Close this search box.
What is an Interception in Football

What Is an Interception in Football?

In American and Canadian football, an interception occurs when a player on the defense catches a ball that was meant for a player on the offense.

This skillful act not only shifts the momentum of the game but can also turn the tide in favor of the defending team. 

Here we’ll talk about what makes an interception such an important element of football, how it’s executed, and tips for both achieving and preventing interceptions.

What is an Interception in Football?

An interception in football is a powerful tool in the game’s strategy. It happens when a defensive player catches a ball that was intended for an opposing team member. 

Such an event immediately transfers possession of the ball to the defending team. What makes an interception spectacular is its ability to change the pace and potentially the outcome of the game. 

Since football is a game of possession, intercepting the ball not only prevents the opposing team from advancing but also gives your team a fresh opportunity to score.

Ways to Intercept a Pass

Interceptions require a blend of skill, timing, and strategy. Here are some tactics to master this game-changing move:

  • Get in the way of a pass or dribble: It is about predicting the opponent’s move and positioning yourself to disrupt it. Keen observation and quick reflexes are required.
  • Block a shot or a cross: This involves putting yourself between the ball and its intended destination. It’s essential to have good hand-eye coordination and timing to successfully block and potentially catch the ball in the process.
  • Take advantage of a poor touch: Sometimes, the offense may mishandle a pass or fumble during a play. When it happens, it’s crucial to be alert and ready to pounce on the loose ball. 
  • Get closer to the ball: Decreasing the distance to the ball improves your chances of intercepting it. This means reading the play and moving quickly into the passing lanes.
  • Try to grab the ball before the receiver can catch it.: Anticipating where the ball is going and beating the receiver to it is a hallmark of great defensive play.
  • Use your body: Shield the intended receiver from the ball by positioning your body between them and the ball, which requires physical strength and smart positioning.
  • Keep your body low and use your feet, legs, and body to stop the ball or send it to a teammate: A lower center of gravity helps you react and move faster. Using your full body increases the area you cover, making you a bigger obstacle to bypass.

How Does an Interception Work in Football?

Interceptions in football are not just about catching a ball. They are about understanding the game, reading the quarterback, and predicting the play. 

An interception typically involves a defensive player, such as a cornerback or safety, who reads the trajectory and speed of a pass, anticipates the receiver’s route, and positions themselves to catch the ball before it reaches the intended target. 

You not only need to have a good physical skill but also an in-depth knowledge of the opposing team’s offense, tendencies, and preferred plays.

The moments leading up to an interception involve a series of calculated decisions and movements. 

The defender must keep an eye on both the quarterback and the receiver, making quick adjustments based on their actions. It’s a high-risk, high-reward scenario. 

If the defensive player misreads the play or mistimes their jump, they may miss the interception opportunity, possibly leading to a significant gain for the offense. 

However, if successful, the interception can halt the opposing team’s momentum and shift the energy and control of the game to the intercepting team.

What is the Purpose of the Interception?

At its core, the purpose of an interception is twofold: to prevent the opposing team from advancing and to gain possession of the ball. 

On a deeper level, interceptions serve as a strategic tool for disrupting the rhythm and confidence of the opposing offense. 

Each interception not only halts a potential scoring drive but also instills doubt in the quarterback and receivers about their ability to communicate and execute plays effectively. 

This psychological impact can alter the offensive team’s strategy, making them more cautious and less aggressive, which plays to the defending team’s advantage.

Moreover, interceptions can lead to immediate scoring opportunities for the defending team. Known as a “pick-six,” an interception returned for a touchdown directly adds points to the scoreboard without the need to transition to offensive play. 

As you can imagine, the dual threat of psychological impact and scoring potential makes interceptions a highly valuable aspect of defensive strategy.

Is an Interception in Football Good or Bad?

For the team that executes the interception, it’s unequivocally good. It’s an opportunity to turn the tide, showcase defensive skill, and potentially score. However, for the team that throws the interception, it’s a setback. 

It represents a failure in execution and a missed opportunity to score, handing the advantage over to the opposition.

