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?
13 Apr 2012
by Aaron Schatz
Today, more of our series presenting various 2011 stats from the multitude of Football Outsiders spreadsheets. Broken tackles are a stat from game charting, not from the standard play-by-play. 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. 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.
One interesting thing about broken tackles is that, while our definition has stayed constant in the three years we've been counting them, the number of broken tackles has gone down five percent in each season, between 2009 and 2010 and then again between 2010 and 2011. I have no idea if this means that tackling has improved over the last couple of years, or if our charters were a little too lax in marking broken tackles back in 2009 and have gradually been adhering tighter to our definition, or if perhaps the opposite is true and the charters are being too strict and missing too many broken tackles. Anyway, these are the numbers we've got, so these are the numbers we've got to go with.
Here is a list of all running backs with at least 20 broken tackles in 2011:
|Most Broken Tackles, 2011 RB|
LeSean McCoy led our count of broken tackles last year after finishing third in 2010. Most of the same running backs who had a lot of broken tackles in 2010 also had a lot in 2011. The biggest riser is Matt Forte, who we only recorded with 15 broken tackles in 2010, although he had 27 in 2009. The big drop came from Peyton Hillis, who went from 35 broken tackles in 2010 to just four in 2011. Some of that has to do with fewer carries, but his rate of broken tackles per touch went from 10.6 percent to 2.2 percent, which was the lowest rate for any running back with at least 80 touches. Two other running backs who saw their broken tackle totals plummet were Cedric Benson, who dropped from 30 broken tackles in 2010 to just 10 in 2011, and Danny Woodhead, who went from 20 in 2010 to just three in 2011. Most of the other players who climbed or dropped on the list did so primarily because they had a big increase or decrease in touches. For example, Reggie Bush went from 10 to 29, while Darren McFadden fell from 37 to 12.
LeGarrette Blount had the "Beast Mode Run of the Year," the play with the most broken tackles charted on one run. In Week 11 against Green Bay, we have him avoiding Sam Shields, Morgan Burnett, A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop, and Eric Walden on a 54-yard touchdown run.
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:
Jacquizz Rodgers just misses making these lists, with only 78 touches, but he led all rookies with 19 broken tackles. That's a 24.4 percent rate of broken tackles per touch.
This is the third year where Frank Gore has been one of the lower running backs in broken tackles. We had 24 broken tackles for him in 2009 (8.5 percent rate) and 11 broken tackles last year (4.4 percent rate). Gore has a rep for breaking tackles, but it doesn't seem to be earned.
Michael Vick and Tim Tebow tied for the lead among quarterbacks with 22 broken tackles apiece. This year we took up Bill Simmons on an idea that he had on one of last year's B.S. Report podcasts, and we specifically tracked "Houdinis," the number of plays where a quarterback escaped a possible sack. Vick had 17 of these and we didn't record another quarterback with even half that many.
|Most Broken Tackles, 2011 QB|
Aaron Hernandez led all tight ends or wide receivers in broken tackles, by a wide margin, and his Patriots compatriot Rob Gronkowski was fourth. Here's a look at the top ten wide receivers and tight ends in broken tackles:
|Most Broken Tackles, 2011 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 40 catches with zero broken tackles according to our charters: Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney. Percy Harvin had only six broken tackles in 2011 after leading all wide receivers in both 2009 and 2010.
Finally, here's the overall list for broken tackles on offense:
|Broken Tackles by Offenses, 2011|
|Offense||Plays||Plays w BT||Total BT||Pct Plays w BT|
|Offense||Plays||Plays w BT||Total BT||Pct Plays w BT|
Next week, I'll run the list of the most broken tackles by defenders and defenses.
41 comments, Last at 20 Feb 2013, 6:49am by fallforward