Is Dak Prescott playing too aggressively? Jerry Jones expresses ‘concern’ with Cowboys trend
The Dallas Cowboys need to strike a balance.
Right now, they’re not.
The postseason-contending Cowboys long to be aggressive on offense, to control games and game plans complementary to a feisty defense.
But there is a cost.
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.
“Interception concerns 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 doesn’t have to include turnovers. It does not have to include that. ‘Aggressive’ does not.
“I do like aggressiveness without turnovers.”
The Cowboys offense has been explosive since Prescott’s return from five weeks spent rehabilitating a thumb fracture in his throwing hand. Dallas has averaged 35.7 points per game, scoring a touchdown on an impressive 82% of red zone visits.
But Prescott entered this season with a generally clean reputation for ball security, from his 23-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio his rookie year through a 37-to-10 mark last season. From 2016 to 2021, Prescott’s 1.7% pass-interception ratio ranked 13th among 97 quarterbacks who attempted at least 100 passes. This year: His 3.6% rate ranks third-worst. Among 40 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 100 passes this season, only Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields and New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston have fared worse.
“I am damn sure not a fan of that,” Prescott said. “It’s frustrating. It’s very, very frustrating.”
Interceptions, at times, are fluky. Prescott’s have featured at least two trends. The first: Several have come on option routes over the middle of the field, quarterback and receiver interpreting the ideal depth of a route relative to defenders differently. Part of that likely will improve simply from time on task, Prescott’s injury stint and receiver Michael Gallup’s rehabilitation from an ACL tear slowing chemistry accumulation. The second trend: Prescott has thrown eight of nine picks in the first half. More precisely, seven have landed in the second half of the second quarter. Is Prescott pressing a little bit, overly prioritizing a score before halftime as time ticks?
And perhaps as importantly: Should he press, given how the Cowboys’ punishing run game can support production? Dallas ranks seventh in the league with 144 rushing yards per contest. Since Prescott’s return, the Cowboys have logged 166 ground yards per game.
Prescott has maximized the high-stakes waning clock, including directing a 98-yard drive that resulted in a game-winning touchdown in the final minute of Sunday’s near-loss to the Houston Texans. But twice that game he’d pressed, first trying “to fit in too tight of a window” on a ball that bounced off his receiver’s hands, and then attempting to throw despite his throwing arm being hit by a rusher. The dangerous gift set up Houston 4 yards from the end zone. Coaches said Texans head coach Lovie Smith employed more quarters zone coverage and “vision” defense — defensive backs looking at the quarterback, rather than at any downfield target — with diverse results that muddied communication between Prescott and his receivers.
“Unfortunate on some of them, but I’ve got to find a way to take better care of the ball,” Prescott said. “But I am not going to not be aggressive. I’ve worked too hard, and this team has worked too hard. We have created too great of a chemistry for me to not be aggressive and not try to make the throws I know I can make.”
The Cowboys face the Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles, Tennessee Titans and Washington Commanders before what is expected to be a road wild-card matchup. Hosting Philadelphia on Christmas Eve is indisputably the most important, and most difficult, game in that slate.
The Eagles defense leads the league in both takeaways and interceptions and made the Cowboys pay in the teams’ first matchup, a 26-17 Philadelphia win in which defenders intercepted Cowboys backup quarterback Cooper Rush three times.
Cowboys coaches and players expect teams to replicate the defensive strategies that have prompted errors in recent weeks. Prescott’s interception trend has become a target. He knows he needs to fix it.
“Damn sure, I’ve got to be smarter and just weigh the risk versus reward in a split second,” Prescott said. “It is just part of my preparation. Something I promise y’all I will clean up.”