After part one covering roughly the first half of the season yesterday, it's time to cover how the Titans intercepted opposing passers in the second half of the season. I'll then say some things about what I just wrote may or may not mean when it comes to 2013's prospects for getting interceptions.
Standard disclaimers apply in spades to this analysis. I do not know the offensive or defensive call on any particular play. For these breakdowns, I'm concentrating on the things I saw that I perceived as important to why the interception happened. There may be other interesting things happening on the play that I don't write about, as well as things relating to the interception I don't see and therefore am not including in my analysis. I don't know what a player was thinking on any given play, and I haven't tried asking them either. These are my takes, as informed as I can make them, but not definitive explanations of What Actually Happened.
INTERCEPTION #10: Week 12, at Jacksonville
1-5-JAX 25 (1Q 15:00) (Shotgun) C.Henne pass short left intended for C.Shorts INTERCEPTED by A.Verner (S.Marks) at JAX 28. A.Verner to JAX 28 for no gain (B.Meester).
Sen'Derrick Marks gets his hand up at the line, and Alterraun Verner is the beneficiary of the fortunate deflection.
When I wrote about Jake Locker, I noted he had a relatively high percentage of passes tipped at the line. Per Football Outsiders charting data, the Titans tipped 9 passes at the line, including 4 each by Marks and Morgan. That wasn't very many, putting them in a tie for 20th with the Panthers, Jets, and 49ers. In percentage terms, they tied the 49ers for 22nd place. Based on the presence of the 49ers, and an even lower tip rate for the Broncos, my tentative belief is passes tipped at the line generally do not say much about the quality of a defense. J.J. Watt, who tipped 18 passes himself, probably disagrees with that general statement.
INTERCEPTION #11: Week 14, at Indianapolis
3-3-IND 39 (2Q 4:51) (Shotgun) A.Luck pass short middle intended for R.Wayne INTERCEPTED by W.Witherspoon [D.Morgan] at IND 40. W.Witherspoon for 40 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Colts go empty on third-and-short, with trips to the right and a stack to the left. Nothing's open quickly, so Luck tries to take off. Derrick Morgan comes off RT Winston Justice and grabs Luck from behind. As he's going down, Luck tries to make a play, only to throw the ball right to Will Witherspoon, who was playing a robber-type role that took away Luck's first read and left him in position to guard against the scramble. Dumb play by the rookie, and Spoon races 40 yards to the end zone. CBS replays indicate Luck was probably down, but the touchdown stood. A bit of a gift, but some credit to Jerry Gray for a call that had Witherspoon in position to make a couple good plays and to Spoon for doing the right thing twice, even if they were straightforward.
INTERCEPTION #12: Week 14, at Indianapolis
2-10-TEN 47 (2Q :05) (Shotgun) A.Luck pass deep middle intended for T.Hilton INTERCEPTED by A.Afalava at TEN 0. Touchback.
Hail Mary interception. I don't get Jerry Gray as a coordinator, but I love what he does here. One of my pet peeves about Hail Mary plays is how teams hardly ever rush them and give the receivers plenty of time to get downfield. Not Gray, not here. The Titans are in their Ruby package (3-2-6) and rush 7-the DL, Ayers and Witherspoon, Mouton, and Griffin. When Luck launches his pass because first Jarius Wynn and then Witherspoon are about to hit him, Hilton isn't even to the 35. Afalava is playing deep centerfield and is the only one with a good chance to catch the ball.
INTERCEPTION #13: Week 15, vs. New York Jets
1-10-NYJ 40 (2Q 4:03) M.Sanchez pass short right intended for J.Kerley INTERCEPTED by J.McCourty at TEN 47. J.McCourty ran ob at TEN 48 for 1 yard.
Classic bootleg off the playfake, with the fullback (technically, TE Reuland lined up at FB in the offset I) running the short flat, the TE (Cumberland) running the drag, and wideout Kerley running the deep comeback. Teams ran a lot of comebacks in front of McCourty last year, but he plays this one very well. He doesn't get caught moving deep and beats Kerley to the inside when he tries to come back to the ball. That sort of inside positioning lets him pick this off. Very nice defensive play by JMac, and give some credit to Babineaux for staying at home and taking away the flat option and Brown for recovering and taking away Cumberland.
INTERCEPTION #14: Week 15, vs. New York Jets
2-20-NYJ 38 (3Q 13:42) M.Sanchez pass deep middle intended for J.Cumberland INTERCEPTED by J.McCourty at TEN 26. J.McCourty to NYJ 46 for 28 yards (B.Powell).
Interesting coverage here, as McCourty seems to be playing the role of deep safety in something Cover-2-like. Sanchez is trying to find Cumberland in the deep middle of the field. He's not particularly open, and the pass is overthrown by 5 yards for the easy pick.
