16

May

Packing the Stats: Defense Tackling Improvements

Packing the StatsIn 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.

25

June

How to Tackle The Problem Of Tackling?

Imagine you’re a student and you have a practical exam coming up; in this test you’re asked to perform a specific skill and the instructors will not only be grading you for your ability to conceptualize what you are doing and why but to also that you can put it all together and actually get some results.  I’ve been tested this way dozens of times as a undergraduate and graduate student and I can safely say that just because you know what you are doing and why doesn’t always mean you can do it in real life.

The same is true for football players; as instructors to the game, coaches often will be assessing a player’s ability to conceptualize what they are doing and why, but also how well they perform that skill.  And just the same as any other student, just because you know what you are doing and why doesn’t always mean you can do it in real life.  There are countless examples of players who have the mental aspect of football down pat but lack the technique required to be successful in the league.

Now imagine a practical exam where you can study and figure out what you need to do and why, but weren’t actually given a chance to practice that skill before the exam, how well do you think you would do? Again from experience I can tell you you often don’t get the desired results because while your mind knows what to do your body doesn’t have the muscle memory to successfully perform that skill.

So where is this all going?  For football players, that practical exam where they’re given time to study but not to practice is tackling.

“We’re going to put our face in people. We will tackle,” Whitt said when asked if the Packers will actually practice the art of tackling each other in training camp. “We will get that solved. Guys who tackle will be out there. Guys who don’t won’t.” – cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr.

The Packers had a pretty dismal season when it came to tackling (refer to: LeGarrett Blount) and mostly this has been rightly or wrongly been laid on the feet of the defensive secondary.  I’ve mostly attributed this to the defensive backs aiming for “big plays” like interceptions and strips rather than just tackling soundly but for whatever reason; the Packers defense missed a ton of tackles.

14

February

Green Bay Packers: Poor Tackling Among CBs Hurt Defense in 2011

Receivers often gained yards after the catch against the Packers because of poor tackling.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look back on the Green Bay Packers 2011 season and identify the obvious reasons for their defensive collapse.

Cullen Jenkins was sorely missed at right defensive end, little to no production was received from outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews and Nick Collins’ season-ending neck injury handicapped the back end.

But one factor that gets overlooked is just how poor the tackling was for the Packers defense, especially in the secondary.

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus effectively laid out just how bad it was for the Packers secondary in 2011.

According to the site, which reviews and grades every single play for every single player, the Packers trio of cornerbacks—Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields—was the worst tackling cornerback trio in the NFL.

And believe it not, the numbers weren’t even close.

Woodson missed 15 tackles on 87 attempts, Williams missed 16 on 80 attempts and Shields missed 10 on 40 attempts. Altogether, the three missed 41 tackles in 2011—a number that ranks them significantly above any other cornerback trio in the NFL.

The Philadelphia Eagles were the first team that came to mind in comparison, but their trio of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie only missed 27 tackles last season.

All three of the Packers cornerbacks ranked in the bottom 20 of tackling efficiency, too.

Woodson has always been a player that missed his fair share of tackles, mostly because his fearlessness of playing near the line of scrimmage. Still, his 16 came at a higher rate than the 14 he had in 2010 in 20 games and the nine he missed during his Defensive Player of the Year season in 2009.

Williams allowed 68 catches in 2011, so his opportunities for missed tackles were obviously increased. During 2010, a year in which Williams established himself as a top-flight cover corner, he missed just nine. A shoulder injury suffered in Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints certainly had an impact on how physical Williams was both in coverage and as a tackler.

20

January

Green Bay Packers: 4 Stats That Sum Up 2011-12 Struggles

Packers TE Jermichael Finley led his position in drops with 14.

It might be difficult to say that a team that won 15 regular season games went through many “struggles,” but the truth is that the 2011-12 Green Bay Packers had their fair share of significant flaws that were successfully covered up for most of the season. In the end, all four of them came back to bite the Packers in their 37-20 loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Divisional Round.

The weaknesses I speak of could be summarized by a high percentage of Packers fans. But while those defects pass the eye test, they also pass the stat test. Using numbers from Pro Football Focus, we can take a closer look at just how poorly the Packers played in certain areas of the game this season.

Missed tackles: 109

Packers coach Mike McCarthy was very adamant during his final press conference about how the lacking fundamentals in his team’s tackling was a major disappointment for the Packers’ 2011 season. This stat re-enforces McCarthy’s worries. The Packers missed 109 tackles this season, which amounts to almost 6.5 a game over the 17. In comparison, the San Francisco 49ers missed just 65 over that same amount of games. Charles Woodson led the way with 18, but he had plenty of company. Tramon Williams had 16, Charlie Peprah 11, Sam Shields 10, Morgan Burnett nine and both A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop eight. That’s simply too many missed plays from too many players for a defense to be as consistently good as you’re looking for in the NFL. Also, PFF had the Packers down for eight missed tackles last Sunday against the Giants.

Drops: 52

If there was one flaw that consistently showed up in an otherwise machine-like performance from the Packers offense, it was drops. The Packers put 52 catchable passes on the ground in 2011, which was good for over three a game over 17. Jermichael Finley was the biggest culprit with 14, a number that led all NFL tight ends by at least five drops, and Donald Driver finished second with eight. James Jones had six, Greg Jennings five, Randall Cobb four and Jordy Nelson three. The running backs had 10 (James Starks four, John Kuhn and Ryan Grant three). In a pass-heavy offense like the Packers run, a certain amount of drops are excusable. But not 52. The same can be said for seven in one game, which is exactly the number Green Bay had against the Giants. It’s hard to be consistent on the biggest stage with that kind of catching percentage.