Why do all great quarterbacks throw their fair share of interceptions?

Nov 14, 2013

Quarterbacks and Interceptions

Sports handicapping services rely on deep statistical analysis to come up with their picks on football games. A professional handicapper does not let personal loyalty to a particular team influence his or her picks. While football is a team sport, the quarterback is still the one player who can make the biggest difference in the outcome of any game. As such, more time and research goes into analyzing the starting quarterbacks in each game than any other player.

Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Dan Marino, and John Elway are all great quarterbacks. Each has earned at least one MVP and each holds a number of NFL passing records. One thing they also have in common is that all have thrown their fair share of interceptions over the course of their careers.

  • Payton Manning – 15+ seasons – 209 interceptions
  • Tom Brady – 13+ seasons – 125 interceptions
  • Aaron Rodgers – 8+ seasons – 49 interceptions
  • Dan Marino – 17 seasons – 252 interceptions
  • John Elway – 16 seasons – 226 interceptions

Great quarterbacks become the identity of their teams. If you asked a thousand football fans to name starting NFL quarterbacks in 1986, most remember that Dan Marino led the Miami Dolphins and John Elway led the Denver Broncos. However, few can name the quarterback for the Oakland Raiders or New York Jets.

Several different theories explain why even the greatest quarterbacks throw interceptions. They may be on a bad defensive team and have to pass more often to try to catch-up in a lopsided game, or they may be under constant pressure because of a weak offensive line. Some quarterbacks even take on too much of the offense and throw interceptions because they are cocky.

Quarterbacks cannot stop the other team from scoring. Although some quarterbacks could play safety or linebacker, no quarterback will ever play defense in an NFL game. When your team falls behind by 17 or more points, you have to throw more. The defense can adjust their coverage to a more pass based defense. This makes quarterbacks who play from behind more susceptible to throwing interceptions.

In The Longest Yard, Burt Reynolds tells his prison team that the number one rule is to protect your quarterback. If the quarterback’s offensive line does not give the quarterback enough time to throw, he is more likely to fire into double coverage or throw the ball inaccurately.

Every quarterback is extremely competitive. They all want to win and believe they can always throw the next pass for a touchdown. The best quarterbacks complete more of those tough passes, but they also have the confidence to throw into very narrow windows. Because they are engaging in high-risk passing attempts, the probability of throwing an interception increases.

Interceptions are never a good thing, but some interceptions are far worse than others. If you follow the best quarterbacks, you will find that they rarely throw interceptions in the red zone and most of their interceptions come on third down and long.