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Monday, October 18, 2010
Offense by interference a bad idea


Can you successfully commit offense by interference?

Football Outsiders managing editor Bill Barnwell explored that notion in a column for ESPN Insider.

He's an insider. He's an outsider. He has all the angles covered.

The New York Jets pulled out a victory against the Denver Broncos with a late, 46-yard pass interference call that set up the winning touchdown.

Mark Sanchez heaved a desperation fourth-down pass to Santonio Holmes. Broncos safety Renaldo Hill got his fingers entangled in Holmes' facemask. The Jets were awarded a first down at the Broncos' 2-yard line. LaDainian Tomlinson ran it in.

Barnwell examined whether seeking interference can be a legitimate, ongoing strategy more than just an occasional occurrence.

Barnwell notes:
In 2009, teams threw the ball 25 yards or more on 1,261 plays. They completed 350 of those passes, for a completion percentage of 27.8 percent. On those completions, they picked up an average of 42 yards and scored a touchdown 117 times. The pass fell incomplete 744 times, or 59.0 percent of the time. Teams threw interceptions on the passes 9.7 percent of the time.

Football Outsiders research shows of those 1,261 pass plays, defensive pass interference was called 45 times, or 3.6 percent. Only one of those interference penalties came in the final two minutes of a game and led to a victory.

Barnwell's conclusion is that offense by interference is a poor game plan. For every 30 throws, a team could expect one defensive interference call but three interceptions -- based on the data. But if an offense actually tried this strategy, defenses likely would adjust and collect even more interceptions than the average.

On a related note, NFL stats don't give anybody credit for the 46 yards the Jets gained Sunday. In fact, the play never happened. It's not considered an offensive snap.

Barnwell's stance is that Holmes should get those yards because he was enough of a threat to draw the penalty. I agree, maybe not added to his receiving total, but in a separate column to demonstrate how much of a threat the receiver truly is.