Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

26 Jan 2010

Stat of the Day: Pass Tackles for Linebackers

As part of our ongoing Stat of the Day series, we're digging deep into our spreadsheets to run a new stat every weekday until Super Bowl XLIV.

Thursday, we ran numbers that showed which cornerbacks made the most tackles after complete passes, as well as the most successful tackles after complete passes. Friday, we ran those numbers for safeties. Today, we finish out these out with linebackers. You can read Thursday's Stat of the Day for an explanation of where these stats come from. It's important to understand that these are play-by-play stats, not stats from our game charting project. That doesn't mean they aren't subjective, but the subjectivity belongs to the official scorers of the 32 teams, not the FO game charting volunteers. They only take into account plays that get made, not opportunities to make plays.

If you like Patrick Willis, today's list is for you. Nobody tackles receivers after complete passes quite like Patrick Willis.

Top 11 LB Making Plays on Complete Passes, 2009
Player Team Plays
52-P.Willis SF 63
56-B.Cushing HOU 57
59-D.Ryans HOU 52
59-L.Fletcher WAS 51
57-Dh.Jones CIN 50
52-D.Harris NYJ 47
55-L.Briggs CHI 47
52-M.Boley NYG 45
55-C.Session IND 45
55-S.Tulloch TEN 45
56-B.James DAL 45
Top 12 LB Making Stops on Complete Passes, 2009
Player Team Stops
52-P.Willis SF 30
56-B.Cushing HOU 22
52-D.Smith JAC 22
52-D.Harris NYJ 21
55-L.Briggs CHI 21
56-B.James DAL 20
56-D.Ryans HOU 19
59-L.Fletcher WAS 18
55-S.Tulloch TEN 17
57-Dh.Jones CIN 16
56-N.Barnett GB 16
99-K.Burnett SD 16

Those tables went over the top ten because of ties. This table goes over the top ten because I had to show everyone just how impressive Patrick Willis was.

Top 12 LB Stop Rate on Complete Passes, 2009
(min. 15 tackles after receptions)
Player Team Plays Stops Stop Rate
57-B.Scott NYJ 18 12 67%
99-M.Lawson SF 20 13 65%
50-J.Anderson CAR 18 11 61%
52-D.Smith JAC 39 22 56%
58-R.Maualuga CIN 16 9 56%
58-D.Vobora STL 16 9 56%
58-A.Pierce NYG 15 8 53%
51-B.Leber MIN 21 11 52%
51-G.McRath TEN 23 12 52%
99-K.Burnett SD 31 16 52%
59-W.Woodyard DEN 16 8 50%
52-P.Willis SF 63 30 48%

Our final table is led by a guy whose half-season in 2009 definitely didn't live up to his past performance. These numbers aren't a definite guide to who player well or who played poorly, but zero stops on 15 pass tackles is not a good thing.

Bottom 10 LB Stop Rate on Complete Passes, 2009
(min. 15 tackles after receptions)
Player Team Plays Stops Stop Rate
51-L.Tatupu SEA 15 0 0%
52-D.Jackson CLE 19 2 11%
53-D.Williams KC 30 5 17%
56-L.Hill SEA 17 3 18%
50-E.Sims DET 22 4 18%
52-J.Beason CAR 38 7 18%
51-C.Mays KC 16 3 19%
92-H.Hillenmeyer CHI 31 6 19%
51-J.Vilma NO 36 7 19%
55-J.Laurinaitis STL 35 7 20%
93-A.Spencer DAL 20 4 20%

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 26 Jan 2010

45 comments, Last at 29 Jan 2010, 10:02am by UTchamps


by JasonK :: Tue, 01/26/2010 - 5:53pm

The first and second charts are identical.

by Aaron Schatz :: Tue, 01/26/2010 - 6:34pm

Whoops! Fixing that now.

by alexbond :: Tue, 01/26/2010 - 6:01pm

Tatupu has the contract and the history to get the MLB spot when next season starts, but it will be interesting to see what happens with David Hawthorne. 4 good LBs in a 4-3 defense, probably the only good position on the roster.

by C (not verified) :: Tue, 01/26/2010 - 7:39pm

I've been tooting Heater Hawthornes horn for 2 years now ( after that nasty preseason last year) and Seattles LB depth goes farther than that. I also submitted Leory Hill's name to the underrated list 2-3 years ago for the FO annual list. The thing is though that Hawthrone isn't as polished as Lofa, and he's not going to play SAM, and he's not going to take Aaron Curry's spot... Seattle has 5 legit starting LB's for 3 spots...

