Packing the Stats: Defense Tackling Improvements
In my recent perusal of the internet for some Green Bay Packers news in the offseason, I came across an article at Football Outsiders by editor-in-chief Aaron Schatz. “Broken Tackles 2012: Defense” focuses on the best and worst defensive players when it came to broken tackles last season. Those of us who regularly follow the Packers know that tackling was a big point of interest after an abysmal 2011 season when, according to ProFootballFocus.com, they missed a whopping 109 tackles.
Naturally, I was intrigued to see how the Packers and some of their individual players ranked among the rest of the league for 2012. I braced for the worst, knowing the defense was lacking against opposing rushing attacks. (They gave up 132.6 yards per game, for 25th in the NFL.) And then, of course, were the games against Adrian Peterson.
Imagine my surprise when I found out the Packers were in the top three best teams when it came to missed tackles.
Now, let’s clear something up first. Football Outsiders clearly defined their criteria for a “broken tackle,” which should not be confused with the PFF “missed tackle” statistic. (Though for comparison’s sake, the 109 missed tackles from 2011 dropped down to just 81 in 2012 as charted by PFF.) That aside, here is how FO defines a “broken tackle”:
We define a “broken tackle” as one of two events: either the ballcarrier escapes from the grasp of the defender, or the defender is in good position for a tackle but the ballcarrier jukes him out of his shoes. If the ballcarrier sped by a slow defender who dived and missed, that didn’t count as a broken tackle.
Before we get to the team’s overall numbers, I want to highlight the two Packers players that made “best” and “worst” lists. First, take comfort in the fact that no player from Green Bay recorded 10 or more broken tackles. None of the defensive backs made the bottom ten in broken tackle rate; of course, none of them made the top ten either.
No, our two players in question were linebackers.
Inside linebacker Brad Jones made the “naughty” list as one of the twelve worst linebackers when it came to broken tackles in 2012. For his 61 solo tackles on the season, he had 7 broken tackles, for a rate of 10.3%. That put him seventh from the bottom.
There was, however, another Packers inside linebacker to make the “nice” list. You get one guess as to who it is . . . Yes, the infamous A.J. Hawk. For his 90 solo tackles, he had just two broken tackles, for a 2.2% rate. That made him the NFL’s eighth best linebacker in this statistic, and he showed some improvement from 2011, when he had six broken tackles.
If you haven’t suffered a heart attack from that news, then just keep the ambulance on hold until after you read the next part.
The Green Bay Packers were the second best team in the NFL when it came to their percentage of plays with a broken tackle in 2012. They ranked just behind the Buffalo Bills and just ahead of . . . wait for it . . . the San Francisco 49ers. Of their 1026 plays, the Packers had broken tackles on 35 of them for a rate of 3.4%.
Now, you might notice that their total number of broken tackles was a bit higher at 45. That means that on 10 plays at most, they suffered more than one broken tackle. In this case, it is higher than San Francisco’s total number of broken tackles – the only NFL team to not have more than one in a single play. However, if you calculate the Total BT as a percentage of Total Plays, then the Packers still rank third, just eking out the Denver Broncos at 4.39%.
This should be good news for the Green Bay Packers. For a team that emphasized tackling technique this past year, their efforts have seemingly paid off.
Just be careful, you do have to take this information at face value to know what it really means. The Packers were very good at taking their guy down once they made contact. Note those key words: “once they made contact.” This statistic reflects nothing in regard to the defensive players getting in position to actually get their hands on the ball carrier.
And really, that is one of the biggest issues coming out of last season, especially in regard to defending the run. According to FO’s unique statistical analysis, the Packers ranked 14th in Rush Defense DVOA at -6.4%. Not horrible, but leaving a lot to be desired.
Whether it’s the players getting off of blocks to make the tackle, or closing up gaps and forcing ball carriers into defenders, or just simply taking good angles, the Packers defense still has some improvements to make. Just because the players are making their tackles doesn’t necessarily mean that they were at a beneficial location in reference to the chains.
But it is a comforting step in the right direction. We should all be thankful to see some much-needed improvement in this aspect of the defense’s play. Again, fans did do a lot of fist shaking at poor tackling just a year ago, and we got what we asked for. Now it’s time to take the next step in 2013 and make those tackles really count.——————Follow @ChadToporski