Dallas Cowboys' Dak Prescott promises to 'clean up' interception woes

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dak Prescott had to say the number twice, as if the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback didn’t believe it or was disgusted by it.

“Nine?” he said. “Niiiiiine?”

Yes, nine. Nine interceptions in eight starts.

Prescott saved the Cowboys on Sunday with a 98-yard drive in the final minutes to beat the Houston Texans 27-23. He completed 6 of 7 passes for 79 yards on the drive before Ezekiel Elliott’s game-winning rushing touchdown with 41 seconds to play.

The only incompletion was a drop by Michael Gallup after he took a big hit in the end zone.

But what about the first 57 minutes of the game?

Prescott had two more passes intercepted, giving him nine on the season.

He has more in eight starts this season than he had in 16 starts in 2016 (four) and 2018 (eight). He had 10 passes picked off in 16 starts last season.

“Yeah, I’m damn sure not a fan of that,” Prescott said. “I think y’all guys know that. It’s frustrating. It’s very, very frustrating.”

Each interception has its own story, and certainly not all are on Prescott. Some have been miscommunications with his pass-catchers, especially down the middle of the field. Some have come at inopportune times. Some have come from protection breakdowns. And some have come from Prescott’s decision-making.

He took the blame for the first one against Houston, looking for receiver Noah Brown with a Texans defender running underneath the throw, leading to a tipped ball that Tremon Smith picked off. It was Prescott’s eighth first-half interception of the season, tying him with Indianapolis’ Matt Ryan for the most in the first halves.

And remember, Prescott missed five games with a broken thumb.

“Tried to fit it into too tight of a window,” Prescott said. “I don’t even know if Noah even saw it, you know what I mean? Tried to get a hand on the ball, pops up in the air.”

On the second one, Texans pass-rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo hit Prescott’s hand as he looked to dump the ball wide to tight end Dalton Schultz. It was his first second-half interception of the season, but the Cowboys’ defense gave Prescott a chance to win the game with a goal-line stand after the turnover. Maybe it was a coincidence, but the Cowboys replaced Josh Ball at right tackle with Jason Peters after that play.

Coach Mike McCarthy said the Texans played a different type of zone coverage than they had normally shown. That led to more bodies in different avenues who Prescott had to throw over or around. The result was 11 tipped passes and the two interceptions. And McCarthy expects more of that type of coverage.

“If I was the Jacksonville defensive coordinator, I’d play a vision defense based off the last two weeks,” McCarthy said of their Week 15 tilt with the Jacksonville Jaguars (1 p.m. ET, Fox). “That’s how my mind works and that’s why we’ll look at it. We’ll just make sure we’re clean in what we do. We don’t need to change plays. We just got to be cleaner about doing things.”

When he coached the Green Bay Packers, McCarthy dealt with Brett Favre’s gunslinger ways, but he also mentored Aaron Rodgers, who had only two seasons in which he threw more than eight interceptions under McCarthy -- both in his first three years as the starter.

“When you're in the NFL, you don't throw to open receivers, you throw them open,” McCarthy said last week. “And you're not going to get there by not being aggressive. Particularly as you get into the tougher defenses. ... That's why the breaking points of your routes and angles have to be more precise. And [Prescott] has to throw with aggressiveness. I think anticipation, awareness, all those things are tied together. You have to have that because these situations we are going to be in, they're only going to get tougher. They are not going to get easier. This is part of that growth.”

The growth needs to become evident with four regular-season games remaining -- three against teams currently in the playoffs.

Prescott has interceptions in five of his past six games, his most since he had six in Weeks 2-5 of the 2019 season.

“We’ve got to find a way -- I’ve got to find a way -- to take better care of the ball,” Prescott said. “Yeah, damn right it’s frustrating. That’s not something that I’ve ever been OK with and never will be OK with. So, but I’m not going to not be aggressive. As I’ve said. I’ve worked too hard. This team has worked too hard, created too great of a chemistry for me to, yeah, to not be aggressive and not try to make the throws that I know I can make. But damn sure got to be smarter and just weigh the risk versus the reward in a split second. That’s just my preparation.

“That’s something that I promise I’ll clean up.”