ESPN: 2009 Broken Tackles
by Aaron Schatz
This year, for the first time, we included broken tackles in our game charting project. Today at ESPN Insider, I go through and look at which players had the most broken tackles -- starting with Tampa Bay safety Sabby Piscitelli, who had three more than any other player. The article also looks at which players had the best and worst broken tackle rates, comparing broken tackles to actual tackles. You can find that article here.
We also sent a list to the eight ESPN divisional bloggers featuring the top ten players in broken tackles by division. If any of them choose to write about that, we'll link those pieces here as well. EDIT: Here's the first one, Kevin Seifert looking at our numbers for the NFC North. Also, Mike Sando looks at the top-line numbers for the NFC West.
Special for FO readers, absolutely free, here is the list of broken tackle rates for all 32 teams on both offense and defense. Most of the results here are not a surprise, but one is: According to our game charters, St. Louis had the fewest percentage of plays with broken tackles. Quite a surprise, as they were a terrible defense overall, but this data would seem to suggest that there is something to build on there. Lest you think the issue was one specific charter who handled the St. Louis games, I can tell you that these numbers are adjusted for certain charters who marked a particularly high or low rate of broken tackles. (Plus, since everyone does one half per week, even a charter who does every game for a specific team is only doing half that team's charting.)
Some people might be surprised to see Indianapolis showing up so high on the list of broken tackles, but that's what happens when you have an undersized defense built around speed.
For those wondering, "Plays with Broken Tackle" is the number of plays with at least one broken tackle. However, it was possible for there to be multiple broken tackles on one play, which is why we have a second column for total broken tackles.
You'll find a lot more broken tackle information in Football Outsiders Almanac 2010 when it drops on July 6, including totals for all defensive players who made at least 20 plays in 2009, specific numbers for offensive players, and -- I'm guessing -- answers to most of the questions readers will be asking in the discussion thread here.
70 comments, Last at 26 Apr 2013, 10:21am
#70 by Software Life Cycle (not verified) // Apr 26, 2013 - 10:21am
Thank you for the extremely impressive article.Hope you can write more articles in the near future.I am really eager to read it.Thanks.
#69 by jam (not verified) // Mar 26, 2013 - 10:54pm
It may be worth pointing out that the Seahawks' DBs are generally familiar with defending zone read offenses, many of them having run them in college.פסיכומטרי
#68 by outsourcing we… (not verified) // Sep 26, 2011 - 6:29am
Thanks for making such a cool post which is really very well written.I will be referring a lot of friends about this.Keep blogging.
#66 by walter (not verified) // Jun 01, 2010 - 3:23pm
Something doesn't add up right. For every offensive play with a broken tackle, there must also be a defensive play with a broken tackle. Yet the offensive Play w/BT for all teams totals 1746 whereas the defensive Play w/ BT totals 1900. Huh?
#65 by ginger // Jun 01, 2010 - 12:00pm
Does the stiff arm Willis McGahee put on Hiram Eugene in week 17 last year count as just one BT?
Feels like it should double against the Raiders!
#63 by Dales // May 30, 2010 - 5:35pm
Six out of the top 10 offensive teams in broken tackles are also in the bottom 10 defensively. That seems rather high.
#62 by TheRealJosh (not verified) // May 29, 2010 - 3:29am
Broken Tackles. Who made the most tackles while a player was engaged with a blocker?
#61 by The Other Ben … (not verified) // May 28, 2010 - 11:52am
Just for fun, according to the above numbers, here's the "Benny Hill Index" of (defensive) teams with the most multiple blown tackle plays:
DET - 21
HOU - 21
TB - 18
MIN - 17
PHI - 15
NO - 14
NYG - 14
NE - 13
JAC - 13
ARI - 12
CLE - 12
SF - 12
STL - 12
CIN - 11
IND - 10
OAK - 10
MIA - 10
PIT - 10
SD - 10
DEN - 10
KC - 9
TEN - 9
WAS - 9
BUF - 8
CHI - 8
ATL - 7
DAL - 6
CAR - 6
SEA - 5
GB - 4
NYJ - 3
BAL - 1
Not sure if this indicates anything about unit cohesion, speed, coaching, or anything else. Somebody else should do "Benny Hill Rate," or even "Defense-Adjusted Benny Hill Rate."
