Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Dak Prescott led the league in interceptions last year despite only playing in 12 games. An awful lot of digital ink has been spilled over Prescott’s uncharacteristically high interception total, and it may have even cost Kellen Moore his job.
Mike McCarthy, now in charge of calling plays on offense, has often cited turnovers, and specifically interceptions, as a key point for improvement heading into the 2023 season. With training camp set to begin in about a week, Prescott seems confident that this issue will be resolved:
Regardless of how he ended up there, he has no plans for a repeat performance in the upcoming season. That confidence partly stems from increased communication under head coach Mike McCarthy, who is now calling plays after parting ways with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
“Some of it is the offense and them understanding exactly where we are,” Prescott said. “Mike does an amazing job with those guys. They know where to be, why to be, when they’re getting looked at. That’s going to be a big jump.
“I won’t have 10 interceptions this year.”
As it turns out, Prescott was slightly misquoted here, with the biggest discrepancy coming around the prediction of not throwing 10 interceptions. We noted this in a previous article.
Either way, though, Prescott seems equally confident in his own ability and McCarthy’s ability as the play-caller.
What Dak Prescott actually said from his youth camp when discussing Mike McCarthy's impact on the pass game: "They know where the hell to be, why to be and when they’re getting looked at. That’s going to be a big jump, I think. We won’t have those tipped interceptions this year."— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) July 17, 2023
Prescott is almost definitely right, too. The odds of him repeating as the league leader in picks was already low for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest reasons is just that Prescott doesn’t turn the ball over much, and 2022 was a statistical anomaly of the highest order.
Coming into last season, Prescott was throwing an interception on just 1.7% of his passes for his career, an exceptionally low mark. In 2023, he posted a 3.8% interception rate. That alone suggests that it was an anomaly, not the norm. But Prescott was also extremely unlucky. For example, he had the ninth highest rate of passes dropped by his receivers, something Prescott alluded to this week.
Furthermore, Prescott was charged with 18 turnover-worthy plays by Pro Football Focus and, as we know all too well by now, had 15 interceptions. That ratio of turnover-worthy plays to actual turnovers was the worst of any starting quarterback last season; 11 quarterbacks had more turnover-worthy plays than Prescott, but they all had less interceptions on the year. This stat is something we focused on in a previous article.
So, just in terms of luck and what we know about the type of player Prescott is, it’s not crazy to think his interception total would go down in 2023. But one factor that’s gone overlooked, which Prescott clearly understands, is the way McCarthy’s offenses operate.
McCarthy is blending elements of his West Coast offense into what the Cowboys were previously running, thus the title “Texas Coast,” and one of the core tenets of McCarthy’s West Coast is throwing to open receivers. He makes frequent use of slants, flats, and crossers with his route combinations in an effort to hit guys on the move as they separate from their defenders. That’s a stark contrast to how Moore often used routes with his receivers stationary at the catch point, having targeted hitch routes at the fourth highest rate in the league last year.
Consider McCarthy’s final three seasons in Green Bay. In each of those years, the Packers were in the bottom 10 in passes thrown into tight windows; Prescott has been in the top 10 in all but one of his seasons. Not only were the Packers throwing to open guys most of the time, but it translated to success too: Green Bay was ninth in EPA per dropback over those three years and Aaron Rodgers was in in the bottom five in interception rate as well.
Another important factor comes down to situational play-calling. Last year, the Cowboys had a very poor early down passing rate, and it led to an inordinate amount of third-and-long scenarios; as it turned out, seven of Prescott’s 15 interceptions came on third down. But McCarthy’s Packers led the league in early down pass rate from 2010 to 2018.
That doesn’t automatically mean all of those things will carry over with McCarthy running the show in Dallas now, but it’s certainly encouraging. If McCarthy can recreate all those open passing lanes he had in Green Bay, avoid putting Prescott in difficult, all-or-nothing third down situations, and sprinkle just a little bit of not-bad luck on Prescott, it stands to reason that we should once again see the Cowboys quarterback display top-notch ball security skills.