INTERCEPTION #15: Week 15, vs. New York Jets
1-10-NYJ 34 (4Q 7:26) M.Sanchez pass deep right intended for B.Edwards INTERCEPTED by M.Griffin at TEN 24. M.Griffin to NYJ 36 for 40 yards (M.Sanchez; M.Slauson).
I've said plenty of not-kind things about him, but this is a very nice play by Michael Griffin playing deep centerfield. Sanchez first looks to the left, gives the ball a pat. Griffin isn't yanked and is ready when Sanchez instead goes for Edwards against McCourty to the right. Griffin easily ranges over and makes the interception on a slight overthrow. McCourty had pretty good coverage, but really this is excellent defensive work from #33.
INTERCEPTION #16: Week 15, vs. New York Jets
1-10-TEN 23 (4Q 2:00) M.Sanchez pass deep right intended for J.Cumberland INTERCEPTED by M.Griffin at TEN 2. M.Griffin to TEN 2 for no gain (K.Reuland).
Another excellent defensive play by #33 in his deep safety role. This time Sanchez pump fakes the seam route to the left side, then turns to throw the seamer to the other side. Griffin doesn't bite on the pump fake at all and has a pretty easy interception of what may have otherwise been a game-winning touchdown. I'm trying not to be too effusive here, but plays like the last two are exactly the kind of thing you want and need your highly-paid veteran safety to do and that we haven't seen from Griffin over the past four seasons.
INTERCEPTION #17: Week 17, vs. Jacksonville
2-5-TEN 25 (2Q 2:00) (Shotgun) C.Henne pass short left intended for M.Lewis INTERCEPTED by Z.Brown at TEN 21. Z.Brown for 79 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Brown, playing in the middle of the field, undercuts the short curl and dashes to the end zone. As he explained it after the game, "[Henne] had a tendency to stare down where he wanted to throw it, so I just took a little quick peek to see who was over there and I just ran to the closest guy, normally number 89 was his guy." Good sign of how the rookie learned and got better over the course of the year instead of freelancing or being too concerned the back leaking out in front of him.
INTERCEPTION #18: Week 17, vs. Jacksonville
2-7-JAX 25 (3Q 12:11) C.Henne pass short left intended for T.Clemons INTERCEPTED by Z.Brown (T.Campbell) at JAX 30. Z.Brown for 30 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Henne tries to throw the quick slant, but Tommie Campbell gets his hand in there and deflects the pass fortuitously right to Brown. Fun fact: Over half of both Campbell and intended receiver Toney Clemons' career non-special teams regular season snaps to date came in this game.
INTERCEPTION #19: Week 17, vs. Jacksonville
3-5-JAX 25 (3Q 10:39) (Shotgun) C.Henne pass deep left intended for J.Blackmon INTERCEPTED by M.Griffin at JAX 47. M.Griffin to JAX 7 for 40 yards (S.Vallos).
Great rush on the play by Mike Martin, who does a J.J. Watt impression with a chest strike on C Meester followed by the arm-over. Under duress, Henne's pass sails 5 yards past Blackmon to Griffin for an easy interception.
Here's a brief summary of the basic reason for each of the interceptions:
a. 2 interceptions came off passes batted at the line;
b. 2 interceptions came off passes tipped downfield;
b. 9 interceptions came off coverage wins for the defense. This category combines defensive players beating the receiver to the ball and good scheming that induced a mistake;
c. 4 interceptions I rate as gifts from the offense and not the result of a good defensive play;
d. 1 interception was on a throw altered by pressure;
e. 1 interception came on a Hail Mary; and
f. 1 unknown I rate as either a coverage win or pressure.
I should first emphasize that 19 interceptions on 564 passing attempts is not nearly enough of a sample size to say anything remotely definitive. The above list should be treated as a brief and rough summary of the previous couple thousand words, not as meaningful rate stats in and of themselves.
The encouraging thing in the table is the 11 interceptions that came as a result of good defensive play. Interceptions are very inconsistent from year to year, but the Titans in 2011 only had 11 interceptions total, some of which were the normal tips, bats, and gifts. Then again, this might have just been "luck"/a small sample size fluke. The discouraging thing is what's not in either of these posts, like the two games against Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers where the NFL didn't credit the Titans for a single pass defensed and the two against Matt Schaub that similarly weren't represented.
That's the problem with some of these series-I do the work, and I want to try to draw conclusions off them, but sometimes it's hard just to know what to make of them. All things considered, having more interceptions is better. Interceptions are generally really valuable things. By Football Outsiders ratings, higher interception rates correlated with being better on defense, though of course some of that effect is just the value of the interceptions. Maybe Gregg Williams-coordinated defenses finishing last in interception rate three times in six years is just the kind of statistical fluke you'd expect from a sufficiently large sample size of defensive coordinators.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. In the end, the conclusion I'm most comfortable with is is similar to the one I came to last year: I expect the Titans to have a defensive interception rate closer to league-average in 2013, and I'm not sure I should care.