How the Titans were intercepted in 2011, part one

Self-Publicity Note: The PDF version of Football Outsiders Almanac 2012 is slated to go on sale on Tuesday at the FO site, along with our KUBIAK fantasy football projections (which includes very regular updates through the start of the regular season). The actual physical book and a Kindle version (new for this year) will be available later this month. Unlike the past two seasons, I didn’t write the Titans chapter; we switch up writers every couple years, so I wrote the Chargers and Raiders chapters, while Rivers McCown wrote all the AFC South chapters, including the Titans one (I’ve read it, it’s good, you should like it too). I’m not going to pretend to be unbiased, but I’ve read almost all of FOA2012 and it’s way better and more-current than the NFL preview magazines I skimmed at the bookstore on Saturday.

After doing a couple of longer series, it’s time for a couple shorter ones, with two parts each on how the Titans were intercepted in 2011 and how they intercepted the other team. I’ll start with how the Titans were intercepted. This part one begins with an overview on how the Titans were interception and interception rates in general, followed by a breakdown of half of the Titans’ interceptions (which occurred in the Titans’ first nine games). Part two, which should run Wednesday, will contain a breakdown of the rest of the Titans’ interceptions, plus an analysis of what I got out of the individual interception breakdowns.

On the season, Matt Hasselbeck threw 14 interceptions on 518 attempts. That 2.7% rate was better than he’d put up in any of his final three seasons in Seattle, but still pretty much in line with his career rate of 3.0%. League-wide, passers were intercepted at a 2.9% rate.

It’s worth noting that players’ individual interception rates show a lot of year-to-year variances around their career norm. From writing about how interceptions happen, that doesn’t come as much of a surprise; there are a lot of interceptions with a good element of luck involved, plus defensive backs, like wide receivers, drop passes they might otherwise catch. Chances are good a quarterback with a particularly high interception rate has few, if any, dropped interceptions, while a passer with a particularly low interception rate has a number of dropped interceptions. (Notable exception: Aaron Rodgers, who threw 6 interceptions in 2011 (1.2%) and had 0 dropped interceptions. Aaron Rodgers is awesome.)

Jake Locker did not throw any interceptions in 66 attempts. It should be noted that interceptions are part of the cost of doing business for an NFL quarterback. Plenty of interceptions are bad luck; Eli Manning in 2010 saw a number of passes go off receivers’ hands and end up in the arms of opponents. Those weren’t his fault. Interceptions also are partly a function of chances taken; sometimes a quarterback throws a pass into a small window for a big gain, while other times that small window just closes. Using Eli as our example again, his pass to Mario Manningham is an excellent example of a pass into a small window that sometimes, just through bad luck or a particularly good play by a defender, would have been an interception.

As with the sacks writeups, these are the dogs that barked, not that dogs that could have barked but didn’t. The usual play-breakdown caveats also apply: I don’t necessarily have the all-22 footage, so I may not have seen relevant information that affects my analysis of the play (though it is available for a good number of interceptions). I’m doing all of these without knowledge of the offensive or defensive playcall or game preparation, which could have affected the quarterback and receiver’s decision-making. Research by Football Outsiders indicates that receivers do not have predictably-reliable input into how frequently passes thrown their way are intercepted; that does not mean, however, that a receiver never bears any responsibility for an interception on a pass intended for them, and if I think a receiver does or may bear some responsibility for an interception, I’ll write that.

Before I begin, I’ll also add that I’m not going to write anything about the defenses. Defensive interception rates tend to be relatively volatile, and there’s less total variation than there is in defensive sack rates. Plus, I don’t have anything I consider interesting to say about them.

Those caveats and whatnot out of the way, on with the interception breakdowns.

Week 1-at Jacksonville-Matt Hasselbeck-34 attempts, 1 INT
2-10-TEN 46 (4Q-:23) (Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck pass deep left intended for K.Britt INTERCEPTED by D.Lowery at JAX 20. D.Lowery to JAX 16 for -4 yards (K.Britt).
Desperation time in the final minute, as the Titans are out of timeouts and need to get downfield quickly. Hasselbeck’s effort is optimistic, as Lowery doesn’t bit on Britt’s double-move and has an easy pick. My initial thought as Hasselbeck should have put the ball closer to the sideline, but I’m now a little bit less sure of that. Still, a throw closer to the sideline and not quite as far downfield would have given Britt a better shot at the ball.

