Broken Tackles 2011

Broken Tackles 2011
Broken Tackles 2011
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Aaron Schatz

Today, more of our series presenting various 2011 stats from the multitude of Football Outsiders spreadsheets. Broken tackles are a stat from game charting, not from the standard play-by-play. 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. We only measured 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.

One interesting thing about broken tackles is that, while our definition has stayed constant in the three years we've been counting them, the number of broken tackles has gone down five percent in each season, between 2009 and 2010 and then again between 2010 and 2011. I have no idea if this means that tackling has improved over the last couple of years, or if our charters were a little too lax in marking broken tackles back in 2009 and have gradually been adhering tighter to our definition, or if perhaps the opposite is true and the charters are being too strict and missing too many broken tackles. Anyway, these are the numbers we've got, so these are the numbers we've got to go with.

Here is a list of all running backs with at least 20 broken tackles in 2011:

Most Broken Tackles, 2011 RB
Player Team BT Runs Rec Touches BT/Touch
LeSean McCoy PHI 50 273 48 321 15.6%
Michael Turner ATL 42 301 17 318 13.2%
Maurice Jones-Drew JAC 37 343 43 386 9.6%
Matt Forte CHI 36 203 52 255 14.1%
Marshawn Lynch SEA 34 285 28 313 10.9%
Rashard Mendenhall PIT 34 228 18 246 13.8%
Fred Jackson BUF 33 170 39 209 15.8%
Arian Foster HOU 32 278 53 331 9.7%
Chris Johnson TEN 30 262 57 319 9.4%
LeGarrette Blount TB 30 184 15 199 15.1%
Player Team BT Runs Rec Touches BT/Touch
Ray Rice BAL 29 291 76 367 7.9%
Reggie Bush MIA 29 216 43 259 11.2%
Adrian Peterson MIN 26 208 18 226 11.5%
Ryan Mathews SD 24 222 50 272 8.8%
Willis McGahee DEN 22 249 12 261 8.4%
Isaac Redman PIT 22 110 18 128 17.2%
Ahmad Bradshaw NYG 21 171 34 205 10.2%
Jonathan Stewart CAR 21 142 47 189 11.1%
Steven Jackson STL 20 260 42 302 6.6%
Pierre Thomas NO 20 110 50 160 12.5%

LeSean McCoy led our count of broken tackles last year after finishing third in 2010. Most of the same running backs who had a lot of broken tackles in 2010 also had a lot in 2011. The biggest riser is Matt Forte, who we only recorded with 15 broken tackles in 2010, although he had 27 in 2009. The big drop came from Peyton Hillis, who went from 35 broken tackles in 2010 to just four in 2011. Some of that has to do with fewer carries, but his rate of broken tackles per touch went from 10.6 percent to 2.2 percent, which was the lowest rate for any running back with at least 80 touches. Two other running backs who saw their broken tackle totals plummet were Cedric Benson, who dropped from 30 broken tackles in 2010 to just 10 in 2011, and Danny Woodhead, who went from 20 in 2010 to just three in 2011.  Most of the other players who climbed or dropped on the list did so primarily because they had a big increase or decrease in touches. For example, Reggie Bush went from 10 to 29, while Darren McFadden fell from 37 to 12.

(2010 broken tackle numbers are in this article, and 2009 numbers are here. For 2009, the individual numbers are an ESPN Insider piece, but the team numbers were free on Football Outsiders.)

LeGarrette Blount had the "Beast Mode Run of the Year," the play with the most broken tackles charted on one run. In Week 11 against Green Bay, we have him avoiding Sam Shields, Morgan Burnett, A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop, and Eric Walden on a 54-yard touchdown run.

Here's another way to look at things, 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:

Highest Broken Tackle Rate, 2011 RB
Player Team BT Runs Rec Touches BT/Touch
Javon Ringer TEN 16 59 28 87 18.4%
Isaac Redman PIT 22 110 18 128 17.2%
Fred Jackson BUF 33 170 39 209 15.8%
LeSean McCoy PHI 50 273 48 321 15.6%
Jahvid Best DET 17 84 27 111 15.3%
LeGarrette Blount TB 30 184 15 199 15.1%
Matt Forte CHI 36 203 52 255 14.1%
Kevin Smith DET 13 72 22 94 13.8%
Rashard Mendenhall PIT 34 228 18 246 13.8%
Michael Turner ATL 42 301 17 318 13.2%
Lowest Broken Tackle Rate, 2011 RB
Player Team BT Runs Rec Touches BT/Touch
Peyton Hillis CLE 4 161 22 183 2.2%
Danny Woodhead NE 3 77 18 95 3.2%
Thomas Jones KC 5 153 5 158 3.2%
Cedric Benson CIN 10 273 15 288 3.5%
Maurice Morris DET 4 80 26 106 3.8%
Frank Gore SF 12 282 17 299 4.0%
Ricky Williams BAL 5 108 13 121 4.1%
Tim Hightower WAS 4 84 10 94 4.3%
Jackie Battle KC 7 149 9 158 4.4%
Michael Bush OAK 13 256 37 293 4.4%

