One of the biggest story lines surrounding the 2022-23 Dallas Cowboys season was the play of Dak Prescott, specifically his turnovers, with 15 interceptions in the 12 games he played in. This tied the league high during the regular season, and his 3.8% interception rate lead the league.
That rate put him in the company of Justin Fields, Carson Wentz, Davis Mills, and Marcus Mariota as quarterbacks with an interception rate above 3%. This is not the type of company you want to see your team's quarterback associated with.
Luckily for Cowboys fans, there are many reasons to believe this past season was a statistical outlier for Prescott and his interception rate should regress back closer his career and league average. For those that do not know what interception rate is, it is the percent of a quarterback's pass attempts that were intercepted.
While one number does not give the entire story, and there are some other interesting statistics such as Pro Football Focus' "Turnover Worthy Plays" percentage, it is still a interesting starting point to evaluate a quarterback's tendency for turning the ball over (and as an added bonus it is very easy to calculate with on hand data).
To help illustrate that this past season was an outlier for Prescott, let us take a deeper look at the numbers since he has entered the league, data courtesy of the NFL.com. A quick glance season over season and looking at the interception rate over his career aggregated numbers, it is easy to see just how much the 2022 season stands out at almost double his career rate.
Why Cowboys' Dak Prescott's interception rate should improve in 2023
Taking things a step further, Prescott's career interception rate and his uncharacteristic 2022 season can be compared to league values and other top quarterbacks to better gauge what can be expected from him moving forward. The following data, again courtesy of NFL.com, was restricted to quarterbacks from the 2016 to 2022 season with a minimum of 300 pass attempts.
Visually graphing out the league results shows that Prescott's past season was not only an outlier for him, but also greatly departed from the typical interception rates across the league. For comparison, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Aaron Rodgers interception rates over the past few years are also included. This highlights how high of a level Rodgers played at during his MVP seasons, but more importantly for Prescott that even top tier quarterbacks like Mahomes and Allen have better and worse seasons that in the long term tend to behave closer to the league average values.
The main reason for this, as stated above, is that context and luck play a large role in interceptions. Sometimes the ball takes a lucky or unlucky bounce off the receivers hands, such was the case for the Cowboys in overtime versus the Jaguars when Noah Brown let a ball bounce off his hands. So to truly find the turnover adverse and turnover heavy quarterbacks a large enough sample size, ideally over several seasons, is needed to account for this. That is why Prescott's 2023 season compared to the rest of his career and the league typical values can help contextualize whether this was characteristic of chance or Prescott himself.
Over a long enough time and enough passes, these good and back bounces should start to even out to give a clear idea of a quarterback's true tendency to throw interceptions. For Prescott, his past seasons indicate that his interception rate should regress back towards the NFL average next season.
Many analysts have looked in depth and the reasons behind Prescott's high interception total. Prescott has always been an aggressive quarterback, but the risks he took this year seemed to bite back as his supporting cast also took a step back.
This is illustrated beautifully by @CowboysStats below, with this graphic that highlights that Prescott routinely is aggressive in attacking beyond the sticks in order to pick up first downs, but this was the first season where that aggressiveness seemed to backfire. Looking back on his interceptions, 8 of Prescott's interceptions came on 3rd and 10+, and another three when the Cowboys were backed up due to negative plays.
The Cowboy's front office's plan of Noah Brown and a post-injury Michael Gallup as the secondary pass catchers behind CeeDee Lamb did not work out. Other than Lamb, the Cowboys receivers were among the league's worst in creating separation, increasing the number of tight window throws Prescott had to make.
There is no hiding that interceptions were an issue for Prescott last season and it remains a concern to monitor moving forward, especially after his two interceptions in the Cowboys Divisional round playoff loss to the 49ers.
But Cowboys fans should feel encouraged that between the improved supporting cast and the just how much of an outlier last season was, Prescott's interception total should regress back towards 2% in 2023.