LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 30: Brandon Carr #39 of the Dallas Cowboys reacts after Jason Hatcher #97 was called for a penalty for roughing the passer in the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 30, 2012 in Landover, Maryland. The Washington Redskins defeated the Dallas Cowboys 28-18. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
In projecting the Cowboys to improve their point differential in a big way in 2013, one of my primary assumptions is that they’ll have more interceptions. The Cowboys hauled in just seven picks in 2012—the fewest in the NFL—and forced a turnover of any kind at the third-lowest rate in the league. But there’s reason for hope. Below, I listed the top four reasons the Cowboys’ interceptions will triple—to 21—in 2013.
Interceptions are Fluky
Although interceptions obviously aren’t completely random, they’re more random than you think. There’s only a very weak correlation for interceptions per game thrown by quarterbacks from one year to the next. So using a quarterback’s picks in Year N to predict those in Year N+1 has nearly no value, and that’s for the person throwing the ball! No wonder defensive interception rates fluctuate so much from year to year.
Monte Kiffin’s Scheme
The Cowboys were going to secure more interceptions in 2013 whether they changed defenses or not, but I think Kiffin’s scheme will put some key players in better positions to make plays. He’ll call more zone concepts, allowing cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne to peak into the backfield. Last year, those two had their backs turned to the quarterback too much to haul in a lot of interceptions.
They’ll See More Attempts
Guess what? The Cowboys were really bad last year, losing the majority of the time and really getting lucky to be 8-8 given how much they were down. Opposing teams threw the ball only 511 times against Dallas—the fifth-lowest mark in the NFL. If that number jumped to, say, 600 attempts, the Cowboys would have had a couple more picks even if their interception rate didn’t change at all.
The Cowboys were the most injury-plagued team in the NFL last year. At one point, they were starting multiple defensive players who weren’t even on the team at the start of the season. There’s almost no chance that the Cowboys will be as unlucky with injuries again in 2013, and that’s important.
I think the two most important players for the Cowboys’ interceptions are actually Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware. The teams that have the best pass-rush often force the most turnovers. The Cowboys are really thin behind their starting defensive ends, so they need Spencer and Ware to be healthy and effective.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.