Jacquizz Rodgers just misses making these lists, with only 78 touches, but he led all rookies with 19 broken tackles. That's a 24.4 percent rate of broken tackles per touch.

This is the third year where Frank Gore has been one of the lower running backs in broken tackles. We had 24 broken tackles for him in 2009 (8.5 percent rate) and 11 broken tackles last year (4.4 percent rate). Gore has a rep for breaking tackles, but it doesn't seem to be earned.

Michael Vick and Tim Tebow tied for the lead among quarterbacks with 22 broken tackles apiece. This year we took up Bill Simmons on an idea that he had on one of last year's B.S. Report podcasts, and we specifically tracked "Houdinis," the number of plays where a quarterback escaped a possible sack. Vick had 17 of these and we didn't record another quarterback with even half that many.

Most Broken Tackles, 2011 QB
Player Team BT Houdinis Past LOS
Michael Vick PHI 22 17 5
Tim Tebow DEN 22 8 14
Cam Newton CAR 13 5 8
Josh Freeman TB 12 7 5
Alex Smith SF 8 4 4
Joe Webb MIN 8 5 3
Drew Brees NO 7 5 2
Colt McCoy CLE 6 3 3
Aaron Rodgers GB 6 4 2
Christian Ponder MIN 4 4 0
Matthew Stafford DET 4 4 0

Aaron Hernandez led all tight ends or wide receivers in broken tackles, by a wide margin, and his Patriots compatriot Rob Gronkowski was fourth. Here's a look at the top ten wide receivers and tight ends in broken tackles:

Most Broken Tackles, 2011 WR/TE
Player Team BT Runs Rec Touches BT/Touch
Aaron Hernandez NE 21 5 79 84 25.0%
Mike Wallace PIT 14 5 72 77 18.2%
Greg Little CLE 13 3 61 64 20.3%
Rob Gronkowski NE 13 1 90 91 14.3%
Calvin Johnson DET 12 1 96 97 12.4%
Nate Burleson DET 12 11 73 84 14.3%
Victor Cruz NYG 11 1 82 83 13.3%
Dwayne Bowe KC 11 1 81 82 13.4%
Jason Witten DAL 11 0 79 79 13.9%
Michael Crabtree SF 10 1 72 73 13.7%
Dez Bryant DAL 10 1 63 64 15.6%

A list with the lowest rate of broken tackles for wide receivers would be kind of silly, since there were a lot of wide receivers and tight ends with only one or two broken tackles. Of note, we had only two receivers who had more than 40 catches with zero broken tackles according to our charters: Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney. Percy Harvin had only six broken tackles in 2011 after leading all wide receivers in both 2009 and 2010.

The league leader in broken tackles by offensive tackles was Guy Whimper, with one. You might remember that play from this edition of Walkthrough.

Finally, here's the overall list for broken tackles on offense:

Broken Tackles by Offenses, 2011
Offense Plays Plays w BT Total BT Pct Plays w BT
PHI 1018 86 96 8.4%
ATL 1046 82 99 7.8%
PIT 995 78 93 7.8%
TEN 969 70 78 7.2%
CHI 967 66 73 6.8%
BUF 976 64 73 6.6%
NE 1068 65 75 6.1%
CAR 987 60 64 6.1%
DAL 1001 60 68 6.0%
DET 1052 62 73 5.9%
HOU 1027 60 65 5.8%
NO 1104 64 81 5.8%
SEA 993 57 68 5.7%
MIN 999 57 63 5.7%
NYG 1006 57 67 5.7%
JAC 984 55 63 5.6%
Offense Plays Plays w BT Total BT Pct Plays w BT
DEN 1004 55 62 5.5%
TB 950 52 69 5.5%
OAK 999 54 59 5.4%
ARI 979 49 55 5.0%
SD 1026 51 65 5.0%
SF 971 48 58 4.9%
GB 962 47 52 4.9%
MIA 978 47 51 4.8%
KC 1005 45 50 4.5%
CLE 1012 45 57 4.4%
BAL 1016 44 49 4.3%
IND 938 39 44 4.2%
WAS 1018 38 45 3.7%
CIN 1004 37 39 3.7%
NYJ 1019 34 41 3.3%
STL 1004 29 33 2.9%

Next week, I'll run the list of the most broken tackles by defenders and defenses.


