Broken Tackles 2014: Defenses

Broken Tackles 2014: Defenses
Broken Tackles 2014: Defenses
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Vincent Verhei

Earlier this week, we looked at broken tackles from the offense's point of view. Today we're going to turn things around and look at which defenses allowed the most runners to slip through their arms -- and which put them on the ground right away.

First, we must explain how we came to these totals. The next few paragraphs are going to be repeated from our earlier piece, so if you already read about offenses and missed tackles, feel free to skip down to the next subhead.

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; no defender was dragged more than four times last 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 defenders are stopping runners in their tracks, and which are getting trampled into the turf.

Broken Tackle 'Leaderboards'

The following table lists all defenders who gave up at least 10 broken tackles. It is nearly twice as long as last year's table, for all the reasons we listed above.

Most Broken Tackles by Defenders, 2014
Player Team Pos BT Solo Tkl
(w/o ST)
Rate BT

Player Team Pos BT Solo Tkl
(w/o ST)
Rate BT
Josh Evans JAC DB 22 70 23.9% 10
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix GB DB 12 69 14.8% --
Charles Woodson OAK DB 21 92 18.6% 12
K.J. Wright SEA LB 12 91 11.7% 9
Ron Parker KC DB 20 88 18.5% 0
Nickell Robey BUF DB 11 35 23.9% 2
Rashad Johnson ARI DB 17 79 17.7% 6
Antoine Bethea SF DB 11 76 12.6% 6
Michael Griffin TEN DB 17 98 14.8% 7
Telvin Smith JAC LB 11 87 11.2% --
Jonathan Cyprien JAC DB 17 93 15.5% 10
Darius Butler IND DB 11 41 21.2% 4
Ryan Clark WAS DB 16 78 17.0% 9
Rey Maualuga CIN LB 11 43 20.4% 6
Greg Toler IND DB 15 54 21.7% 3
Nigel Bradham BUF LB 11 72 13.3% 2
Paul Worrilow ATL LB 15 106 12.4% 5
James Ihedigbo DET DB 11 64 14.7% 12
Rodney McLeod STL DB 14 64 17.9% 8
Antrel Rolle NYG DB 11 70 13.6% 9
Mike Adams IND DB 14 79 15.1% 3
Josh Mauga KC LB 11 93 10.6% --
Morgan Burnett GB DB 14 104 11.9% 6
Lawrence Timmons PIT LB 11 101 9.8% 7
Larry Foote ARI LB 14 68 17.1% 1
Barry Church DAL DB 11 82 11.8% 8
Player Team Pos BT Solo Tkl
(w/o ST)
Rate BT

Player Team Pos BT Solo Tkl
(w/o ST)
Rate BT
Kendrick Lewis HOU DB 13 65 16.7% 9
Coty Sensabaugh TEN DB 10 43 18.9% 2
Janoris Jenkins STL DB 13 54 19.4% 8
Antonio Cromartie ARI DB 10 45 18.2% 2
D'Qwell Jackson IND LB 13 106 10.9% 5
Quintin Demps NYG DB 10 38 20.8% 5
David Hawthorne NO LB 13 62 17.3% 7
J.T. Thomas JAC LB 10 61 14.1% 1
Alec Ogletree STL LB 13 91 12.5% 13
Keenan Lewis NO DB 10 39 20.4% 2
DeAndre Levy DET LB 13 129 9.2% 8
Antonio Allen NYJ DB 10 37 21.3% 4
E.J. Gaines STL DB 12 65 15.6% --
Thomas DeCoud CAR DB 10 35 22.2% 10
Jimmy Wilson MIA DB 12 52 18.8% 1
Aaron Williams BUF DB 10 59 14.5% 1
D.J. Swearinger HOU DB 12 61 16.4% 8
Kenny Vaccaro NO DB 10 60 14.3% 3
Mychal Kendricks PHI LB 12 67 15.2% 9
Vincent Rey CIN LB 10 90 10.0% 3
Donte Whitner CLE DB 12 87 12.1% 7
Matt Elam BAL DB 10 34 22.7% 11
Kareem Jackson HOU DB 12 51 19.0% 3
J.J. Wilcox DAL DB 10 61 14.1% 4
Dashon Goldson TB DB 12 64 15.8% 13
Miles Burris OAK LB 10 88 10.2% 1


20 comments, Last at 28 Jan 2017, 1:19am

1 Re: 2015 Broken Tackles: Defenses

Manning's INT rate was his 2nd lowest of his career, his completion % was his highest ever, and he had a pretty good sack rate, so you could make the educated guess that the lack of broken tackles on sacks was a product of the offensive scheme not letting Manning hold the ball for long.

