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More Thoughts On Pick Sixes

Four years ago, I wrote that interceptions were being returned for touchdowns at a much higher rate. As it turns out, that may have just been a blip: the 2012 season set a record for both pick sixes and pick sixes per interception.

We can look at pick sixes in a few ways. On Monday, I noted that on a per-game basis, interceptions per game were down to near-historic lows. Given that pass attempts are way up, you won’t be surprised to learn that pick sixes per attempt are really, really down.

The graph below shows the number of interceptions returned per 1,000 pass attempts throughout NFL history. Last year was the lowest in history, at 1.86; thought of another way, there was just one pick six for every 538 pass attempts.

There’s a third way to measure pick six frequency: what about interceptions returned for touchdowns per interception? Let’s measure that on a per-50 interception basis, which will (as before) give us a number that’s generally between 2 and 7. As you can see, this peaked in the 2012 season — causing me to write that original article — but has dropped noticeably since then.

We can also combine the two charts.  Let’s do that, keeping the pick sixes per 1000 attempts line in blue, and the pick sixes per 50 interceptions line in red. You can see that the overall pick six rate on a per attempt basis is generally going down, while the pick six per interception rate is going up, with both metrics decreasing sharply since 2012.

What stands out to you guys?

  • Nuclear Badger

    I just want to point out that Aaron Rodgers has a grand total of 1 pick six in his career. That always blows my mind. In terms of percentages dropping, it seems like teams are attacking over the middle more now, and that probably reduces the chances of a simple pick six like a short out route getting jumped.

  • Do you have the breakdown of the areas on the field for most interceptions? I was curious after reading your last two articles and broke down Int return for TD by distance, but was too lazy to go beyond that. The pick 6 mix basically had the extreme areas being more heavy in the 2012-2014 seasons with more of a focus on mid field pick 6s now. In 2012 nearly 17% of all pick 6s were returned 70-100 yards. That number was about 12% this year. The 0 to 30 yard pick 6 made up around 35% of pick 6s and that was down to 32% this year (in 2015 it was around 40% and I wonder if that attributed to the spike after 2 years of declines). So I think it would be interesting to see if the mix of interceptions has changed to where the picks are coming in an area less likely to be returned for a TD than in the past.

  • Richie

    It looks like 2012 (high) and 2016 (low) might just be outliers. The red line seems to jag up and down in the 5-6 range for the past 20 years, with just those 2 years seeming to be outliers.

    Or, to look at it another way, in 2012 the rate was high and there is a sharp downward trend since then (with a step back in 2015). Analyzing trends can be fun, confusing and misleading!

  • McGeorge

    I wonder if the spike in picks and pick 6’s a few years ago were due to Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith having a lot of playing time 😉