How the Titans were intercepted in 2011, part two

Self-Publicity Notes: (1) The PDF version Football Outsiders Almanac 2012 is now on sale at FO’s web store, along with our customizable KUBAIK fantasy football projections. Physical copies of the book are coming later, as is the Kindle version.
(2) I’m going to be on the Bros Going Hard show on Tennessee Sports Radio in Knoxville (1180 AM), today (Wednesday) at 6:15 PM ET/5:15 PM CT for the first installment of what should be a regular weekly segment going forward.

As I noted in part one, Matt Hasselbeck threw interceptions at pretty much a league-average and his career-long rate in 2011, while Jake Locker didn’t throw any interceptions in the 66 passes he attempted. I also broke down the first seven of Hasselbeck’s 14 interceptions.  In this part two, I’ll break down the rest of Hasselbeck’s interceptions, plus draw some tentative conclusions on how the interceptions happened.

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.

Cavets out of the way, on with the analysis.

Week 11-at Atlanta-Matt Hasselbeck-25 attempts, 1 INT; Jake Locker-19 attempts, 0 INT
2-14-TEN 43 (1Q-6:11) M.Hasselbeck pass short right intended for L.Hawkins INTERCEPTED by D.Robinson at ATL 42. D.Robinson to TEN 44 for 14 yards (M.Roos).
Hawk isn’t where Hasselbeck thinks he’s going to be, while Dunta Robinson is. Maybe Curtis Lofton’s rush accelerated this throw a little bit, and maybe Hasselbeck sailed the pass a bit because he didn’t step into it, but the route by Hawkins does not appear to be quick or crisp. The Titans would challenge Robinson actually made the catch; it’s a decent challenge, but loses.

Week 12-vs. Tampa Bay-Matt Hasselbeck-34 attempts, 2 INT
4-2-TB 30 (1Q-2:22) M.Hasselbeck pass short right intended for N.Washington INTERCEPTED by G.Hayes at TB 28. G.Hayes to TB 36 for 8 yards (M.Otto; M.Roos).
Fourth down. Hasselbeck misses the man on the play who ends up open, Craig Stevens of all people, as the reads didn’t lead him there. The rush converges in on him, and rather than simply accept a sack and the turnover on downs, he tries to make something happen with a flip to Washington. Hayes is there, though, and the Bucs end up with about 5 extra yards of field position. Assuming the Stevens non-throw, this is the kind of gamble by a quarterback I was talking about in part one where an interception is not really a terrible play.

1-25-TEN 22 (3Q-12:10) M.Hasselbeck pass short middle intended for N.Washington INTERCEPTED by A.Talib at TEN 27. A.Talib for 27 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
I don’t know what really happened here. Washington lines up in the right slot and runs a shallow cross, then turns upfield. Talib is trailing him the whole play, and steps in front of the pass for an easy pick. It’s easy to blame Hasselbeck for this play, and there’s a good chance all of that blame is deserved, but it’s also possible Washington should have continued running across the field instead of turning up, in which case he’s ahead/in front of Talib to catch the ball.

Week 13-at Buffalo-Matt Hasselbeck-25 attempts, 0 INT

Week 14-vs. New Orleans-Matt Hasselbeck-7 attempts, 0 INT; Jake Locker-29 attempts, 0 INT

Week 15-at Indianapolis-Matt Hasselbeck-40 attempts, 2 INT; Jake Locker-16 attempts, 0 INT
1-10-TEN 29 (3Q-6:41) (Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck pass short right intended for C.Johnson INTERCEPTED by J.Lacey at TEN 32. J.Lacey for 32 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Chris Johnson gives up on his pass route while the ball is in the air, so Lacey steps in front of him for the easy pick. This was one of the times during the game when my resolve not to behave like the foul-mouthed maniac I am when watching games at home was sorely tested.

1-10-TEN 25 (4Q-7:27) (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck pass deep left intended for N.Washington INTERCEPTED by P.Angerer [A.Johnson] at IND 0. Touchback.
No idea what Hasselbeck was doing on this play, as Angerer takes your standard Tampa-2 deep drop and easily intercepts the skinny post throw. Hasselbeck mentioned in an offseason interview there was one last year he wanted a complete wipe on. He didn’t specify which game, but I’m pretty sure it’s this one. Dan Fouts blames pressure from Antonio Johnson preventing Hasselbeck from stepping into this throw, but Fouts can be Gruden-esque in his ability to absolve QBs of blame.

