Redskins

Redskins

Box scores provide hard data like yards and catches and turnovers. Film study and analytics can provide more context surrounding the hard data. 

Case in point: Interceptions.

Should a quarterback heave a ball more than 60 yards down the field into the end zone as the final seconds tick off the clock, that's not exactly a well-drawn up plan. It's a prayer, a desperation attempt at a tying or winning score. 

That play became known as the Hail Mary for a reason. 

Yet, if that pass ends in a defender's arms, the play still registers as an interception. And in reality, that makes no sense. 

As the baseball crowd pushed well past the meaning of wins and losses for pitchers, the advanced stat football world is pushing past pure interceptions. 

Welcome to the world of Adjusted Interceptions, as determined by Football Outsiders. The site has been tracking the stat for years, explained as:

When is an interception not an interception? Typically, when a defender drops a pass that he should have caught, or when a wide receiver makes a big play to turn what should have been a turnover into an incompletion instead. On the other hand, sometimes quarterbacks are charged with interceptions that aren't really their fault -- Hail Mary passes, for example, or those that bounce off a receiver's hands and into a defender's.  

Got it? Got it. Now examine the two names that most Redskins fans care about on the list, Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins.

 

Alex Smith - In 2017, Alex Smith threw for more than 4,000 yards along with 26 touchdowns compared to just five interceptions. Smith threw more than 500 passes, completing more than 67 percent, and still only 5 INTs. No quarterback that started at least 15 games finished the 2017 season with fewer picks than Smith.

But when Smith's interception total gets run through the Football Outsiders formula, the numbers come back higher. The film reveals that defenders dropped five possible interceptions, bringing his adjusted INT total to 10. His INT rate goes from 0.9 percent to 1.8 percent in the adjusted formula, still good for one of the lowest percentages in the NFL among passers with at least 200 passes. 

Kirk Cousins - The former Redskins QB threw for 4,093 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2017. He completed more than 64 percent of his passes on 540 passes, which gave him an interception rate of 2.4 percent. Cousins' INT total finished with an ugly spike, as he threw three interceptions in the final game of the season in New York. With 13 picks, Cousins threw the 9th most in the NFL.

Football Outsiders' determined that Cousins' adjusted interception total jumped spiked, too. In their formula, Cousins saw nine defenders drop sure INTs, but the film also revealed two Redskins offensive players tipped passes that then landed in defenders' arms. The results showed 20 adjusted interceptions, tied with Trevor Siemian for second-worst total in the league, ranking only behind Cleveland's Deshone Kizer with 23. 

Takeaway - The data is what the data is. Determining a defender's drop can be highly subjective, but still, both Smith and Cousins' numbers were run through the same process. Looking back over the past three seasons, the results hold: Cousins throws more interceptions, and he throws more adjusted interceptions. He also throws more passes, and that can't be glossed over.

For Redskins fans trying to determine exactly what it means, don't dig too hard. Smith turns the ball over much less Cousins. In fact, Smith hasn't had a double-digit interception total since 2010. Cousins threw double-digit interceptions all three years as Redskins starting QB. Cousins also throws way more passes and for much more yardage. 

The numbers aren't surprising, and the numbers don't definitively mandate that Smith is a better passer than Cousins. Smith, however, is less turnover prone than Cousins, but astute Redskins fans already know that.

Keep in mind though, early in his career, Smith had a higher interception percentage on his throws. While the two QBs are only four years apart in age, they are quite far away in NFL experience. Cousins has started 57 games in his career, while Smith has started nearly triple that. 

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