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This chart shows how misleading Prescott’s INT total was in 2022

The way the season ended for the Dallas Cowboys wasn’t unexpected. They won a Monday night playoff game then traveled to San Francisco for their fourth straight road trip and fell to a 49ers team home for 21 days and boasted just as dominant a defense as the Cowboys.

The 49ers held 11 of their 17 regular-season opponents at 17 points or less, and did the same to a Cowboys’ team that lost one of their two dominant offensive weapons less than halfway through the game. San Francisco led the league in interceptions with 20 in 2022, had one more in their win over Seattle and then picked off Cowboys QB Dak Prescott twice. In a vacuum, the 19-12 loss would never be seen as a referendum on Prescott, but that’s not how things work for him or the team he plays for.

Prescott’s league-leading 15 interceptions in just 12 games played certainly creates a baseline narrative. And while many pay lip service to understanding not all interceptions are created equal nor are all picks the QB’s fault, the reality is most NFL fans are built to box-score scout and therefore anecdotal evidence is extrapolated.

In the same vein it’s nearly impossible to convince casual fans that sacks are great, big-impact plays, but don’t account for the true worth of an edge rusher, it’s a hard, uphill fight to convince them a QB’s worth can’t be boiled down to what happens on less than 4% of the throws he makes.

Breaking down the signature play of Prescott’s season

Prescott certainly made a bad decision on his second interception; the back-breaker in the second quarter in the 49ers red zone. San Francisco defender Jimmie Ward made a great play on the ball, but this was a combination of a bad design and bad decision.

Ben Solak breaks the play down beautifully, including the important identification that Dallas had run this concept a drive earlier, successfully. San Francisco adjusted, and between Prescott and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, they didn’t evolve the play enough and got burned.

Prescott would’ve had to bulldoze a defender to run for the first and he didn’t have anywhere else to throw to. So why was this decision made? He should’ve eaten it, as it was only second down, and lived to fight for another day.

This play is the lasting impression of Prescott’s season, but unpacking why he attempted this throw leads analysts right back to the core problem with the offense.

Dallas didn’t have the weapons, outside of CeeDee Lamb, to compete with a defense as good as San Francisco’s. Prescott’s ability to connect with open receivers  was uncanny in 2022, but the Cowboys didn’t have the quality personnel to get open against an elite defensive unit. Against a middle-of-the-pack defense like that of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a week prior, Prescott was able to dazzle, throwing for 305 yards and four scores (adding a fifth with his legs).

But the open receivers simply didn’t exist against the 49ers and the offense struggled. Getting more open receivers in 2023 is paramount to the offense’s success, because Prescott was elite at hitting receivers who earn separation in 2022.

2022 QB Recognition and Accuracy, via @throwthedamball

Prescott is normally around league average when it comes to accuracy when throwing to open receivers, but he was surreal in 2022. There could be numerous factors at play here, but it’s not difficult to connect the dots between having a lesser receiving corps and Prescott making sure that when his receivers did earn separation he made sure to get them the ball.

There’s a ton of decision making for a quarterback as he goes through his progressions. That includes having to throw his receivers open on occasion.

Prescott’s turnover-worthy play percentage was a whopping 3.8%, the highest of his career. When it came to his other 487 drop backs, though, he operated from the pocket way better than every other NFL quarterback.

Suffice to say, if the Cowboys do a better job of getting him open targets to throw to, it could be a special season awaiting Prescott as he continues to evolve.

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire

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