41 comments, Last at 20 Feb 2013, 5:49am

#1 by Thomas_beardown // Apr 13, 2012 - 12:48pm

I find it hard to believe Cutler didn't have at least 4 Houdinis.

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#4 by Aaron Schatz // Apr 13, 2012 - 1:09pm

I'm happy to check out specific plays if you've got 'em.

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#19 by Mountain Time … // Apr 14, 2012 - 10:16pm

This is one of the reasons I love this site: the attitude of "if we're wrong, we will admit it and try to get it right!"

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#6 by Jimmy // Apr 13, 2012 - 2:13pm

With just his feet, maybe. With his feet and his arm, way more. He doesn't scramble around and then charge upfield, when he runs for first downs he generally lets the defense back off throws a pump fake and then sprints over the marker. He doesn't run backwards and forwards using elite speed to escape pressure.

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#2 by Tim Wilson // Apr 13, 2012 - 1:04pm

Interesting that Mendenhall had a relatively high Broken Tackle Rate but still had a subpar year and a low YPC. So he can break tackles at a decent clip when defenders reach him, but he still wasn't overly productive. Is this an indictment of his offensive line (he's getting reached by an inordinate number of tacklers), an indictment of his burst/speed (even though he can break tackles, it doesn't make up for his inability to gain yards explosively), maybe a knock on his vision (he's running to where the tacklers are)? A little bit of all of these?

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#10 by drobviousso // Apr 13, 2012 - 3:24pm

It is the line and the play calling. Lots of Mendy's runs are on predictable downs running inside against the teeth of the defense. Doesn't help that the guards range from replacement level to spinal tap drummer. The guy isn't Bettis, but he's not trash either. Lots of guys would look bad in his situation.

At least, that's what I thought till Redman started emerging late in the season. Now I don't know if that guy is a short yardage monster (second in BT/touch, 5th in success rate) or if Mendy really is the problem.

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#12 by cumshot_feminist (not verified) // Apr 13, 2012 - 9:33pm

As someone who watches every Steelers game I can say with certainty that Mendenhall has exceptionally poor vision. Might have something to do with his eyes being on the sides of his head (Sort of like a fish).

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#20 by Mountain Time … // Apr 14, 2012 - 10:19pm

Do you have a picture illustrating this? His eye placement looks normal to me.

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#28 by Theo // Apr 15, 2012 - 4:55am

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#29 by Aaron Schatz // Apr 15, 2012 - 12:59pm

Dear person above. Can you please do me a favor and next time you post to FO, please post as a different username? Thanks.

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#41 by fallforward (not verified) // Feb 20, 2013 - 5:49am

The broken tackle stat isn't very significant. He was one of the top, but he broke 34 tackles in an entire season,which accounts for a low percentage of the plays. He likely didn't get very many yards while being tackled when he was tackled, from what I've seen he actually isn't very good at that. That must have killed his average. I don't think its a knock on the line, because its easy to break one and not take it the distance. If you break one tackle and reach the endzone, more than likely they didn't get hit until a FS touched them, or the safety took a poor angle

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#3 by Joseph // Apr 13, 2012 - 1:05pm

And we see 2 QB's who opposing defenses don't like to tackle.

(I'd wager Vick had 4 "make the guy miss" and 1 true "broken" tackle, or 5 & 0.)
Aaron, is their any way to have the GC's split these out, or it is too much?

Points: 0

#5 by IAmJoe // Apr 13, 2012 - 1:36pm

How is making him miss any more or less valuable than stiff-arming or running through an arm tackle? A juke that causes a guy to lunge at air is just as valuable as running through the arm tackle.

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#17 by Mr Shush // Apr 14, 2012 - 2:29pm

They might turn out to be equivalent retrodictively, but not predictively. Maybe juking a guy out of his shorts is more indicative of the runner's skill, and breaking through an arm tackle is primarily down to bad form from the defender, for example. I'm not saying it's so, but it might be an interesting thing to investigate.