#60 by bubqr // May 28, 2010 - 2:34am
Have those lovely charters tracked how far away from the LOS those broken tackles happened ? I guess breaking tackles is easier in open space..
#52 by panthersnbraves // May 26, 2010 - 5:03pm
Do stiff-arms count as broken tackles? If so, Steve Smith might often make two or three on a single play.
#50 by Karl Cuba // May 26, 2010 - 4:58pm
The chart gives a percentage of plays with a broken tackle but as others have noted, there are plays where there is no attempt at a tackle. This could be for good reasons, such as an incomplete pass, or for bad reasons, such as the blockers walling off all of the defenders allowing the runner to waltz down field.
How about a statistic that measured tackles broken out of plays with a broken tackle plus good no-tackle plays compared against a total of plays with attempted tackles plus bad no-tackle plays?
Might take some sorting but it could eliminate some of the noise.
#51 by panthersnbraves // May 26, 2010 - 5:01pm
Actually - If a player runs a out route on third down, and toe-taps at the sideline - is there a "tackle"?
#55 by Theo // May 27, 2010 - 3:45am
#49 by Theo // May 26, 2010 - 4:58pm
If Sabby Piscitelli is behind a weak defense, in a zone 2, I'd say he's in a tough position. Playing safety, it's hard to play clean up.
Doesn't that leave him to more harder-to-make tackles than 8 in the box defenders or middle deep safeties?
Indie has a lot of broken tackles on defense too and they play zone 2.
Maybe it's not only Piscitelli but also his team mates.
#34 by Bobman // May 26, 2010 - 2:50pm
The Colts D has the most plays against and I suspect this is not an anomaly. Post 2004, when the bleed the clock philosophy really took hold of their opponents, I bet they are at or near the top in this dubious stat.
If a coaching staff accepts that as their reality, does it make sense to have smaller/faster guys who might have better stamina or beefier guys who might get more stops and result in fewer plays against. Kind of a chicken/egg really. Do the smaller guys CAUSE the larger number of plays, or are they a reaction to it? Or not related at all....
Is it August yet?
#35 by Nathan // May 26, 2010 - 3:10pm
IMO the Colt's offense causes the large number of plays against and the "bleed the clock" philosophy of the opposing coach. The "bend but don't break" scheme on D might compound it, but the root cause is Peyton Manning (not to take anything away from the rest of the offense, but it's Manning recognizing a weakness in the D, calling an audible, and executing the pass that makes the Colts such a threat to score in 2-3 plays).
Regarding your second point, I'd say a bend but don't break philosophy suits them well. If your opponent wants to advance down the field in 4 yard chunks to keep your offense off the field, might as well make them execute every single play because all it will take is one failed play to stall their drive (compared to if they were trying to get yards in 10 yd increments.
#29 by drobviousso // May 26, 2010 - 2:06pm
I'm sad but not shocked to see the Pittsburgh ILB's on the ESPN list, but pretty happy to see Harrison on his list. I've always thought that of all of the sack specialists I've seen play, he had the best fundamentals and versatility.
The real question, though, is how well do missed tackles correspond to DVOA? I look forward to the answer in the book, I hope.
#28 by Jimmy // May 26, 2010 - 1:53pm
Before looking at this chart, I wouldn't have guessed Matt Forte had more broken tackles than Ryan Grant. But if Forte averaged 3.6 yards per carry even after breaking more tackles than all but one NFC North player, maybe we need to shift more accountability to the Bears' scheme and blocking performance last season.
Hmmm... I am sure some folk were strongly arguing this point for quite a while. It could be that a superficial analysis of Adjusted Line Yards doesn't quite reveal the treasure trove of information that one particular poster thinks it does.
#53 by The Blow Leprechaun (not verified) // May 26, 2010 - 9:06pm
Or that NFC North players are really bad at breaking tackles. Peterson had twice as many as Forte. We'd really need to see this for more players to gauge anything about Forte, who may be average at breaking tackles, and therefore 3.6 YPC is not all that striking.
