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In Football, what is an Interception?

By D Frank
Updated May 23, 2024
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Football is an American game played on a field 100 yards (91.44 meters) in length and 53.3 yards (48.74 meters) in width. In the game of football, the offense's goal is to score a touchdown by advancing the ball upfield primarily by means of running or passing the ball. To advance the ball by way of a pass, the quarterback must throw the football to a receiver. Wide receivers are the primary target for any quarterback. However, running backs and tight ends can also receive passes. When any eligible receiver catches the ball, a completed pass has occurred. If the receiver does not catch the ball, the referee will rule the pass incomplete. In the event a member of the defensive team catches the ball intended for the offensive receiver, an interception has occurred.

Interceptions can change the course of a football game. Defenses that can make interceptions and cause other turnovers (fumbles) give their offensive units a great advantage, as the offense will have additional opportunities to score. After the defensive player has "picked off" the ball, he can run towards his opponent's endzone in an attempt to score. If the player does make it to the endzone after an interception, his team will be awarded 6 points, the same as any other touchdown.

Paul Krause, a retired safety for the Minnesota Vikings, is the all-time National Football League (NFL) interceptions leader. During his 16-year career, Krause made 81 interceptions. As a team, the 1961 San Diego Chargers set the single season team interception record by snatching 49 errant passes.

At any level of football, defensive lineman rarely make interceptions as quarterback generally throw the ball well beyond them. Safeties and cornerbacks have the greatest opportunity to make interceptions as they are assigned to guard the wide receivers, the primary quarterback targets. Linebackers assigned to watch the running backs and tight ends also have excellent opportunities to intercept passes.

Quarterbacks who throw many interceptions do not last long at any level of play, be it at the Pop Warner, high school, college, or professional level. Good quarterbacks will not focus on their primary receiver before making a pass. Rather, he will look elsewhere (look off his receiver) and then zero in on his receiver at the last moment. A good quarterback rarely tries to force the ball into a receiver who is tightly covered. In such a case, it's better to throw the ball away, meaning the quarterback will purposefully throw an incompletion. As any football coach will say, a purposeful incompletion is better than a forced pass that may result in an interception, as the quarterback and his team will still have the ball and be ready for the next offensive play.

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Discussion Comments
By anon4304 — On Oct 12, 2007

what is a covered up tight end?

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