I was watching a San Fran game during the season and I'd tend to think Patrick Willis is underrated as stupid as that sounds ... Everybody knows he's good but he's probably the best (non pass rushing OLB) in the league. He's a machine... Baby Ray Lewis.

I like Bradie James too, and I like San Diego's LB core besides Merriman ( Cooper/Phillips) don't think they get the credit they deserve on the East Coast. I like David Harris... I like Michael Boley's pass coverage.

by BigDerf :: Tue, 01/26/2010 - 6:54pm

That stop rate table is really really ugly. I feel like 15 isn't a high enough minimum.

by JasonG (not verified) :: Tue, 01/26/2010 - 7:01pm

I knew Briggs would be on the volume list. And I'm not surprised Hillenmeyer is at the bottom of the success list. The Tampa-2 might be over, but maybe the Bears D was so bad this year because Urlacher was just that good in it, even if he wasn't making highlight reels. The Bears D this season was a gaping sieve, especially in intermediate throws. No pass rush, receivers run deep, LBs retreat, wide open spaces in the middle, dump off to someone wide open, easy 10 yards. Rinse repeat. It was nauseating.

Urlacher could close off the deep middle with his speed and height and still recover to make those dump offs unsuccessful. HH, despite his knowledge of this system, just can't replicate that kind of playmaking. HH was a liability, the strong side was a revolving door after Pisa went down and Briggs was left to run down all the gentlemen left open.

I know almost every Bears fan is livid at the Tampa-2 that Lovie adheres to (and btw, they mix up Ds plenty), but when they had the playmakers up the middle (Tommie Harris, Urlacher, Mike Brown) it worked great. Funny how that works. With Tommie not himself for 3 years, Urlacher on IR and a mess at safety, no wonder the D wasn't quite as effective as expected.

Anyway, point was, Briggs and HH on these respective lists mirrors my perception of their play pretty well.

by commissionerleaf :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 3:37pm

I don't really blame Lovie Smith, unless he had something to do with the Devin Hester-stops-taking-KR's-and-PR's-and-starts-at-WR decision. The problem with Chicago is not that they are out schemed or out coached, it's that they're outplayed. Injuries and the regression of Tommie Harris have decimated the defense. They -really- need a Bob Sanders type of player to be the extra half-player. It used to be Urlacher, playing LB/Safety in the tampa 2, but obviously he's declining and was on IR this year. Demeco Ryans is an FA this year. Just saying. (So are O.J. Atogwe and Nick Collins, although neither is half the safety that Ryans is an MLB).

Chicago's front office has really botched almost everything since the Super Bowl year. Bringing in Jay Cutler will probably eventually work out, but probably too late to save Lovie. Johnny Knox and Devin Hester are just not NFL starters; at least not good ones, and the offensive line has been permitted to rust, a cardinal error for a supposedly defense-oriented team.

Cover 2 has gone out of vogue a bit, mostly because quarterbacks around the league got so used to reading the coverage and hitting the seam routes and slants that beat it. The thing now is heavily disguised coverages; often so disguised that receivers actually aren't covered at all (this was Arizona's problem to some extent in the Green Bay and New Orleans games). It will come full circle again eventually.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 01/28/2010 - 9:12am

Ryans is an RFA, and he'll be tendered at the top level, assuming he doesn't sign a long term deal. The Bears don't have the picks to get him.

by UTchamps (not verified) :: Tue, 01/26/2010 - 7:09pm

If Brian Cushing can continue on his development, he might give Willis a run for his money in the next few years. Cushing plus DeMeco Ryans equals one damn good LB tandem. Hoping the run numbers don't make me look dumb.

by Bobman :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 2:06am

They DO play in an odd division--two teams are run-first (and second) and two are pass first (and second, and third...) so you'd think the best mix for Texans/Colts LBs would be run-stoppers and the ideal for Jags/Titans LBs would be coverage guys.

I know it's just six games a year, and it seems to be an increasingly pass-oriented league, so leaning toward guys with better coverage/playing in space skills makes some sense.

Was Ryans hurt this year? He seemed somehow less impressive that past years. My favorite young MLB of that vintage is Jon Beason on Carolina--he impressed more than Willis his rookie year. If I didn't love Brackett so much, I'd be envious.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 10:12am

I'm surprised you felt Ryans had a down year: I thought 2009 was a big rebound from his indifferent (and injured) 2008. He's definitely a better run defender than pass, though, so I can see why he wouldn't look so hot against the Colts. Cushing's just been sensational: add in four picks and a bunch of passes defensed to those successful pass tackles, and then bear in mind that coverage is clearly the weakest part of his overall game, as compared to pass rushing and run stuffing. If he can stay healthy (big if), he's going to be special.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 1:59pm

"My favorite young MLB of that vintage is Jon Beason on Carolina--he impressed more than Willis his rookie year"

Thems fightin words Bobman.