#56 by Thomas_beardown // May 27, 2010 - 5:48am
In what universe does an average running back gain only 3.6 yards per carry?
#18 by Thomas_beardown // May 26, 2010 - 1:02pm
I'm surprised by Green Bay's low ranking on the offensive side. YAC seems to be a big part of their game plan.
#20 by Nathan // May 26, 2010 - 1:07pm
I blame Ryan Grant. Wasn't that the knock on him, that he wasn't making people miss?
#25 by Aaron Schatz // May 26, 2010 - 1:30pm
Kevin Seifert has some answers to your questions here:
#40 by chemical burn // May 26, 2010 - 3:24pm
Interesting. Forte's numbers seem to confirm that the Bear's line is almost certainly the problem...
#45 by dryheat // May 26, 2010 - 4:09pm
The Lions might just be the worst-tackling football team in history. Those are some pathetic numbers.
#47 by chemical burn // May 26, 2010 - 4:12pm
Hmm... Forte versus the Lions twice a year... maybe Forte's numbers don't prove anything about the Bear's line play. And, in that regard, Ryan Grant looks all the worse.
#57 by Thomas_beardown // May 27, 2010 - 6:07am
Assuming the Lions allowed about the same number of broken tackles per game, in two games the Bears would benefit from around 13 broken tackles. The receivers should get 1 or 2 of those, which means about 11 of Forte's 28 broken tackles with the Lions.
However, I'm making a lot of assumptions which I don't think are right. 1) The Lions allowed a similar number of broken tackles per game. Considering they played 4 games against the Vikings, Ravens, and Rams, all who broke a lot of tackles. 2) I don't really have any idea how many broken tackles the receivers got from the Lions. It could be 2, it could all 7 of Bennett's broken tackles. 3) Kahlil Bell got carries in the rematch, so he probably has some broken tackles.
#58 by chemical burn // May 27, 2010 - 10:39am
Clearly what we need is the defense-adjusted broken tackle numbers (especially since 2 of the top 3 individual players in total broken tackles got to feast on the notably crappy Lions... or, maybe, the Lions aren't as bad as they looked, but just played really good tackle-breakers)
Also, let me make clear: I kinda love this stat. I love that FO has this & the QB hurries stats - just awesome, endlessly useful stats to play around with...
Has FO looked at any kind of correlation between broken tackles and individual DVOA (and, an even better, less likely possibility, year-to-year trends?)
#59 by Jimmy // May 27, 2010 - 12:43pm
That would be a little tricky for them as this is the first year they have tried to chart broken tackles. Give them time and all shall be revealed - in glorious technicolour!
#17 by ammek // May 26, 2010 - 12:59pm
Black and Blue —> Tap and Tumble
#16 by just another i… (not verified) // May 26, 2010 - 12:52pm
You know you're a Redskins fan when you see "Broken Tackles" pop up in your RSS feed, and you instantly assume it's a story about Washington's offensive line.
#14 by TayloreatsBrady (not verified) // May 26, 2010 - 12:44pm
Aaron, can you run this backwards and see what offenses broke the most tackles? What offenses were the toughest to tackle?
#15 by Nathan // May 26, 2010 - 12:49pm
Isn't that the left side of this chart? Carolina, Minnesota and Tennessee, just as you'd expect.
#32 by Bobman // May 26, 2010 - 2:47pm
That's my assumption. Also there is a different number of plays between the L and R columns, suggesting one was O and one was D.
#41 by Vincent Verhei // May 26, 2010 - 3:36pm
Also, the left side is labeled "offense" while the right side is labeled "defense."
#13 by Joseph // May 26, 2010 - 12:40pm
I'm guessing that 1) Offensive players were not marked as having broken tackles individually; or 2) It was marked, and is being saved for the book.
If they were marked, totals are probably highest for those who have more opportunites--thus percentages are a better measurement. Also, similar to the tables in the insider article, the best way to compare players is within their position group.
My bets for a high total or percentage: Big Ben amongst QB's, Pierre Thomas amongst RB's (Chris Johnson probably just made them miss--PT seems to run through guys who don't use good form), and Welker for WR's. Another guess is that Reggie Bush will be higher than non-Saints fans would guess. (Not saying he'll be top-10 or anything--just betting he'll be higher than the lower third.)
