
Breaking Down Dak Prescott’s Interceptions
Interceptions can come from being hit as thrown, miscommunications, inaccurate throws, poor coverage reads, poor leverage reads, tipped passes, or even schematic issues. We’ll use All-22 to look at each of the 10 interceptions and break them down into their most appropriate categories.
The degree of fault that falls on Prescott is a subjective measure. What we’re here to do is contextualize each interception. Why did they happen? Still, we’ll take some inspiration from @bijanfanaccount on Twitter to rank each interception from 1-5.
1 – Not Dak’s Fault at all
2 – Dak holds some, but not all of the blame
3 – Dak holds about half the blame
4 – Dak holds the majority of the blame
5 – Dak, what the hell was that?
Aggressive Leverage Reads/Miscommunications
Four of Prescott’s 10 interceptions fall into this category as the main antagonist. Three of the four involved miscommunications between Dak and CeeDee Lamb, while the other was simply a poor decision on Prescott’s part.
Dak Fault – 3
Of Prescott’s two interceptions involving just Lamb in similar situations, this is the less egregious of the two. Lamb completely gives up on this route as he’s coming out of his break, but Prescott is already loading up to deliver the pass. If Lamb continues on the route, he’s able to use his frame to make a contested attempt against Eddie Jackson, who deserves credit for how quickly he closed on this route.
Above all else, this is what really hurts the Dallas Cowboys offense. They don’t have a receiver who threatens vertically with speed, which is why T.Y. Hilton could be a difference-maker if he’s able to get up to speed in a complex offense.
Prescott and Lamb share the blame here. The margins are microscopic in the Cowboys’ passing attack, and Prescott won’t shy away from making contested throws over the middle.
Dak Fault – 3
The above interception is where the speed of the game comes into play. It’s easy to sit back and say Dak should have seen that two receivers were in the same area from our 30,000-foot view, but the game is much faster than we could ever comprehend without living it.
It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to understand that Dalton Schultz and Lamb shouldn’t be two feet from one another running to the exact same area of the field. With the switch release between Schultz and Lamb, it would make sense for Schultz to carry his route vertically, occupying the safety. However, since we’re not in the room, all we can do is speculate.
If Schultz does what we believe his job is here, Lamb is uncovered for a touchdown. Instead, it ends up going the other way.
We cannot completely absolve Prescott of wrongdoing here. These are bang-bang situations, but when Schultz gets walled by the hook defender on his release, this look becomes FUBAR, and Prescott could have easily thrown a field goal and lived to see the next down.
Dak fault – 4
The Cowboys run a 989 concept here, which is their bread-and-butter downfield attacking play because of how good Lamb can be over the middle. With the middle-of-field-closed coverage, Prescott expects Lamb to bend this behind the linebacker and flatten across.
Prescott never comes off his initial read and makes an overly-aggressive decision to deliver this pass. Because it’s third down, it’s difficult to fault Prescott for not throwing underneath to Elliott heading to the flat.
The Cowboys’ passing attack likes working from the inside out. If Prescott peeks left at all after receiving the snap, he would have seen the opportunity for a honey-hole shot to Noah Brown at the bottom of the screen.
But the fault here is in the undying faith he puts in Lamb to be in the perfect spot. But because Dallas rarely ever goes over the top in the middle of the field, safeties can sit on that exact throw. And Lamb isn’t fast enough to force safeties to open up and carry vertically.
Dak fault – 5
Prescott made a bad decision here. When Prescott makes mistakes, they are almost always because he’s being a bit too aggressive. He rarely ever makes mind-numbing decisions that lead to interceptions and rarely ever loses defenders in coverage. Moreover, it’s incredibly rare to see him make a poor leverage read.
But he did here. The Colts are a bit sneaky here, with the coverage to the trips side playing soft zone while giving a man-coverage look on the backside. Again, this is where the Cowboys’ lack of speed becomes a massive issue.
Stephon Gilmore doesn’t believe for a second that Michael Gallup can outrun him. And although this was distributed like man to that side, the Colts are in zone, with the safety buzzing down and playing underneath the frontside post.