Interceptions can demoralize an offense and place additional pressure on the quarterback to avoid further mistakes, which can lead to a more conservative game plan.

Is an Interception a Tackle?

While an interception is not classified as a tackle, it is a defensive play that shares the objective of stopping the advancement of the offense. A tackle involves a defensive player making physical contact with the ball carrier, forcing them to the ground to end a play. 

Conversely, an interception focuses on catching passes intended for the opposing team’s receiver, thereby ending the play by switching the possession of the ball.

Although the outcome of halting the offense’s progress is similar, the means of achieving this result differ between a tackle and an interception.

What are the Rules for Interception?

Interception rules in football are designed to ensure fair play while allowing defensive players to turn the tide in their favor. Here are some key rules:

Both Feet Inbounds

For an interception to be valid, the player who catches the pass must have both feet touch the ground inbounds with control of the ball before going out of bounds.

Control of the Ball

The player must have full control of the ball throughout the process of catching it and making any subsequent moves. Bobbling the ball while going out of bounds or failing to maintain control through contact with the ground may invalidate the interception.

No Pass Interference

Defensive players are not allowed to unfairly impede the receiver’s route or push off to gain an advantage in catching the ball. Interference could cancel out an interception, inflicting a penalty on the defending team and giving the offense another chance with better positioning.

Simultaneous Possession

In cases where a defensive player and an offensive player catch the ball simultaneously, the rule awards possession to the offense. However, if the defensive player manages to wrestle the ball away, it can then be considered an interception.

Return Possibility

Once the ball has been intercepted, the defensive player has the option to return the ball by running towards the opposing end zone in an attempt to score. The play ends when the player with the ball is tackled, steps out of bounds, or scores.

It’s important for players and coaches to understand these rules to maximize their defensive strategies and minimize penalties during attempts to intercept passes.

How to Avoid Interceptions?

Preventing interceptions is as important as executing them. Here are several tips for offensive teams to minimize the risks:

Clear Communication

Ensure the quarterback and receivers are on the same page regarding the routes and timing of the plays. Miscommunications are often the cause of interceptions.

Secure Grip

Quarterbacks should ensure they have a secure grip on the ball before throwing. A slip or fumble can lead to an easy interception for the opposing team.

Read the Defense

Quarterbacks should learn to read the defensive setup and recognize potential interception threats. Identifying whether the defense is in a man-to-man or zone coverage can help in making safer passing decisions.

Use Misdirection

Offenses can use play-action passes, pump fakes, and misdirection plays to confuse the defense and create more open receivers, reducing the risk of interceptions.

Practice Decision Making

Quarterbacks should practice quick decision-making skills to know when to throw the ball, when to hold onto it, or when to throw it away to avoid a sack or interception. Practicing under pressure can help simulate game situations.

Strengthen Passing Skills

Improving accuracy and the speed of throws can make it more difficult for defenders to intercept passes. Quarterbacks should work on their arm strength and precision in practice.

Analyze Opponents

Studying film on upcoming opponents to understand their defensive strategies, particularly how they execute interceptions, can prepare the offense for what they’re likely to face.

Secure Routes

Receivers should make sure they’re running precise routes and using their bodies to

shield defenders away from potential interception points. Clear, decisive routes and strong hands to catch the ball firmly can reduce the chances of a defender stepping in for an interception.

Build Chemistry

The quarterback-receiver chemistry is crucial. The more in sync they are concerning timing and expectation, the lower the risk of interceptions. Regular practice and communication can help build this rapport.

Adapt and Adjust

Be ready to adapt the offensive strategy based on the game’s flow and the defense’s adjustments. A flexible offense that can change its plan on the fly is less predictable and therefore less susceptible to interceptions.


Interceptions can have a dramatic impact on football games, shifting momentum and even deciding outcomes. 

Whether it’s through improving defense to increase the chances of intercepting or refining offense to avoid turnovers, understanding the complexities of interceptions is important for coaches, players, and enthusiasts striving to deepen their grasp of football tactics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More To Explore