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02 May 2014

2013 Broken Tackles: Offense

by Aaron Schatz

Let's continue posting some stats from the 2013 Football Outsiders game charting project. Tuesday, we took a look at broken tackles charged to defenders; today, we'll look at broken tackles for offensive players.

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. It also doesn't count as a broken tackle if a defender gets a hand on the ballcarrier but is effectively being blocked out of the play by another offensive player. We only measure 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.

A reminder when comparing 2012 and 2013 broken tackle numbers that our charters marked nearly ten percent more broken tackles in 2013 than in 2012. So the average running back will actually have a couple more broken tackles this year than he did last year.

Here is a list of all running backs with at least 20 broken tackles in 2013:

Most Broken Tackles, 2013 RB
Player Team BT Runs Rec Touches BT/Touch 2012 BT
24-M.Lynch SEA 59 301 36 337 17.5% 26
25-L.McCoy PHI 51 314 52 366 13.9% 44
28-A.Peterson MIN 42 278 30 308 13.6% 44
25-J.Charles KC 39 259 70 329 11.9% 16
29-D.Murray DAL 35 217 53 270 13.0% 26
27-E.Lacy GB 29 284 35 319 9.1% --
25-G.Bernard CIN 28 170 56 226 12.4% --
38-A.Ellington ARI 28 118 39 157 17.8% --
22-F.Jackson BUF 27 206 47 253 10.7% 19
Player Team BT Runs Rec Touches BT/Touch 2012 BT
22-M.Forte CHI 24 288 76 364 6.6% 15
34-T.Richardson 2TM 24 188 35 223 10.8% 31
35-J.Bell DET 24 166 53 219 11.0% 20
46-A.Morris WAS 24 277 9 286 8.4% 27
21-R.Bush DET 22 223 54 277 7.9% 24
26-L.Bell PIT 21 244 44 288 7.3% --
32-M.Jones-Drew JAC 20 234 43 277 7.2% 9
33-C.Ivory NYJ 20 182 2 184 10.9% 14
44-B.Tate HOU 20 180 35 215 9.3% 9

Yes, the defense led Seattle to a championship season, but it also helped that Beast Mode was going FULL BEAST MODE for the entire year. Lynch has been near the top of the league in broken tackles in years past but we had never tracked a year quite like last year. We marked Lynch with at least two broken tackles in every single regular-season game of 2013 except for the Week 13 Monday Night Football dismantling of the Saints, when he had none. (Lynch actually had just 45 yards on 16 carries in that game; the passing game provided all the offense.) The highlight of Lynch's season came against Houston in Week 4, when he broke four different tackles on a 43-yard run including safety Danieal Manning twice.

The rest of the top five is also made up of players with a history of many broken tackles. LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson have been in the top five pretty much every year. Jamaal Charles beat his previous career high of 27, back in the pre-ACL tear season of 2010. After the top five came three straight rookies, including an impressive 28 broken tackles on just 157 touches for Andre Ellington, a broken tackle on 17.8 percent of his touches. That makes Ellington the only running back with at least 100 touches who had a higher broken tackle rate than Beast Mode.

It's also worth noting that whatever his other faults -- and there have been a ton of them -- Trent Richardson does break plenty of tackles. He had 31 in his rookie year, then 24 last year. However, he's not necessarily breaking those tackles on runs. Ten of his 24 broken tackles last year came on receptions.

(If you are looking for full numbers from past years, you will find 2012 here and 2011 here.)

Who saw their broken tackle stats drop? Obviously, players who were injured like Doug Martin (41 to 6) and Arian Foster (28 to 9). Otherwise, two players really stand out. The first is C.J. Spiller, who dropped from 34 broken tackles in 2012 to just 18 last season. But an even bigger drop belonged to Ray Rice. This is just one of many pieces of evidence suggesting that the collapse of the Baltimore running game last year wasn't just the fault of the offensive linemen. Rice went from 27 broken tackles in 2012 to just nine in 2013. (Bernard Pierce, if you are curious, had 19 broken tackles in 2012 and 15 in 2013.)

Another stat showing Ray Rice's struggles last year: We have average yards after contact from ESPN Stats & Information charting, and last place among running backs with at least 100 carries belonged to... Ray Rice, at 1.11 average yards after contact. Lamar Miller, Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson, and Pierce were also low in this number. Donald Brown led the league with 2.7 average yards after contact, way ahead of anyone else, but he only had 101 carries. The rest of the top five: Rashad Jennings, LeGarrette Blount, Chris Ivory, and Adrian Peterson.

