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Wednesday, December 7, 2011
RodgersWatch: Anatomy of an interception

By Kevin Seifert

I was a baseball beat writer many ages ago and, recently, I was reminded of a story that applies to a rare occurrence we saw last weekend in the NFC North.

In a late 1990s game, then-Baltimore Orioles left fielder B.J. Surhoff came to bat with the bases loaded. He was facing a young, hard-throwing relief pitcher whose name I have long since forgotten. The pitcher couldn't throw strikes and quickly fell behind. Facing a full count, the pitcher was one ball away from walking in a run.

Everyone in the ballpark figured the next pitch would be a fastball, a pitcher's best chance for throwing a strike or getting contact or somehow avoiding a walk. Surhoff was sitting dead red, as the seamheads like to call it, and almost fell down while swinging early on an improbable change-up.

Furious, Surhoff stormed into the Orioles dugout. As then-manager Ray Miller told us later, Surhoff yelled to the pitcher: "Learn how to play the game!"

Chase Blackburn
Chase Blackburn intercepted a pass intended for Greg Jennings. The turnover led to a Giants TD.
Yes, sometimes ignorance beats veteran smarts. That's pretty much what happened on the interception Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw in the second quarter of last Sunday's game against the New York Giants.

Trust me. I'm not trying to be a Rodgers apologist in this instance. He does in fact make mistakes, but in this case, the interception occurred mostly because Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn -- who had just re-signed with the team earlier in the week -- was out of position relative to the coverage.

Some of you might have seen ESPN analyst Eric Mangini break down the play earlier this week on "NFL Live." Rodgers confirmed Mangini's analysis during his ESPN 540 radio show this week.

Upon arriving at the line of scrimmage, Rodgers identified the Giants in a classic Tampa 2 defense with Blackburn as the middle linebacker. That meant Blackburn would have responsibility for the deep middle of the field. Given the Packers' play call, Blackburn would have responsibility for Packers receiver Randall Cobb, who was running a post route down the middle of the field.

Rodgers couldn't see Blackburn as he backpedaled from center, but said he "figured" Blackburn would chase Cobb downfield. Receiver Greg Jennings was the next read, and based on how the Packers' play call matched up to the Giants' defense, Jennings would be open.

But Blackburn was either thinking along with Rodgers, and risking a deep completion to Cobb if he was wrong, or just wasn't quick enough to get into position. Instead of following Cobb downfield, Blackburn stopped and undercut Jennings. That's why he was in position to make what appeared to be an easy interception.

Rodgers ultimately took the blame for making the throw, his fifth interception in 408 attempts this season. He called it a "deadly quarterback sin" to make a "semi-blind throw."

As amateur observers, we all wonder sometimes how a veteran quarterback can throw the ball directly into an opponent's hands. In this instance, at least, we know why -- with big hat tips to Mangini and Rodgers.