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Film Room: Interceptions

Burrow threw two costly picks on Christmas Eve.

Cincinnati Bengals v New England Patriots Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow had an impressive week, completing 40 of 52 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns, while earning AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. He also threw two interceptions, including one red zone pick that cost the team points, and a pick-six that put the Patriots on the board for the first time.

Unlike many of Burrow’s interceptions in 2022, these were not tipped balls. The problem on both plays was something that is a bit unexpected. Burrow’s chemistry with his receivers has been impeccable, but on these two plays, he and his intended receiver were not on the same page.

Before you hit play on this clip, you will notice two high safeties. Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd does too, and that’s he sits down his route. He thinks he has found a soft spot in the zone, but it is not Cover 2.

What Burrow sees that Boyd does not, is the defenders stacked over the tight end on the other side of the formation. They are stacked because they are each in man coverage, one on the tight end and the other on the running back who is offset to that side of the formation.

The coverage is different on Boyd’s side. They are playing a match-zone in which the defensive backs read the slot receiver. They line up in Cover 2, but Patriots safety Devin McCourty reads Boyd’s route. If Boyd goes vertical, McCourty will stay on top. If Boyd releases outside, the cornerback will jump the route and McCourty will get over top of the outside receiver. Since Boyd releases inside, McCourty jumps the route and gets the pick.

If Boyd kept running, he would have taken a big hit from McCourty and may or may not have come down with the catch, but it would not have been picked off.

This interception occurred because Boyd misdiagnosed the coverage.

When it comes to rapport, we expect more from Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. Unfortunately, they were not in sync on this play.

Let’s start by looking at the outside receiver on the bottom of the screen. He pushes his route vertically, then cuts to the outside just past the first down marker. The cornerback has turned and is running vertically, so the route is wide open. This is what Burrow was hoping would happen on the top of the screen, but it is not the look they got.

Chase also pushed vertically, but Patriots cornerback Marcus Jones kept his feet square and did not turn up field. Chase adjusted his route and continued vertically. Likely due to the pressure, Burrow did not see what Chase saw, so he did not adjust. He threw the ball right to Jones for an interception that might as well have been gift-wrapped.

Despite having an incredible day, the Bengals made a couple of very costly mistakes in the passing game that had a direct impact on the score board.