, Port Arthur, Texas

November 4, 2012

CHALK TALK: Anatomy of an interception

David Coleman
The Port Arthur News

NEDERLAND — Interceptions are one of the things in football that seem to come out of nowhere. The quarterback throws the ball out there and sometimes, the defender just magically defies expectations and comes down with a catch. Fans used to watching the ball are almost always surprised when the ball gets picked off, unless it was a high, floating pass on a deep ball and you can tell the defender is the only one close to it.

That brings up a good question. How exactly does an interception happen? Why does a team like Nederland suddenly have 16 of them on the season, with a chance to break into the 20’s before the 2012 campaign is over? Are they using Stick-um or what?

I can say with near-certainty that there is no Chargers-like shenanigans going on in Bulldogville, no Stick-um on the sidelines. Before we get into the causes for all those picks, let’s first examine the different kinds of interceptions.

Unlike fumbles, INTs can be either completely the quarterback’s fault, sort of his fault or not his fault at all.

There are some picks that happen because the QB fails to read the defense correctly and throws the ball directly to a defender. Think of the Cowboys-Steelers Super Bowl where Neil O’Donnell kept finding Dallas’ Larry Brown with passes.

Then, there are interceptions where the defender just makes a great play. What Nederland’s Sage Seay did in Mid-County Madness is a good example, where he made a diving play on a ball that he had no business intercepting. This group could also include the J.J. Swatt plays, where a defender deflects the pass at the line and it falls into the hands of a waiting teammate.

The last one is the flat-out unlucky interception. PN-G head coach Brandon Faircloth described a play earlier this season where a ball hit off one of his receiver’s feet, popped up in the air and hit a defender directly in the stomach.

Whatever the type, though, there are plenty of areas that go into the creation of an interception and the last of those is actually catching the ball. We’ll get to that in a minute. First up is the pressure that a front four can cause.

Nederland has excelled in this area all season. Their imposing front line has gotten a ton of sacks this season, but just as importantly, those players rush the passer and throw the QB off his timing. Even a little time knocked off his decision-making process can lead to an opportunity for the secondary.

What’s more, the threat of a pass rush becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even without Koby Couron bearing down on him, an opposing QB may get the ball out more quickly than he should or make a wrong read early in his drop just so he can avoid that rush.

Also, by getting so much pressure from the front of Couron, De Shawn Washington, Caleb Malveaux and Brock Pryor, the Bulldogs rarely have to blitz to get pressure. That means they can drop six or seven players back into coverage, which helps tremendously to put guys in the right spot for a pick.

Speaking of coverage, that’s another big factor in the increase in INTs. According to Nederland head coach Larry Neumann, the Bulldogs have gotten much more comfortable in the defense schemed up by coordinator Delbert Spell. The Bulldogs switched schemes last season, but with a majority of the starting defenders back this season, there is a comfort level with what’s expected of them.

That familiarity with the coverages and positioning not only puts the Bulldogs in terrific position for a game-changing play, it also gives them the confidence to make the play. The players not only know what they’re supposed to do, but also understand the relationship of everyone else in coverage around them.

For instance, if we go back to the Mid-County game, Jordan Wood’s interception return was made possible because he read the QB and stepped into a throwing lane. If he doesn’t know that Bryce Whaley or Colton Kimler are behind him in coverage, can Wood afford to try and make a play on the ball and miss? That knowledge through the whole secondary creates an atmosphere of calculated gambles while also defraying the risk associated with them.

Now, we get back to the catch, because all the pass rushing and all the positioning won’t end up in an interception if the player on the other end has frying pan hands. Against Ozen, Zach Taylor demonstrated just that on a play by the Nederland goal line.

Sage Seay rushed the passer, forcing an ill-advised heave up in the air. Taylor, positioned by the goal line, saw the ball and made the catch before taking off like he was on a punt return. Taylor, like Michael Shaw, Kimler and Seth Barrow all play on offense too and regularly get thrown the ball.

There’s an old football joke that defensive backs are over there because they can’t catch. Otherwise, they’d be on offense. At Nederland this year, though, most of the entire defense also practices on offense. That experience catching the ball, running pass routes and going through drills means that all those players can catch pretty well.

Put players like that in position to gamble with a pass rush that creates mistakes and mis-reads and what do you get? Sixteen interceptions and counting.