With Alabama holding serve as the nation's top team, Brian Fremeau explains how good play-by-play teams can still struggle drive-by-drive -- and vice versa.
13 May 2015
by Vincent Verhei
The 2013 Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl in part because they excelled at breaking tackles. Not only did they lead the league in broken tackles as a team, but their top rusher, passer, and receiver were all first or second at their position in this category. In 2014, they led the league again, and the running back and quarterback were exceptional for the second year in a row. They lacked the same physicality at wideout, though, and that might have cost them their shot at back-to-back championships.
Historically, we have defined a "broken tackle" as one of two events: either the ball carrier escapes from the grasp of the defender, or the defender is in good position for a tackle but the ball carrier jukes him out of his shoes. If the ball carrier 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 ball carrier 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.
This year, we added a third category, "dragged" broken tackles where defenders were able to bring the ball carrier to the ground, but only after the runner had gained at least 5 yards from the point where the tackle started. We seemed like a reasonable compromise to deal with plays we had struggled with in years past, where what looked like a broken tackle would end up with a defender getting marked with a tackle or assist by the NFL because he was the last player to make contact before a ballcarrier fell down ten yards later. There weren't very many of those plays; St. Louis tight end Jared Cook led the league with just five. (Ironically, he only had one other broken tackle all year.)
We recorded significantly more broken tackles in 2014 than in any previous season, but we want to make it clear: that jump has to do with our methods. We don't want these numbers to encourage any "tackling in the NFL is getting worse" narratives. Between 2009 and 2013, league totals on broken tackles fell between 1,975 (2012) and 2,236 (2009). In 2014, we marked a total of 2,644 broken tackles.
The addition of "dragged" tackles was roughly half of the reason for the increase. The other reason was that any plays where ESPN Stats & Information marked a minimum of 5 yards after contact were specifically flagged to indicate to game charters that they should be particularly mindful of broken tackles. Unfortunately, it's the nature of charting to be subjective. We believe that flagging these plays for charters actually resulted in more accurate numbers than in previous seasons. But obviously, when comparing 2013 and 2014 totals below, be aware that the average player should have a 20-25 percent increase in broken tackles per play simply because of the change in our charting methodology.
The natural variation that comes with subjectivity is tempered by the fact that 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. (In addition, as we have done in past years, we spent time after the season reviewing plays from the charters with the highest and lowest rates of broken tackles marked.) We know that there are 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 ball carriers are able to power through defenders -- or avoid them with agility -- and which ball carriers go down quickly when there's contact.
You know who doesn't go down quickly when there's contact? Marshawn Lynch. The Seattle running back led the league in broken tackles for the second year in a row, this time by a great margin.
|Most Broken Tackles, 2014 RB|