Anyway, that's a digression. Let's look at 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:

Highest Broken Tackle Rate, 2013 RB
Player Team BT Runs Rec Touches BT/Touch
38-A.Ellington ARI 28 118 39 157 17.8%
22-M.Ingram NO 15 78 7 85 17.6%
24-M.Lynch SEA 59 301 36 337 17.5%
25-L.McCoy PHI 51 314 52 366 13.9%
28-A.Peterson MIN 42 278 30 308 13.6%
31-D.Brown IND 17 101 28 129 13.2%
44-J.Starks GB 13 89 10 99 13.1%
29-D.Murray DAL 35 217 53 270 13.0%
25-G.Bernard CIN 28 170 56 226 12.4%
34-S.Vereen NE 11 44 47 91 12.1%
Lowest Broken Tackle Rate, 2013 RB
Player Team BT Runs Rec Touches BT/Touch
26-W.McGahee CLE 2 137 9 146 1.4%
27-R.Rice BAL 9 214 58 272 3.3%
23-S.Greene TEN 3 77 6 83 3.6%
25-C.Ogbonnaya CLE 4 49 48 97 4.1%
24-R.Mathews SD 13 285 26 311 4.2%
22-D.Martin TB 6 127 12 139 4.3%
27-R.Jennings OAK 9 163 35 198 4.5%
20-D.McFadden OAK 6 114 17 131 4.6%
44-P.Hillis NYG 4 73 13 86 4.7%
22-R.Turbin SEA 4 77 8 85 4.7%

Mark Ingram is a bit of a surprising name near the top of the list for broken tackle rate, and there's Donald Brown and all his yards after contact. On the list for lowest broken tackle rate, we find a couple of over-the-hill power backs (McGahee, Hillis) and both of Oakland's backs. Another interesting name that just missed the list for lowest broken tackle rate: Frank Gore. We marked Gore with 15 broken tackles on 292 touches, a 5.1 percent broken tackle rate. It looks like Gore's big jump in broken tackles in 2012 was an aberration: Gore's numbers the last four seasons go 10, 11, 27, 15.

Cam Newton easily led all quarterbacks in broken tackles for the second straight season, going up from 20 in 2012 to 25 last year. 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. Joe Flacco, oddly enough, makes the top ten after we recorded zero broken tackles in 2012.

Most Broken Tackles, 2013 QB
Player Team BT Houdinis Past LOS
1-C.Newton CAR 25 20 5
3-R.Wilson SEA 15 10 5
7-B.Roethlisberger PIT 12 12 0
12-A.Luck IND 10 8 2
7-C.Kaepernick SF 9 7 2
2-T.Pryor OAK 9 5 4
7-G.Smith NYJ 9 5 4
10-R.Griffin WAS 8 5 3
9-M.Stafford DET 8 6 2
5-J.Flacco BAL 7 7 0

Golden Tate led all wide receivers and tight ends with 23 broken tackles, followed by rookie Cordarelle Patterson with 18. A lot of the top wide receivers and tight ends took huge jumps from the year before. Who would have thought of Charles Clay and Martellus Bennett as great tackle-breakers? They had only one and three broken tackles in 2012, respectively. Antonio Brown only had four in 2012 but 15 last year.

Most Broken Tackles, 2012 WR/TE
Player Team BT Runs Rec Touches BT/Touch
81-G.Tate SEA 23 1 66 67 34.3%
84-C.Patterson MIN 18 12 45 57 31.6%
84-A.Brown PIT 15 6 111 117 12.8%
83-M.Bennett CHI 14 0 65 65 21.5%
13-K.Wright TEN 14 0 94 94 14.9%
42-C.Clay MIA 13 7 69 76 17.1%
89-S.Smith CAR 12 0 64 64 18.8%
11-J.Edelman NE 11 2 105 107 10.3%
82-M.Jones CIN 11 8 51 59 18.6%
87-J.Nelson GB 11 0 85 85 12.9%
13-K.Allen SD 10 0 71 71 14.1%
81-A.Boldin SF 9 2 85 87 10.3%
88-J.Finley GB 9 0 25 25 36.0%
80-J.Graham NO 9 0 86 86 10.5%
84-J.Gresham CIN 9 0 46 46 19.6%
15-B.Marshall CHI 9 0 100 100 9.0%

Finally, here's the overall list for broken tackles on offense. As you might expect, with the top running back, the top wide receiver, and the No. 2 quarterback, the Seattle Seahawks completely blew past the rest of the league in broken tackles last season. There are some interesting divisional combinations: the entire NFC North was very strong breaking tackles last season, while the AFC North is split between teams near the top of the league (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh) and teams near the bottom (Baltimore, Cleveland).

