In evaluation, it’s important to understand what each player is responsible for and what each player can control. Those should be the parameters for how you judge the quality of the individual’s performance. When it comes to interceptions, it’s not enough to know how many each quarterback threw, you must also understand how many throws the player made that could or should have been intercepted.
The quarterback can’t control if the defender catches the ball or not, he is only responsible for the opportunity he gives the defender.
In the Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue, I measured how often each quarterback was giving up these opportunities to opposing defenders. You can see all of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Interceptable Passes in this article. Tracking opportunities that each quarterback gives up is only half of the equation though. You also have to acknowledge the plays when the quarterback was intercepted and it wasn’t his fault.
That is also one of the measurements featured in the Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue.
Unsurprisingly, Ryan Tannehill had the most interceptions that weren’t his fault last year. But PSR already looked at Tannehill and the treachery of his receivers on deep throws, so to explore Non-QB Interceptions we will take one step down the ladder and focus on Philadelphia Eagles starting quarterback Sam Bradford.
Bradford is a good example to use because of how his supporting cast created interceptions in different ways.
Drops were a major issue for the Eagles throughout the whole season. Bradford had a failed reception rate of 9.7, so he was losing a reception to his teammates once every 9.7 pass attempts. Only seven quarterbacks had a rate worse than 10.0. Jordan Matthews was responsible for a large number of those plays as he repeatedly showed off poor focus and technique at the catch point.
This decisive interception from the team’s Week 1 loss to the Atlanta Falcons came in the final two minutes. Bradford found Matthews over the middle of the field with an accurate pass, but Matthews unnecessarily left his feet so he didn’t have to extend his hands to catch the ball above his head.
Matthews isn’t a natural receiver. He approaches the ball like this because he’s not comfortable when he is asked to make catches that aren’t into his body. His inability to coral this ball allows it to find the arriving Ricardo Allen in behind.
Like any measurement that is relying on tape evaluation rather than the result of the play, this measurement embraces the subjective. However, like all measurements in the PSR QB Catalogue, there are frameworks in place to keep each quarterback uniformed and consistent on a play-by-play basis.
The quarterback needs to throw an accurate pass, this doesn’t mean that it has to be 100 percent perfect but it has to qualify as accuracy. This becomes more subjective when throwing into tight coverages. A throw is typically considered inaccurate if the defender gets to the ball ahead of the receiver and accurate if the receiver gets to the ball before the defender. Some plays are exceptions to this rule if the actions of the receiver allow the defender to get to the ball first.
While this pass wasn’t perfect, it didn’t lead Zach Ertz downfield, it was in a position where his tight end could win it. He got both hands to the ball as Byron Jones’ impacted his left arm. Ertz wasn’t strong enough to hold the ball while absorbing that contact, causing the ball to bounce into the air for the deep safety to run underneath.
One more of Bradford’s Non-QB Interceptions came when his intended target failed to control the ball after getting to it ahead of a defender. This time it was tight end Brent Celek who failed to show strength at the catch point. He initially caught the ball on a deep corner route, but had the ball wrestled away from him by the arriving safety.
The ball may be slightly high, but Bradford had to throw it high and trust his tight end to win the ball because of the coverage he was throwing into. This is the type of play you expect your tight end to make downfield.
Every quarterback gets the benefit of the doubt in every aspect of charting for the PSR QB Catalogue. This means that any quarterback-receiver miscommunications and passes tipped at the line of scrimmage are viewed favorably to the passer.
On this play against the New York Giants, Bradford throws the ball into double coverage but he is aiming for a spot where Riley Cooper is supposed to be. Bradford’s throw may have been intercepted regardless of what Cooper did, but it’s not so definite that you can presume Cooper wouldn’t have made a difference if he ran through his route.
Cooper should have run down the seam, between the cornerback and safety, putting himself in a spot where he could have leapt for the ball in the air or even just tipped it away as a last resort. Instead he stopped his route long after the ball had been thrown.
Many teams run option routes with their slot receivers or running backs out of the backfield. There are occasions when you can clearly figure out who made the wrong decision but more often than not it’s unclear. It’s unclear if this is an option route or not, but the quarterback and receiver were clearly on different pages.
When Bradford releases the ball, Ryan Mathews is looking back towards him over his inside shoulder. As the ball leaves Bradford’s hand, Mathews turns towards the sideline and looks back over his outside shoulder. This means the ball goes directly to the waiting linebacker inside. Had Mathews broke inside, he could have caught the ball working back across the face of the defender.
On this play from Week 17, Bradford’s eyes follow his crossing route working from the left side of the field. He has a window to hit the receiver and his pass appears to be leading him across the field, he only has to be concerned with the linebacker who is trying to recover. He has no way of recognizing Jason Pierre-Paul’s presence working back from his left defensive end position.
Pierre-Paul didn’t move off the line of scrimmage and, when faced by two defenders, didn’t even try to penetrate upfield. Instead he lingered for a moment before breaking inside at the perfect time. Pierre-Paul was reading Bradford’s eyes through the crowd of bodies in front of him. The quarterback had no chance of doing the same because of those bodies blocking out his view.
Many analysts will put the onus on the quarterback to create a throwing lane. There are often times when they are put in those positions, but every quarterback in the league has passes tipped and they are mostly random occurrences rather than a result of any specific action from the quarterback.
Very often passes will fly just pass a defender’s outstretched hand so unless you believe quarterbacks are so accurate to throw with that kind of precision, then you have to accept that passes tipped at the line of scrimmage are mostly random except when they’re at either extreme. Even then those tipped passes can be a result of tightened pockets or play designs rather than the quarterback’s specific ability.
Adding six interceptions to your final total that aren’t your fault may not seem like a lot but it is when you consider how often teams turn the ball over. The 35 quarterbacks in the PSR QB Catalogue combined for 84 Non-QB Interceptions last year, therefore they averaged 2.4. Few quarterbacks had no Non-QB Interceptions but 20 had two or fewer.
This means that the perception of players such as Ryan Tannehill, Sam Bradford and Eli Manning are being unfairly impacted by their teammates. Each of Tannehill, Bradford and Manning ranked in the top 10 of Interceptable Pass Rate.
You can break down the charting data to greater levels, the PSR QB Catalogue also looks at how many of each quarterback’s interceptable passes were actually caught. Gauging a quarterback’s ability to take care of the ball can be understood by viewing his Interceptable Pass numbers and his Non-QB Interceptions.
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