2 Re: 2015 Broken Tackles: Defenses

So Tampa's LBs had amazingly low missed tackle rates, and the DB/DL tables don't show a single Bucs player with an inordinately high rate of missing tackles. Considering how bad the defense was during pretty significant chunks last year, this sounds far more like a coaching issue where players weren't even in position enough to have the opportunity to fail to tackle.

10 Re: 2015 Broken Tackles: Defenses

I think it's somewhat akin to baseball Sabermetric's view on errors -- they're bad but overrated, because it doesn't take into account the defensive player who doesn't have the range to even get a glove on a ball in their area, whereas a rangier defender will have more putouts as well as more challenging putouts (which should naturally lead to more errors).

13 Re: 2015 Broken Tackles: Defenses

I think that's a poor analogy. Baseball players don't get punished for missing on challenging plays, they get charged for bobbling the ball or throwing off target on relatively routine plays -- subject to the whims of the scorekeeper, of course. If the player is in position to make a play and whiffs, it doesn't matter what his 'range' is.

The only thing being discussed here is how players and teams rate on finishing tackles, that's all.

14 Re: 2015 Broken Tackles: Defenses

A fielder with great range and a mediocre glove will make more errors than a fielder with lousy range and a mediocre glove, because he will be "in position to make a play and whiff" more often. And the same is true in football. Earl Thomas was among the league leaders in missed tackles last year, partly because he was in position to attempt so many tackles in the first place.

16 Re: 2015 Broken Tackles: Defenses

Baseball players don't get punished for missing on challenging plays

I don't agree with this at all. Example: Hard ground ball is hit right between the 3rd baseman and shortstop. SS makes a leaping dive and stabs the ball (i.e. a GREAT play) but after jumping to his feet, he bobbles the ball and his throw to 1st is late (or, he sails the ball over the 1st baseman's head). 99/100 times the SS is going to be given an error because he screwed up the "routine" part of the play, and he gets zero credit for making a great play to even be in that position. Did he make a mistake? Sure. Does this mean he's a worse defensive player than a guy who would have dived and completely missed the ball? No way.

19 Re: 2015 Broken Tackles: Defenses

And I don't agree with your examples, either. Sailing the ball over the 1st baseman's head will net an E, sure. But a late throw after a spectacular dive for the ball? Almost never. And I've seen many examples of players who have bobbled the ball ona non-routine play and did not get charged with an error. Scoring errors is quite subjective, maybe more so than missed tackles.

3 Re: 2015 Broken Tackles: Defenses

"broken tackles are bad for a defense, generally yielding an extra 5 to 7 yards per play depending on where the tackle occurred." For QB broken tackles most of them must be on missed sacks and sacks on average lose 6 yards so QB missed tackles could yield 12 extra yards.

4 Re: 2015 Broken Tackles: Defenses

I'm not sure how useful individual defender broken tackles is. Seems it measures players *nearly* making incredible plays just as often as it measures messing up a play they should make.

For example: Chicago not making this list is a result of players in and out of the lineup and screwing up so bad they didn't even have the chance to miss a tackle.

6 Re: 2015 Broken Tackles: Defenses

The Bears did show up at 32nd in the team list. The Jets team numbers were interesting to me, because other wise, they didn't have that bad a defense. I wonder how much Bridgewater's checkdown in OT and Lamar Miller's 97 yard run skew the totals for them.

8 Re: 2015 Broken Tackles: Defenses

Do plays such as receptions in the end zone count as an opportunity? There's no chance to make a tackle there, so no chance of a broken one either.

9 Re: 2015 Broken Tackles: Defenses

Seems the offense article was "2014", but this one is "2015"... Innocent mistake? Or accidental reveal of the invention of a time machine?

15 Re: 2014 Broken Tackles: Defenses

We talked about quarterbacks in this piece:

Romo wasn't listed. We credited him with three broken tackles last year, two Houdinis and one as a runner.

17 Re: 2014 Broken Tackles: Defenses

When I later read that article, I realized my question here may be fubar. What does the Cowboys 21.5 average yards say then? If Eli Manning had no result in that table, is that 21.5 average yards (#1 rank) not the result of Romo's yards after breaking tackles on would-be sacks?

20 Re: Broken Tackles 2014: Defenses