Week 16-vs. Jacksonville-Matt Hasselbeck-40 attempts, 2 INT
1-10-JAX 34 (2Q-2:30) (Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck pass short left intended for N.Washington INTERCEPTED by J.Mincey at JAX 31. J.Mincey to JAX 36 for 5 yards (M.Roos).
RDE Mincey drops into coverage on a zone blitz Hasselbeck doesn’t identify and has an easy interception. Oops.

3-6-TEN 29 (4Q-10:39) (Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck pass short left intended for N.Washington INTERCEPTED by M.Trent (D.Coleman) at TEN 40. M.Trent pushed ob at TEN 18 for 22 yards (E.Amano).
It’s a double-deflection! The pass is just a little bit too far ahead from Washington, as the twin receivers on the left cross and then Nate runs an in. Off Washington’s hands, it goes to DB Drew Coleman’s, who tips it up in the air in the direction of Trent, who comes down with the ball. No clue if Hasselbeck or Washington is to blame for the pass being too far ahead, but I’m guessing Hasselbeck.

Week 17-at Houston-Matt Hasselbeck-35 attempts, 0 INT

Conclusions
Here’s how I tally up Hasselbeck’s 14 interceptions:

  • 2 were the result of otherwise very risky passes attempted only a result of the game situation;
  • 3 were the result of tipped passes, two at the line and one downfield;
  • A quarterback and receiver not on the same page was responsible for 5 interceptions and a major contributing factor on two others. This includes both obvious miscommunications, bad plays by receivers (I put CJ giving up on the route in this category), and some of these may have just been inaccurate passes by Hasselbeck where it just looks like he made a different decision than he did;
  • Pressure by the defense I rate as a major contributing factor on two interceptions. Pressure in the pocket and dealing with it is part of life in the NFL, so don’t read this as saying either “the OL caused two interceptions” or “Hasselbeck threw two interceptions because he didn’t deal with pressure well.” It’s complicated;
  • Particularly good work by the defense was a contributing factor to two interceptions. The other guys are trying, too, and sometimes they win; and
  • There were two interceptions where I’m relatively confident a veteran QB like Hasselbeck could stand up in a team meeting and say, “Yes, I did something I really shouldn’t have there.” Note that this does not absolve him from blame on any other interceptions, not by a longshot. Some of those seven interceptions I have marked as QB/WR not on the same page were Hasselbeck’s fault.

If you feel like being optimistic, you can read those numbers as “half or more of those interceptions were the result of first-year growing pains adapting to a new offense.” Quarterbacks who don’t get intercepted a lot, generally speaking, fall into two different categories. One of them is guys who don’t necessarily attempt ambitious throws; Alex Smith of the 49ers had the best (lowest) Int% in the NFL last year because of that. The other is that quality passers experienced in the offense throwing to good and experienced receivers can eliminate many of those interceptions. Aaron Rodgers is not a passer who takes few chances, but he had a 1.2% Int% because he and his receivers were on exactly the same page a lot of the time.

On the other hand, well, Hasselbeck’s thrown interceptions on 3.0% of passes for his career and has thrown interceptions at a higher rate than that over the last five years, so seeing an interception rate a lot like 2011′s or maybe a little higher is a reasonable expectation. As noted in part one, though, interception rates tend to vary a fair amount, and the vagaries of luck mean Hasselbeck could end up with a lot fewer or a lot more interceptions.

As to Jake Locker, well, the point about the quarterback and receivers being on the same page means an awful lot.  He attempted a lot of “see it, throw it” passes that are pretty safe in terms of interceptions but tend to preclude playing the position at the highest level. Inexperienced quarterbacks, unless they’re arch-conservative and carefully controlled like Andy Dalton, tend to throw more interceptions. He’d probably have fewer passes tipped at the line than Hasselbeck did. What would it add up to in the end? Your guess is probably close to as good as mine.

Oh, and just because, there is no reliable evidence I’m aware of that offenses have any real control over how long an interception return is. That three interceptions went back for touchdowns was the result of luck more than any predictably-reliable skill.

Up next: how the Titans intercepted the opposing passer. 

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