#10 by Nathan // May 26, 2010 - 12:18pm
i read this chart backwards initially and was completely baffled about philadelphia's numbers... then i realized they were terrible on both sides of the ball and it made a lot more sense
#22 by chemical burn // May 26, 2010 - 1:15pm
I wonder how far Asante Samuel was behind Sabby for the most broken "tackles."
Also, LeSean McCoy... gah.
#24 by Nathan // May 26, 2010 - 1:27pm
Depends if whiffs count as broken tackles.
#26 by Nathan // May 26, 2010 - 1:32pm
Per Aaron's link below...
"If the ball carrier sped by a slow defender who dived and missed, that didn't count as a broken tackle."
#38 by chemical burn // May 26, 2010 - 3:22pm
Whoa, whoa, whoa - Samuel would throw his shoulder into a guys chest and bounce off... not WHIFF.
#31 by Nathan // May 26, 2010 - 2:38pm
#8 by Karl Cuba // May 26, 2010 - 12:04pm
Look at the Ravens D, PwBT- 48 total -49. Only ONE PLAY with more than one broken tackle, amazing.
#7 by Karl Cuba // May 26, 2010 - 12:02pm
It's not even June yet, July the 6th is too far away. I demand either that you forego sleep to get the book out faster, construct a time machine or send me sufficient amounts of sleeping pills to put me under for a month. Your choice.
#6 by andrew // May 26, 2010 - 11:55am
I wanted to look at the difference between plays w/ BT to total # of BT, to see which ones were most likely to have multiple BT on one play....
This doesn't tell you # of o plays with multiple (e.g., all of Tampa's might've come on one play, where as Jacksonville might have had 29 plays with 2 broken tackles).
And I still wish we had a stat for "defenders batted aside like so many ants".
#5 by Reinhard (not verified) // May 26, 2010 - 11:51am
Also... there are times when it's fine if the offense breaks a tackle.
For example, if you are running a toss or a sweep, some kind of perimeter running play against the Colts.
Now you come up on the OLB near the line of scrimmage, as he goes to tackle you, you bend your run even further outside, and break his tackle.
But now Bob Sanders is flying up and tackles you near the line of scrimmage.
Basically, the OLB knows that if you decide to avoid his tackle and keep taking it further outside... well, the defense will still win the play. Meaning the broken tackles isn't ideal maybe, but in that situation it's really not a big problem.
#12 by dryheat // May 26, 2010 - 12:39pm
Yeah...come contract time, I think the OLB is going to wish he made those tackles, instead of figuring that it's no big deal because a safety will clean it up.
There is no situation where it's not a big deal for the defense to allow an offensive player to break a tackle.
#21 by Theo // May 26, 2010 - 1:08pm
When 2 points ahead and they're at your 1 with 30 seconds remaining.
Ok ok, other than that you're right.
#30 by Bobman // May 26, 2010 - 2:37pm
Unless that OLB was doing exactly as he was coached. Like those big "block-absorbing" DTs who free up LBs to do the work....
If the OLB allowed a cutback where there was no man, then he gets no new contract. If he funnels the run to where there is supposed to be a tackler, then it's a win for him, tackle or no. (A tackle means he gets a 5 year contract, a good funnel means he gets a 2-year deal.)
I won't pretentd to know exactly what the team wants, and logic dictates that a tackle is better than a funnel. But a missed assignment is far worse. Fans often hates guys that the team keeps--the team probably knows what they want, and our limited TV view doesn't help our global understanding of a guy's contribution.
This issue comes up on Colts blogs about their returners. Everybody wants a Devin Hester or Dante Hall in their prime and the Colts (or Clots if folks prefer) always have horrid FP. It's worth noting, though, that the team rarely drafts/signs returners. The team values ball safety in that situation, and no negative plays more than the five extra yards a good returner will net. Big returns are merely a bonus, not the goal. But when you have Manning and co, losing the ball is MUCH worse than starting at the 20. (I cringingly admit the irony of this after the SB, when one of the KRs DID screw up....) So a Colts returner who is a "human touchback" but never fumbles and averages 20 YPR will stick around over a guy who never fair catches, always runs it out, has a 25 YPR, but three fumbles.