Week 2-vs. Baltimore-Matt Hasselbeck-42 attempts, 1 INT
2-7-BLT 44 (1Q-9:48) M.Hasselbeck pass short right intended for L.Hawkins INTERCEPTED by T.Suggs (H.Ngata) at BLT 48. T.Suggs to BLT 48 for no gain (J.Scott).
Ngata, playing LDT, moves Scott backwards and gets his hand up, tipping Hasselbeck’s pass at the line. Suggs is just the recipient of a fortunate deflection. Not really Hasselbeck’s fault, except for the broader issue that he had an above-average number of passes tipped at the line (some of which might be at least partially the OL’s fault), and some of those will end up with unlucky deflections right to defenders.

Week 3-vs. Denver-Matt Hasselbeck-36 attempts, 0 INT

Week 4-at Cleveland-Matt Hasselbeck-20 attempts, 1 INT; Jake Locker-1 attempt, 0 INT
3-9-TEN 40 (4Q-9:27) (Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck pass deep left intended for D.Williams INTERCEPTED by M.Adams at CLV 38. M.Adams ran ob at CLV 38 for no gain.
DWill is lined up as the outside man in a 3WR set to the left, and appears to beat CB Brown to the outside. Hasselbeck tries to hit him in front of the safety, but Adams makes a break on the ball and gets the pick. Assigning responsibility for this play for me is hard. Was the throw a bit deeper than it should have been? Would a QB with a rifle arm have gotten the ball to Williams? Does D-Will slow up on the play to avoid a collision with Adams? All-22 might have helped, but it’s not available for this play.

Week 5-at Pittsburgh-Matt Hasselbeck-49 attempts, 1 INT
1-10-PIT 45 (3Q-2:00) M.Hasselbeck pass short middle intended for J.Cook INTERCEPTED by L.Woodley at PIT 45. L.Woodley to PIT 46 for 1 yard (D.Stewart).
Another fortunate/unlucky deflection, as Amano does a better job of not letting Keisel get penetration, but Keisel does get his hand up, and the ball goes up in the air where Woodley does a good job of coming down with it. While a nice play by him, that the deflection went near him was simply bad luck.

Week 7-vs. Houston-Matt Hasselbeck-30 attempts 2 INT; Jake Locker-1 attempt, 0 INT
1-10-HST 48 (2Q-11:01) M.Hasselbeck pass deep right intended for L.Hawkins INTERCEPTED by D.Manning at HST 13. D.Manning to HST 13 for no gain (L.Hawkins).
I’m not sure if Hasselbeck and Hawkins are on the same page here, as I think Hasselbeck was thinking corner-post and Hawkins might have been trying to run a post-corner. The bigger factor in the play, though, was Watt coming free from Stewart’s block late, preventing Hasselbeck from stepping into the throw. Manning has a fairly easy pick, particularly as Hawkins doesn’t seem to pick up the ball quickly and can’t contest his catch.

2-10-TEN 25 (4Q-9:41) (Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck pass short right intended for D.Avery INTERCEPTED by B.McCain at TEN 38. B.McCain for 38 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
This is another throw that might have been affected by the pressure, as Hasselbeck whacks his hand on Antonio Smith on his follow-through. More important, though, is the Texans had a nice coverage disguise, as slot corner McCain traded off with outside corner Joseph to cover outside receiver Avery’s in route, and beat him to the spot.

Week 8-vs. Indianapolis-Matt Hasselbeck-33 attempts, 0 INT

Week 9-vs. Cincinnati-Matt Hasselbeck-41 attempts, 0 INT

Week 10-at Carolina-Matt Hasselbeck-27 attempts, 1 INT
3-4-TEN 35 (3Q-6:25) (Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck pass short right intended for D.Avery INTERCEPTED by C.Gamble at TEN 43. C.Gamble to TEN 19 for 24 yards (M.Hasselbeck).
This is not, as it happens, Donnie Avery’s first target since the prior interception. He was targeted twice in the game against the Bengals, one of which didn’t end up an official target as the play was negated by a defensive penalty. Still, the case is broadly similar: Avery isn’t exactly where Hasselbeck thought he was going to be, and a defensive back was. On this play, Hasselbeck was expecting Avery to cut inside, while he instead cut outside. I can’t say with certainty who’s right, but my money’s on the guy who hardly ever saw the field being wrong.

That’s it for part one. Part two will contain a breakdown of the Titans’ (Hasselbeck’s) other interceptions, plus some very tentative conclusions about how interceptions happened to the Titans in 2011. 

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