How did New England find the right combination of offensive linemen this season, and where are Seattle's biggest weaknesses in pass protection?
29 Apr 2013
by Aaron Schatz
With the draft now in the rearview mirror, it's time to fill Football Outsiders with articles on our various stats from last season. We'll start today with broken tackles. 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.
(If you disagree with any of the numbers listed here, you are welcome to suggest specific plays in the comments that we may have marked incorrectly.)
Here is a list of all running backs with at least 20 broken tackles in 2012:
|Most Broken Tackles, 2012 RB|
Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy tie for the lead in broken tackles for 2012; this is McCoy's second straight year on top, as he was first by his lonesome in 2011. The rookie class of 2012 makes a big impression when it comes to broken tackles, with two rookies breaking at least 30 tackles and another two breaking at least 20. (Joique Bell is not a rookie, he just didn't play in 2011.)
Ignoring players like Jonathan Dwyer who jumped in broken tackles because they only had a handful of carries in 2011, the running backs who saw the biggest rise in broken tackle numbers include Peterson, Spiller, Murray, and Gore. Gore's numbers tell a very interesting story. We had him with only 11 broken tackles in 2010 and 12 last year. His performance on the field absolutely did not live up to his reputation as a power back. But things really bounced back in 2012, lending support to the idea that Gore's huge season (a career-high 17.4% DVOA, fourth in the NFL) was not simply the result of strong blocking from the 49ers' excellent offensive line.
Who saw their broken tackle stats drop? The biggest name is Matt Forte, whose broken tackle stats have bounced all around since we started tracking this. Fore had 27 broken tackles in 2009, 15 in 2010, 36 in 2011, and then only 15 in 2012. He's probably been the most inconsistent player in the league when it comes to broken tackles. Also, Chris Johnson went from 30 to 16 and Willis McGahee went from 22 to 11. Most other players who saw their broken tackles drop were players with a big decrease in touches; for example, Maurice Jones-Drew went from 37 broken tackles in 2011 to just nine in 2012.
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:
One thing that's very obvious from this table is how much the Pittsburgh Steelers emphasize tackle-breaking ability at their running back position. The third Steelers running back, Rashard Mendenhall (now in Arizona) broke nine tackles on 60 touches, a rate of 15.0 percent. That's going to be a big step up for the Cardinals compared to Beanie Wells. Your eyes do not decive you; we really didn't record a single broken tackle for Wells in 2012 after he had 15 in 2011. Maybe we missed one or two somewhere, but still, ugh. There are some other surprising names on the table of lowest broken tackle rates. Stevan Ridley and Jonathan Stewart are both known as powerful backs who can break tackles, but they didn't do too much of it in 2012. Stewart had 21 broken tackles in 2011, so perhaps it was just an off year for him.
Cam Newton easily led all quarterbacks in broken tackles this season. There are two kinds of broken tackles for quarterbacks: standard broken tackles on runs past the line of scrimmage, and what Bill Simmons calls "Houdinis," plays where a quarterback escaped a possible sack.
|Most Broken Tackles, 2012 QB|
Percy Harvin once again led all wide receivers and tight ends with 19 broken tackles. He was down in 2011 (just six), but had led the league in both 2009 and 2010. Here are all wide receivers and tight ends with at least 10 broken tackles in 2012:
|Most Broken Tackles, 2012 WR/TE|
Finally, here's the overall list for broken tackles on offense:
|Broken Tackles by Offenses, 2012|
|Offense||Plays||Plays w BT||Total BT||Pct Plays w BT|
|Offense||Plays||Plays w BT||Total BT||Pct Plays w BT|
In a few days, we'll look at broken tackles for defenses and defensive players.
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