#33 by dryheat // May 26, 2010 - 2:48pm
Wait a minute...yes, the job of some players is primarily to force a run back towards pursuit or to occupy double teams. Neither of these duties, however, is the equivalent of having the ball carrier break the tackle.
I'll be stunned if "allow wrapped-up ball carrier to escape" is a part of any defender's job description.
#37 by chemical burn // May 26, 2010 - 3:21pm
Yeah, dryheat is definitely right - if you are in any position to bring a guy down, make sure you do it.
But, this brings up the problem with this hole new Borken Tackles stat - does a guy fully occupied with a blocker, but able to reach out and briefly get a hand on a guy count as a broken tackle? I could imagine that an OLB in a such a position might be told "don't go flailing for an unlikely tackle and give up your position - just force the runner back inside."
But it seems like there is a high amount of subjectivity here - some tackles should be made 99% of the time: a MLB head on into a running back at the line of scrimmage with no holes for the back to realistically bounce to. Other times a tackle is less likely, like the occupied with a blocker scenario I just mentioned. Just barely getting a hand on a guy is much less likely to result in a tackle. Sure if Justin Tuck just barely gets his hand on LeSean McCoy, that's a possible tackle - but Asante Samuel being shoved downfield by Miles Austin and just barely reaching out to get his hand on Marion Barber... that's exactly 0% likelihood of being a tackle.
#43 by Aaron Schatz // May 26, 2010 - 3:57pm
"Does a guy fully occupied with a blocker, but able to reach out and briefly get a hand on a guy count as a broken tackle?"
If Justin Tuck just barely gets his hand on LeSean McCoy, that's not supposed to be marked a broken tackle either. Charters are told not to mark a broken tackle for just incidental contact. There is a lot of subjectivity here, but in general we're trying to mark broken tackles for what you think of as a broken tackle. We're not trying to just add up numbers for the sake of adding numbers.
#46 by chemical burn // May 26, 2010 - 4:10pm
Well... but Tuck will actually take him down most of the time, which is valuable to know because it's the demonstration of just how unlikely McCoy is to break a tackle. I know you're not trying to add up numbers - jeepers, man, no one on this site cites your numbers more than me. I'm just saying, I'm finding this number very tricky to calculate in a useful way and am curious about how it was tallied.
Most DT's can bring a guy like LeSean McCoy down by grabbing his jersey and yanking. Adrian Peterson... not so much. So, I was just wondering if the system is catching the true disparity between those runners (and everyone in between)
#64 by JonC // May 31, 2010 - 7:38am
The term "Borken Tackles" is so awesome it needs to be a new stat of some kind. How about, they are the opposite of assists, when a defensive player inadvertently (presumably!) knocks a fellow defender off the man he's tackling?
#39 by Reinhard (not verified) // May 26, 2010 - 3:23pm
A lot of football boils down to leverages and angles.
NFL running backs, and a lot of the receivers too, are pretty hard to bring down unless as a team your are all in the correct run fits and leverages. Basically, you are only responsible for one half, or some other percentage, of the ball carrier's possible actions. For example, if everyone on D did an exceptional job, then there's no where really for the runner to go. So you are free to come in and take an aggressive "kill shot." In the open field with no help, you have to break down and just hope you can hang on, an aggressive approach is too risky.
So the impact of a broken tackle is highly dependent on the context that it happened in, as well as how indicative it is of the player's tackling ability.
If a defender is able to shoot in to the backfield and get to the ball carrier right off the snap... there's a decent chance that they will end up NOT making the tackle, simply because they are coming in so aggressive. A lot of times they already defeated the play... it takes the ball carrier more time to get going again and find the hole, the blocking breaks down... team mates will come in and finish the job on your broken tackle.
#42 by Yaguar // May 26, 2010 - 3:51pm
Come contract time, a Colts OLB isn't going to be on the Colts anymore.
#4 by cajasky // May 26, 2010 - 11:49am
Can St. Louis low numbers means: a lot of plays with no tackes whatsoever?
