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Offseason | 2023

Spagnola: Intercepting This Troubling Perception


FRISCO, Texas – From now until the 2023 season begins, and who knows maybe even beyond, seemingly every time Dak Prescott's name is mentioned, it won't be "Dak comma 2023 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year."

Nope, will be "Dak comma who threw 15 interceptions last season."

To be precise, it's really 17 if we count the two in the playoff loss to San Francisco.

That's 17 he's tagged with in the 14 games he played in the 2022 season. In fact, he only had three games with zero interceptions, a win over Detroit, a win over Minnesota and a playoff win over Tampa Bay. In the latter two, the Dak the Cowboys came to know and love finished with QB ratings of 139.3 and 143.3, while totaling six touchdowns passes.

And like a good quarterback, Dak takes the blame for every one of those picks. That's what reputable QBs do. They fall on their sword – don't dare blame poor protection or poor receiver routes or dropped and tipped passes. No can do if you don't want guys looking at you cross-eyed in the huddle.

All he will ever give himself is this: "Each interception has its own story," though knowing full well all of the picks will be dropped into one big ol' box with a ribbon tied on top, and forever the refrain will be "Dak, 15 interceptions." Uh, 17 if we count the playoffs.

So let's peek inside and break this down. In the 11 games Dak was picked off, the Cowboys went 6-5, losing to Tampa Bay in the season opener (1 pick), to Green Bay in overtime (2), to Jacksonville in overtime (2), to Washington (1) and to San Fran in the playoffs (2). That's eight of the 17 right there, nearly half the total, while somehow overcoming the other nine in the six wins.

Now if we think back, when analyzing week to week at the time, and this part has been forgotten, it had been universally pointed out not all of these interceptions were his fault. But somehow now, with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore going to San Diego and Mike McCarthy taking over as play-caller and in essence offensive coordinator, too, the fix that must be made is erasing the scarlet 15, er 17, tattooed to Dak's chest.

But let's revise.

By my count, for sure two of those interceptions were plain dropped passes, one by Noah Brown in overtime turning into the game-winning pick-6 at Jacksonville and one by rookie tight end Peyton Hendershot in the win at Tennessee.

Two other picks occurred when getting hit while releasing the ball, one in the Houston game when his arm was hit throwing in the end zone and the other getting hit from behind in the Jacksonville game, causing the high throw to tight end Dalton Schultz sailing right to the safety behind him, who did nothing more to make that Larry Brown Super Bowl-like interception than just catch the ball.

Now you might say maybe Dak shouldn't be throwing the ball like that under pressure. But he doesn't have eyes behind his head and can't ground the ball in the end zone. Anyway, that's four right there.

Then there were the bad routes, right? Remember those? For sure at least two throwing to CeeDee Lamb, allowing the defensive back to cross his face, taking his route up instead of the anticipated cross.

Remember the one in the Indianapolis game? A timing route to Michael Gallup, who fell down coming out of his break, another one of those thank-you-very-much interceptions by the corner.

Oh, and the one in Green Bay, what would have been a sure touchdown to Lamb crossing into the end zone. Except, for some reason Schultz got bumped off his route and instead of taking it up into the end zone he mirrored Lamb's route behind him, allowing the covering safety to come off him and intercept the pass intended for what would have been a wide-open Lamb.

That's eight right there of the 15 regular season interceptions.

Could you have then lived with seven in those 12 regular season games totally on Dak? You betcha.

And I get it, the 15 tied for the NFL lead in 2022. But there were 14 other quarterbacks with double-digit interceptions, including the likes of Buffalo's Josh Allen with 14, Kirk Cousins with 14 and 12 each from Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Burrow, though those guys with significantly more attempts than Dak's 394.

See, not all interceptions are black and white.

Now Dak can own all the rest. Far too many times picks coming on risky throws, just no need to be forcing balls into tight situations. A couple of those tipped into interceptions, but again getting tipped by defenders because of an errant throw or his intended receiver not open. And he is probably fortunate a few others that could have been intercepted were dropped.

But just like a second consecutive 12-win season for the first time since 1993-95, the NFL's fourth-ranked scoring team, fifth-ranked third-down efficiency offense and the defense leading the league with 33 takeaways and 17 fumble recoveries, the 19-12 second-round playoff loss to San Francisco that cast a pall over the entire season also further accentuated Dak's interceptions.

He had two in that game, the first early on a third-and-9 from his own 21-yard line, leading to an eventual Niners field goal. Dak carelessly throwing what he anticipated a comeback route to Gallup who was never open and never came back.

And the second, a killer on second-and-2 from the Niners' 18-yard line with 1:24 left in the half of what was then a 6-6 game and the Cowboys in field-goal range to likely take at least a 9-6 halftime lead. Well, we think since the struggling Brett Maher had his extra point blocked earlier in the second quarter after missing four extra points in the playoff win over the Buccaneers.

The uber-aggressive Dak tries to fit a tight throw to Lamb over the middle for a first down when simply tossing to a wide-open Schultz in the left flat would have accomplished the same with little risk. And here we go again, cornerback Jimmie Ward's tipped ball goes right to linebacker Fred Warner for the interception.

But not just any interception, one that allows the Niners to drive from their own 28-yard line to the Cowboys' 32 in 1:14, close enough for Robbie Gould with one second remaining in the half to kick a 50-yard field goal for a 9-6 San Francisco halftime lead, his third of four field goals in the game.

And even though the Cowboys defense gave up just one touchdown to the Brock Purdy-led Niners offense, that was enough to painfully end the Cowboys season.

All causing those two interceptions, coupled with the 15 Dak was tagged with during the regular season, to become mighty glaring, gifting the Niners six points and that second one potentially costing the Cowboys at least three. And who knows, maybe even four more being in touchdown range against the NFL's mighty stingy No. 1-ranked defense.

Thus, that scarlet No. 15 Dak must wear for another six months, or at least until the 2023 season opener Sept. 10-11.

No matter the reasons why for nearly half of them.

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