I'd simply like to point out that Beason regressed because his DTs weren't able to protect him as well this year. I'd also advise you to watch a bit more Willis, he really is awesome; bigger, faster and more brutal than any other young linebacker in the game.

by UTchamps (not verified) :: Fri, 01/29/2010 - 10:02am

According to a lot of folks, this was Ryans best season. I think he was overshadowed a bit by Cushing's coming out party and the miserable defensive play of the first three games. I don't get to see a lot of Texans games so I can't really comment for myself.

by njjetfan12 :: Tue, 01/26/2010 - 7:45pm

I'm surprised to see Scott on the stop percentage list, since he really isn't very good in coverage IMO. He seems to get beat fairly often, and he's usually off the field on 3rd downs

by Temo :: Tue, 01/26/2010 - 8:03pm

Same story for Bradie James. I think it's because 1st and 2nd down pass coverage tackles by LBs are more representative of who's covering the "dump off" guy than anything else. The third down guys who are up there are the real stars (I miss you, Kevin Burnett).

by Arson55 :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 12:39am

You aren't alone.

And to think they tried to plug Bobby Carpenter into Burnett's role. It makes me kinda die inside.

by tuluse :: Tue, 01/26/2010 - 9:06pm

If he gets bad enough to where he doesn't make the tackle, then it doesn't effect his stop rate.

by Brendan Scolari :: Tue, 01/26/2010 - 10:11pm

Actually, according to Pro Football Focus at least, Scott only missed 14 defensive snaps the first 14 games, so he was definitely on the field for nearly every 3rd down. They did have him as -4.5 in pass coverage though, and from what I've seen I'd agree with your assessment that he's not that good in coverage.

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 01/26/2010 - 8:27pm

bolwy in top 8 on first list but didn't playall 16 games, right? somebody look it up , but if so then good, was good for Faclons in 2007 then had downpar year in 2008 and now back in business

by Quincy :: Tue, 01/26/2010 - 10:09pm

Boley only played in 11 games. Of course, he's also the only player in the top 8 on the tackles list that didn't make the stops list. I don't know if his actual stop rate was respectable or not. His high volume of tackles is most likely the result of opposing teams targeting the Giants' linebackers in the passing game.

by Brendan Scolari :: Tue, 01/26/2010 - 10:15pm

And this confirms that my man crush on Patrick Willis is legitimate. I also had a debate at the start of the year with some Seahawks fans about who was the better player, Willis or Lofa Tatupu. Score one for Willis.

by Arson55 :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 12:41am

Would anyone but delusional Seahawks fans pick Tatupu in that debate?

by Brendan Scolari :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 1:04am

Well, many Seahawks fans did pick him. I hope they wouldn't any more. I was told that Willis was overrated because of the lack of talent on the rest of the defense and that he wasn't very good in coverage. And I was also ridiculed for saying I'd rather have the Niners inside linebackers than the Seahawks linebackers. Granted, they play different schemes but Willis and Spikes are both damn good.

by alexbond :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 1:54am

I'm a Seahawks fan. No sane person would ever say that Tatupu is better than Willis, but I think I'm comfortable in saying the Hawks LBs are better than 9ers. Spikes is good at getting in (and winning at times) a fight with a guard, but he's hopeless against the pass, and I don't think he does too well when unblocked and forced to chase a play down. His weaknesses are covered up by scheme somewhat. I'd take Leroy Hill, who's the same type of guy, over Spikes, and Curry over Lawson/Haralson, and I think those two are better enough than their 9er counterpart to cover up the fact that Tups is outclassed by Willis.

by C (not verified) :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 10:06am

I like the 49ers linebackers, have for years, but Seattles are a better core ( even the depth). They have 2 guys that can start on their bench. 5 LBs deep for 3 spots.

by Brendan Scolari :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 1:58pm

I was only taking about the inside linebackers, although I agree the Seahawks linebacking unit as a whole is pretty darn impressive.

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 12:49pm

To be fair, Spikes was hired to be a run-stopper; that's what the "other" middle linebacker in the 9ers scheme is supposed to do.

