Are the best defenses against play action the best against regular passes too? How much impact does play action really have in an NFL game, and does it correlate from year to year?
02 May 2014
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|
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.
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:
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|
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|
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|
|Offense||Plays||Plays w BT||Total BT||Pct Plays w BT|
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