The Blame Game – A Tale of an Interception

While going through the Washington vs. Miami game from Sunday, I ran into a play that serves as a good learning lesson. It helps to illuminate that for the most part, plays – good or bad – are rarely ever one player’s fault. It’s a combination of a lot of different elements that play into it.

In the 2nd quarter, Washington QB Kirk Cousins escaped a bit of pressure and rolled to his right. Targeting TE Jordan Reed, Cousins released the ball only to have Miami CB Brent Grimes undercut the pass and pick it off. At first glance, it looks like Cousins made a poor decision and was wholly at fault for the throw. Taking a closer look, that may not necessarily be the case.

Presnap, Miami is showing a quarters look with Grimes playing closer to the line of scrimmage than any of the other DBs.

Cousins INT Presnap

Washington is in 11 personnel with Reed and a running back on each side of him. Pierre Garcon is singled out to Cousins’ left, while Andre Roberts is in the slot right and Ryan Grant is out to Cousins’ wide right. Both outside receivers are running routes that break back to the QB, with Roberts running an in from the slot, and Reed leaking out into the flat from his position next to Cousins.

The Miami defense is showing quarters and stay true to that look after the snap. This means that the DBs are playing a 4-deep coverage and making sure to stay over top of any receiver that comes into their zone. The nickel cornerback is aligned over the slot and squatting on the short route knowing he has help over top.

Cousins INT Eyes

Cousins’ first read is to his left and he predetermines that Garcon isn’t going to be open when he breaks off his hook route (which turns out to be incorrect). He then moves his eyes to Roberts in the slot. Roberts’ in breaking route is bracketed by the underneath defenders yet Cousins stays locked on.

Grimes, from his off-position over his receiver, has his eyes in the backfield on Cousins. Reed has leaked out into the flat and is wide open. Had Cousins seen this presnap, he could deliver this ball and Reed would likely pick up a healthy gain. As it is, Cousins has his eyes affixed to the middle of the field and won’t pull them off until he has to break containment and scramble.

Cousins INT Grimes Eyes

This is the point where Cousins breaks contain and begins to sprint out to his right. This is also the point where Cousins sees Reed open out in the flat. The problem is that Grimes still has his eyes on Cousins and has good position to break down on any pass.

We’ve already shown that Cousins is late to recognize his open receiver and is partially to blame already for the oncoming interception. This is where Jordan Reed and Brent Grimes both put their impact, for better or worse, on this play.

Cousins INT Release

This is where each player is when Cousins releases the ball. Because Grimes has his head up and eyes in the backfield, he sees the throw coming instantly and is already breaking on the route. Not many cornerbacks can read and react like Grimes and this is a terrific play on his part.

Reed actually helps Grimes out here while hurting his QB. At the release, Reed is around the 20 yard line. As you’ll see in the next screenshot, Reed drifts upfield and is beyond the 25 yard line by the time the ball reaches him. Those 5 yards allow Grimes to further undercut the route. If Reed were to stop or to come back to the football, he may have been able to break up the interception or even make the catch. It doesn’t help that there isn’t much juice on the throw and Grimes can really cover some ground when breaking down on a throw.

Cousins INT Catch

Here is the point where the ball meets Grimes. Reed has drifted out beyond the 25 which eliminates him from being able to get in and make a play on the ball. Grimes’ momentum ends up taking him out of bounds or else this would have been a pick-six and changed the entire complexion of the game early on.

It’s easy to say that Cousins made a late decision and a poor throw, but if Reed had turned back to the ball instead of drifting upfield, this INT probably never happens. A lot of credit also goes to Grimes who broke off of his initial coverage to drive underneath a mark who wasn’t even his to cover. His superb vision and closing speed allows him to get to a ball that most CBs would maybe only be able to swat away.

The blame (or credit) is shared here among the 3 players. How heavily it rests on each player is debatable, but it can’t be attributed to just one player. Most interceptions in the NFL have this element of complexity to them but it’s easier, more exciting, and frankly there isn’t enough time in the broadcast for announcers and analysts to pick apart the intricacies of the play as it happens.

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