It's true the outside linebackers are mainly just guys. Lawson is pretty good in coverage and okay rushing the passer; Haralson had a down year when everyone thought he might break out. The new hope on the outside is Ahmad Brooks, who had 6 sacks and 5 forced fumbles in limited time...of course, that looks a lot like Haralson's numbers last year. Compare those guys to Aaron Curry and any random joe off the street, and the Seahawks win.

by Kellerman :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 5:30pm

Yeesh! I just realized that at least three ex-bengals play prominent roles on the 9ers D.

by Brendan Scolari :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 1:56pm

Well I can assure you quite a few Seahawks fans did. It was at Field Gulls too, so I was talking with the (mostly) smarter segment of the fanbase.

Note: The discussion was only about inside linebackers so Curry and Hill don't count (and neither do Lawson, Haralson, and Brooks). Although Curry was terrible this year anyway so I wouldn't take him for right now over any of the Niners' starting LB's. Obviously his potential is much higher than anyone but Willis though.

by Jews (not verified) :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 7:50pm

Saying Curry was terrible is an understatement, I'm fairly sure he was one of the worst linebackers in the NFL this year.

by Brendan Scolari :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 10:47pm

Yeah, PFF had him ranked #51 out of 53 4-3 outside linebackers, ahead of only Scott Shanle and Ernie Sims.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 2:09pm

The other factor that makes Willis' stats look even more impressive is that he is one of the only MLBs in the league who is regularly asked to cover the deep middle in a Tampa-2 defense (this is really a cover 3 defense, shouldn't this particular play be called a Tampa-3?). This really is unique, I can't think of any other 3-4 linebacker who is asked to take on guards without the help of two DTs in the run game and then asked to cover a deep third, which will lower his stop rate on pass tackles.

by commissionerleaf :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 3:43pm

If the MLB is covering a deepish middle zone, that's a Tampa-2. Generally speaking, Cover 3 has the MLB shifting to cover an underneath zone, with the safeties and cornerbacks covering the deep zones. This is part of the reason Cover 3 is less popular; it involves a lot more movement to the assigned zones unless the CB's play way "off".

The difference between "Cover-2" and "Tampa-2" is the MLB is deep in the Tampa-2.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 4:57pm

I am aware that it's called a Tampa-2 but as it's a cover 3 it should be called a Tampa-3. Just to avoid confusion. Just my humble opinion.

by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 1:27am

Sounds like LSD or ectstacy big in Seattle. Only reaosn to explain why sehawls fans think Tatapu better than Willis. might also explain fascination with neon green uniforms.

remember old threads here about Seahawks selling jones soda at stadium. that was one of first posts ever at FO.
Then next year guy post therad about Seahwks making players wear special pants that keep players legs warm.

silly team. Don't tknow about other teams but think Raiders care about soda and pants? No. Only concern is winnign. Always is, awlays was.

by Bobman :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 2:09am

No, we just have better beer than the Bay Area.

(sound of gauntlet being thrown down)

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 12:50pm

...but worse coffee.

by starzero :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 9:33am

Raiders don't care about pants? Maybe they should get Singletary to coach.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 5:54pm

Or Joe Cullen if he's still around.

by mrh :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 11:08am

SF was 3rd in number of opposing rb pass targets with 124 (TEN, 141; DET, 130; average 104). 15 of them came in the opening game vs. ARI where Hightower was targeted 14 times (league high for an rb this year) and Willis tackled him 8 times.

RB targets seem to be more a function of offense design rather than defense. The team totals on offense range from 151 (BAL) to 65 (NYJ), with a standard deviation of 22. The team totals for defenses (pass targets to opposing rbs) range from 141 (TEN) to 85 (NYG), standard deviation = 13.

Without taking anything from Willis, part of his high tackle total comes from having more opportunities to tackle rbs catching the ball. Obviously that's not aall of it or we'd see a TEN or DET LB higher than Tulloch.

by libelec (not verified) :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 11:17am

Could you tell me how Jerod Mayo did in this cathegories?

by Dean :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 11:51am

I'm a little surprised to see Laurenitis in the bottom 10.

I wonder if that's partly that he's a rookie and learning, and partly that he doesn't have much help?

by The Other Ben Johnson (not verified) :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 12:30pm

Thank you for justifying the happiness I feel about London Fletcher playing in the Pro Bowl over Jonathan Vilma.

by Jews (not verified) :: Wed, 01/27/2010 - 7:52pm

There is no possible way Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill did worse in this stat than Aaron Curry

by HAL9000 (not verified) :: Thu, 01/28/2010 - 12:31pm

Wouldn't it seem that a higher play count means quarterbacks were willing to throw against these LBs? And, how do defensed passes that end up incomplete not figure in as stops?