Broken Tackles by Offenses, 2013
Offense Plays Plays w BT Total BT Pct Plays w BT
SEA 958 93 112 9.7%
MIN 1012 77 96 7.6%
GB 1063 78 97 7.3%
PHI 1035 74 85 7.1%
CAR 987 70 77 7.1%
KC 1017 68 77 6.7%
PIT 1010 65 70 6.4%
DET 1092 70 80 6.4%
CIN 1078 68 85 6.3%
IND 1019 64 72 6.3%
NE 1127 69 76 6.1%
CHI 1001 60 72 6.0%
DAL 953 56 67 5.9%
BUF 1109 65 72 5.9%
ATL 1025 60 67 5.9%
NO 1060 62 69 5.8%
Offense Plays Plays w BT Total BT Pct Plays w BT
MIA 990 56 64 5.7%
TEN 1019 56 64 5.5%
NYG 989 54 64 5.5%
ARI 1028 56 65 5.4%
SF 949 51 54 5.4%
HOU 1091 56 57 5.1%
DEN 1141 56 62 4.9%
JAC 1021 49 56 4.8%
NYJ 1014 48 58 4.7%
SD 1057 48 51 4.5%
WAS 1103 49 56 4.4%
STL 961 40 48 4.2%
OAK 997 39 45 3.9%
TB 983 38 43 3.9%
BAL 1095 42 45 3.8%
CLE 1073 34 38 3.2%

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 02 May 2014

12 comments, Last at 05 May 2014, 3:11pm by Arkaein

Comments

1
by FrontRunningPhinsFan :: Fri, 05/02/2014 - 12:10pm

It wouldn't be possible to track, but I wonder if one factor adding to the increase in broken tackles is the rule changes the defensive players had to deal with.

2
by Moridin :: Fri, 05/02/2014 - 12:37pm

Well, one way to tell would probably be to compare yearly totals. If last year had a measurable increase compared to the prior years and was an outlier from the trend line, then that would probably be a big tell. If the total numbers are generally sporadic though, it'll take a few years to see if there's a general increase in the average since the changes or just a blip (well, you'd want a few years even if this year was an outlier, but you'd have a better shot at making an early case for it).

3
by JoRo :: Fri, 05/02/2014 - 12:57pm

Interesting that the top two offensive teams last year by DVOA had such low broken tackle rates.

5
by theslothook :: Fri, 05/02/2014 - 1:30pm

Part of that has to be because pm and rivers never break tackles. In the former's case, he's rarely in a situation to begin with

4
by jtr :: Fri, 05/02/2014 - 1:27pm

I think it would make more sense to go position-by-position with the broken tackles to isolate rules changes. The biggest rule change this year was preventing running backs from lowering a shoulder outside the tackle box, so I think we would expect slightly FEWER broken tackles for running backs. On the other hand, it seems to be a penalty now to even try to hit a wide receiver or quarterback, so I would expect tentative tacklers fearing flags to improve the broken tackle numbers at those positions.

6
by jds :: Fri, 05/02/2014 - 6:15pm

There are some interesting divisional combinations: the entire NFC North was very strong breaking tackles last season...

Interesting. Or maybe the entire NFC North was very weak at making tackles last season...

10
by Steve in WI :: Mon, 05/05/2014 - 12:05am

The Bears were probably bad enough alone to make the division worse than average, unless one of the other teams was incredibly good.

12
by Arkaein :: Mon, 05/05/2014 - 3:11pm

We don't have to guess, because FO already posted broken tackle rates for defenses.

Chicago was awful, Minnesota bad, and Green Bay and Detroit were basically average. So overall, the NFC North was a below average tackling defense.

7
by Vince Verhei :: Fri, 05/02/2014 - 7:19pm

Somebody made a good point on Twitter: Seattle led the league in broken tackles even though Percy Harvin missed virtually the entire season.

8
by Bruce Lamon :: Fri, 05/02/2014 - 10:37pm

Seattle led the league in broken tackles, guards and centers. Here's hoping Carpenter is really gone and they can improve on draft day.

9
by theslothook :: Sat, 05/03/2014 - 2:23am

Seattle goes last in line in terms of deserving of draft luck. THeir whole resurrgence since 09 was on the back of hitting some absolute home runs in the draft : Both LBs, Both Safeties, their cbs, qb, etc. Essentially grabbed 3 elite players and 4 other extremely solid rising players in a span of 3 years. Simply ridiculous. I'm not sure I can remember another team within the last 20 years, outside of maybe the cowboys of the 90s, that managed such a coup in so short a span.

11
by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 05/05/2014 - 2:56pm

And those Cowboys had about a dozen extra picks thanks to Mr. Walker. I'm hoping the circle closes this year when the Cowboys give up a boatload of picks to Minny to get Johnny Football - and then he totally goes bust.