After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?
14 Jun 2011
by Aaron Schatz
Today, more of our series presenting various 2010 stats from the multitude of Football Outsiders spreadsheets. Last week, we looked at broken tackles from the point of view of the defense. Today, let's look at broken tackles from the point of view of the offense.
As I noted last week, broken tackles are a stat from game charting, not from the standard play-by-play. We defined 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. We only measured broken tackles for standard plays; volunteers didn't have the time to track them for all special teams plays.
The resulting numbers are subjective, obviously, but there were over two dozen charters involved, so no team's numbers could be overly slanted because of the bias of a single specific charter. We know that there are a other groups on the Web who track broken tackles, and because of the subjectivity, their numbers won't be exactly the same as ours. Given the mistakes that are easy to make when marking players off of television tape, a difference of one or two broken tackles isn't a big deal. But looking at the players with the most and fewest broken tackles does a good job of showing us which ballcarriers are able to power through defenders -- or avoid them with agility -- and which ballcarriers go down quickly when there's contact.
Here is a list of all running backs with at least 20 broken tackles in 2010:
|Most Broken Tackles, 2010 RB|
Now, leaguewide we marked five percent fewer broken tackles this year compared to 2009. That's probably not tackling getting better, its just a natural year-to-year swing when we're still tuning the proper definition of a subjective metric. Still, even taking that into consideration, there were some surprising drops from 2009 to 2010. We marked Ray Rice with 57 broken tackles in 2009, second in the league behind Chris Johnson. That dropped by more than 60 percent, to just 22 broken tackles last year. Maurice Jones-Drew dropped from 52 to 30. Steven Jackson dropped from 49 to 28. Further down our list, Joseph Addai dropped from 29 broken tackles to just nine, and Beanie Wells dropped from 20 broken tackles to just four.
There's really no equivalent player who had the same amount of touches in both 2009 and 2010 but had many more broken tackles in 2010. The closest is probably LeSean McCoy, who went from 24 broken tackles to 38.
(If you want to see 2009 numbers, click here. The individual numbers are an ESPN Insider piece, the team numbers were free on Football Outsiders.)
Here's another way to look at things, the highest and lowest rates of broken tackles per play. We're adding together catches and carries to get the total number of touches for each player. This is just running backs, with a minimum of 80 touches:
Yes, that's two undrafted rookies in our top three, and four undrafted players in our top five. That group of undrafted players is broken only by Marshawn Lynch, who apparently was already in Beast Mode before the playoffs even started. Remember, these are regular season numbers only, and don't include the big run against New Orleans. By the way, Lynch is a great example of how the ability to break tackles is very different from the ability to push through the line in short-yardage situations. As Doug Farrar pointed out on Yahoo! a few days ago, Lynch was one of the worst running backs in the NFL on third downs last season, despite all these broken tackles.
I am surprised by how few broken tackles we marked down for Frank Gore. He wasn't particularly high in our 2009 charting either, with 24 broken tackles on 281 touches (8.5 percent).
The charters did a better job of marking broken tackles by quarterbacks this year, so we were able to split out quarterbacks evading sacks from receivers evading tackles after the reception. Michael Vick, no surprise, led all quarterbacks in broken tackles with 20; that includes both missed sacks and missed tackles after he scrambled past the line of scrimmage. Only three other quarterbacks were marked with more than five broken tackles: David Garrard (11), Tim Tebow (11), and Josh Freeman (10).
Percy Harvin led all wide receivers in broken tackles for the second year in a row, with 13. Here's a look at the top ten wide receivers and tight ends in broken tackles:
|Most Broken Tackles, 2010 WR/TE|
A list with the lowest rate of broken tackles for wide receivers would be kind of silly, since there were a lot of wide receivers and tight ends with only one or two broken tackles. Of note, we had only two receivers who had more than 30 catches with zero broken tackles according to our charters, and both were Houston Texans: Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter. And it isn't like the people charting Houston were particularly stingy about marking broken tackles -- they marked plenty for Arian Foster, and remember that Houston led the league in broken tackle rate on defense.
Finally, here's the overall list for broken tackles on offense:
|Broken Tackles by Offenses, 2010|
|Offense||Plays||Plays w BT||Total BT||Pct Plays w BT|
|Offense||Plays||Plays w BT||Total BT||Pct Plays w BT|
41 comments, Last at 18 Jul 2011, 5:54pm by Andy