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Friday, December 20, 2013
Interception returns usually more than luck

By Adam Teicher

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It’s the year of the pick-six in the NFL, with 44 interceptions being returned for touchdowns so far around the league. In that light, maybe it’s not so remarkable that the Kansas City Chiefs have five such scores this season.

Chiefs
In their Week 14 game at Washington, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson intercepts the Redskins in the first quarter.
It’s difficult to deny the impact those plays are having for the Chiefs. Safety Eric Berry is the latest Chiefs player to score off an interception, bringing one back 47 yards in the first quarter last week of what would become a 56-31 win against the Oakland Raiders.

The Chiefs are returning one in every four of their interceptions for a touchdown and it’s getting to the point where they’re upset when one of their interceptions doesn’t go back the other way for a score. This week, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and at least a couple of players bemoaned the fact that Berry’s second interception against the Raiders should have gone for six points, but didn’t.

Some of the interception touchdown returns are luck -- or at least the result of a nice individual play. In Jacksonville in the season-opener, Tamba Hali was in the passing lane when quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw the ball right to him.

He made the catch, had nobody in front of him after he did and made it the 10 yards to the end zone. Likewise, Berry had an open field in front of him for his touchdown last week.

Plays like that are going to happen, but for every one of those, there’s the 100-yard interception for Sean Smith against the Bills in Buffalo last month.

For those situations, the Chiefs, and all teams, work on their returns in practice. The returns are even critiqued by coaches in meetings later, just like any other play.

“You have to kind of establish the mindset that you’re not satisfied with just getting the ball, but you want to score, you want to think score,’’ Sutton said. “One of the things you have to do is get people running toward the ball when it is thrown because ultimately those are going to be your blockers. It’s really like setting up a punt return. We’re going to try to get the ball to the nearest sideline. All of the other defenders are going to build a wall. They’re going to look inside for anybody that’s pursuing the ball.

“The two most dangerous guys to get the defender is the intended receiver because he’s behind him. Then of course the last guy is the quarterback, so you want to make sure you take care of those two players as you go forward and then just keep pursuing the ball. When we intercept in practice we try to return it for a touchdown. We don’t want to just catch it and stop. You have to get up that sideline. The guys have to be hustling to build the wall and it’s like it turns into an offensive play.”