Gilmore is playing outside and underneath Gallup. It would have taken a Herculian effort for Gallup to cross his face and make a play on the ball. Instead, he trips, and Gilmore is gifted an INT.
Pass Interference/Misplaced Pass
Dak fault – 3
Nobody should be upset with the decision to throw this football. Far too often we are results-oriented in our evaluation of football when the process is what really matters in regard to accurately predicting future events.
The decision to throw this football was perfect. However, Dak should have done a better job leveraging this pass away from the defender. That would have almost surely saved this pass from being swatted upward. A ball thrown higher and away from the trailing defender would have been the safer throw.
Poor Decision on ‘Free Play’
Dak fault – 4
Prescott is one of the best in the game at attacking defenses on free plays, but this was a blunder. It’s important to note that Prescott wouldn’t know for sure that he had a free play here. He’s not going to see the flag thrown while simultaneously trying to play quarterback. He doesn’t have a HUD in his helmet that shows when a penalty occurs.
The ball is snapped early here, which you can tell by the lackluster get-off from every non-Tyler Biadasz offensive player. But the throw itself makes absolutely no sense, and it seemed like Gallup wasn’t dreaming that the ball would come his direction.
Usually, on a free play, it doesn’t. Prescott goes where he is most comfortable; over the middle. But he doesn’t here, and he gifts the Giants an interception.
Hit While Throwing
Dak fault – 1
Prescott has made throws like the above hundreds of times. The Cowboys spread the field horizontally against Tampa 2, and Dak quickly goes from frontside to backside and finds a soft spot in the zone. Unfortunately, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo may as well have been prime Lawrence Taylor to Josh Ball.
All it takes is a slight jolt or pull during the throwing motion to completely change the trajectory of a pass.
Dak fault – 3
Prescott felt the brunt of this decision from fans and the broadcast. Many have claimed the Cowboys QB was trying to do too much on this play. The problem with that way of thinking is that the alternatives are ridiculed as much, if not more.
If Dallas runs the ball on 2nd-and-18, fans want Kellen Moore fired for being a coward. If Prescott throws consecutive checkdowns and the Cowboys punt, then he wasn’t aggressive enough.
You don’t pay a franchise QB to be a coward.
Maybe Prescott believed he was past the pressure when he attempted the pass, but he was not. The defender was able to grab onto the quarterback’s upper arm, and the ball floated into the hands of the defense.
That is where Prescott deserves some blame. A sack in that situation is not a killer. An interception gives an offense that is stomping on your defense the ball inside your own 20-yard-line is. And although personally, I prefer aggression, it’s fair to critique the decision if one does not prefer it.
Correct Decision on Bad Play Call
Dak fault – 3
Double slants against Houston’s zone coverage makes about as much sense as telling small children to run with scissors. Doing it to the boundary is ludicrous. Because of the confined space, the apex defender can play both slants here.
In a vacuum, Prescott makes the proper read. But there isn’t enough space to fit the pass into the window. The insane part about this particular rep is it’s a half-field concept, which we rarely see from Dallas. And given the situation, this call makes absolutely no sense.
Noah Brown Doink
Dak fault – 1
The final interception from Prescott is the most cut-and-dry. Again, some have deemed Prescott was being too aggressive by rolling left and delivering this pass, but they’re being results-oriented.
The play is set up perfectly to create two natural rubs that free up Brown. The play works, and Prescott delivers a perfect pass that just so happens to doink off Brown’s hand and shoulder and into the outstretched arms of Rayshawn Jenkins.
The main themes in most of Prescott’s interceptions are aggression and a lack of space. Prescott racked up 30 points in his 10 interceptions, which averages out to about half the blame for his 10 INTs.
Prescott literally has a master’s degree in workforce leadership and will always take responsibility for the team’s shortcomings. But he has largely been outstanding since his return from injury. Even when we include turnovers, Dallas ranks fifth in dropback EPA since his return, and Prescott ranks third in the EPA+CPOE composite.
The Cowboys’ offense is operating at a high level. If the wacky mistakes slow down, they’ll be incredibly dangerous down the stretch.