I mean, a WR or HB gets the ball and runs to the end zone without being touched (Hole in the zone?)...lest of all, being tackled, even if ineffectively (that would not count as a play w/ BT, right?)
#9 by Nathan // May 26, 2010 - 12:08pm
or maybe their pass d was so atrocious that people didn't really bother running on them
#11 by Podge (not verified) // May 26, 2010 - 12:37pm
Isn't it based on plays though, which implies that the D made some sort of tackle at some point?
IMO the reason is that we let the opposition tire themselves out a running 20 yards downfield before we bothered going after them, so they were easier to tackle.
Random request: any chance we could see say the top 5 plays in number of broken tackles on a single play? I ask because I want to know if there was a better tackle breaking run than Steven Jackson's against Detroit from his own 2 or 3, where he stiff armed 4 guys and held off a 5th as he ran out of bounds.
Captcha: Dragged dawdled. Steven Jackson, Rams D.
#23 by chemical burn // May 26, 2010 - 1:18pm
Really curious about this - do they clarify anywhere if incomplete passes are included as plays? They must be right, since the QB can theoretically break a tackle on the play, but throw an incomplete pass? Or is did they go through every play and decide which plays had an opportunity for a tackle and only include those?
#27 by Theo // May 26, 2010 - 1:39pm
Total snaps. So yea incomletions are counted. You can break a tackle on a QB scramble.
And a team has about 1000 plays a season.
#36 by chemical burn // May 26, 2010 - 3:12pm
Hmm... that doesn't feel right. In addition to incompletions (most of which don't involve tackles or broken tackles and therefore don't really say anything about a broken tackle rate) what if a player just runs out of bounds? Again, that's neither a tackle nor a broken tackle, so it seems odd to include it in the rate stat. Same for touchdowns where nobody comes close to the ball-carrier.
That seems like enough common instances of "neither tackle nor broken tackle" to start screwing with the rate stat...
#48 by Theo // May 26, 2010 - 4:37pm
An incompletion is per definition not a broken tackle. Only if the QB broke a tackle, but I don't know if that is included.
But since the numbers are around 1000 I think it is about all offensive snaps. And all, I think every time the down and distance on the score sheet changed.
#54 by chemical burn // May 26, 2010 - 10:01pm
But that's exactly what I am saying: an incompletion is neither a broken tackle, but nor is it a not-broken-tackle. It shouldn't be counted as an offensive play at all in the rate stat because it shows nothing about a team's ability to break tackles or an opponents likelihood to botch a tackle. Same for running out of bounds, scoring an untouched TD, etc...
#1 by Theo // May 26, 2010 - 11:28am
A quick look learns that Miami has the most offensive snaps and 6th in fewest defensive snaps. Long wildcat drives... lots of big plays / 3 and outs.
Even more extreme, New England has the 2nd most offensive snaps and the 2nd fewest defensive snaps.
And BTkl is an indication for what? That St.Louis is the best tackling team? Who would've thought.
Indianapolis plays a bend don't break style defense.
Detroit plays a bad style of defense.
#2 by Stephen B Awesome (not verified) // May 26, 2010 - 11:43am
That's because the opposing teams had so much open space, they didn't even have to worry about breaking a tackle.
#44 by Neoplatonist B… (not verified) // May 26, 2010 - 4:09pm
Yeah, the end zone never misses a tackle!
#3 by andrew // May 26, 2010 - 11:44am
That game Miami lost to Indy in week 2 was exactly that... though I think you'd need to add a # of drives and field position data to properly gauge that...
#19 by Theo // May 26, 2010 - 1:04pm
Exactly what I was thinking too.
Miami taking 8 minutes to drive and the Clots respond with 3 passes for the same result.
#67 by zlionsfan // Jun 03, 2010 - 9:48pm
In 2009, the Lions' problem wasn't the defense as much as the people attempting to play it. Several of the starters were barely NFL-caliber players, and many of the backups were well below that standard. There really wasn't a defensive scheme that would have worked with that group.
This year, we may finally begin to see certain parts of the defense do their jobs consistently, which may show which remaining positions (hint: CORNERBACK) still require a considerable amount of improvement.