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#7 by AndersJ (not verified) // Apr 13, 2012 - 2:15pm

I wonder if you could start tracking houdinis for RBs? Aka TFLs there became positive yards instead. I know a good part of McCoys broken tackles would had been a TFL had it not been for him juking around like he was controlled by a joystick

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#8 by BlueStarDude // Apr 13, 2012 - 2:37pm

I'm pretty sure Romo would be close to Vick in Houdinis if you counted pirouetting from imagined defenders, which I guess would be paranoid Houdinis?

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#9 by foolrider // Apr 13, 2012 - 3:22pm

Do high broken tackle rates explain some variation or luck in an offensive or defensive performance?

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#11 by The Voice (not verified) // Apr 13, 2012 - 4:00pm

Next year I strongly suspect Trent Richardson will lead the league in broken tackles.

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#25 by Reinhard (not verified) // Apr 14, 2012 - 10:33pm

I watched some Trent Richardson highlights and I didn't see any broken tackles. It doesn't count if the guy just gets a hand on you...
Like I said maybe he broke a ton of tackles in other plays that weren't included.
Take a look at the 1:23 mark, that kind of looks like a broken tackle. Except that it isn't, since he goes down a couple yards later.
He has a lot of TRUCKS from what I see, and drags people. But I never see him completely juke some (there is one time he gets a guy in the backfield) or truck someone AND THEN KEEP RUNNING ie contact leading to... dis-contact (?)

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#13 by akn // Apr 13, 2012 - 11:32pm

Given the rising trend of poor tackling technique, these broken tackle stats would be much more meaningful if they were defense adjusted. Alternatively, a list of team defenses with the most failed tackles would be nice.

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#18 by Thomas_beardown // Apr 14, 2012 - 2:37pm

Is that trend real or is just something people claim when they want to say concussions are the players fault or want to point out how the good old days were better (when I can show them a 10 minute long highlight tape of Butkus tackling players solely by trying to twist their heads off).

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#21 by Reinhard (not verified) // Apr 14, 2012 - 10:22pm

Why don't you demonstrate proper tacking technique on Adrian Peterson for us? This type of cr*p p*sses me *ff!

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#32 by Insancipitory // Apr 15, 2012 - 5:08pm

Rip the ball out of his hands?

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#22 by Mountain Time … // Apr 14, 2012 - 10:22pm

If you read the whole thing, you'd see that at the end of the article, Aaron says the broken tackle list for defenses will come out next week.

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#14 by ticttocs (not verified) // Apr 14, 2012 - 12:20am

Do you get extra credit if you break 4 ankles at once and don't even get touched?

Imma gettin' football xcited!!

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#15 by Aaron Schatz // Apr 14, 2012 - 12:34pm

I actually looked that play up. That one has only one broken tackle listed, on Johnson, because Johnson's fail sort of blocked Lewis from getting to Lynch even if Lewis was able to.

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#24 by Reinhard (not verified) // Apr 14, 2012 - 10:25pm

What about Lewis's ankles though?
I would describe as such... Johnson's poor angle contributed to Lewis looking so bad. He assumed that Johnson would cut off any outside angle/move, but Johnson came in for the tackle, rather than maintaining his leverage.
Football's all about angles and leverages.

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#27 by ticttocs (not verified) // Apr 15, 2012 - 12:48am

I referenced this play not to be critical of the 'scoring' of broken tackles (I appreciate FO taking on this stat, grey area be damned) but because this article got me in Beast Mode. Though I think a case could be made that Lewis was already juked before Johnson's fail. But your point is taken. What made this play extra special, regardless of being a pedestrian middle season game, it was 3rd down at a critical juncture and had Lewis or Johnson made the tackle they would of held Lynch shy of the 1st down. They failed. Hawks won.

And Aaron commented on my post! Whoooooo!

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#26 by Mountain Time … // Apr 14, 2012 - 10:40pm

I don't understand how anybody could enjoy watching this play. Watching another human get hurt like that is just grotesque. It's like people who say their favorite movie is Requiem For a Dream.

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#31 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 15, 2012 - 3:34pm

How about bouncing off one linebacker, then spraining the other's ankle without touching him?

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#16 by Seahawksfan (not verified) // Apr 14, 2012 - 1:05pm

Why isn't Golden Tate on the list? It was even said in this PFF article he was eighth among all wide receivers with 13:

Golden Tate, WR (60th overall pick in 2010): A player who just doesn’t drop balls, Tate also has a knack for breaking tackles after finishing eighth among all receivers with 13–despite catching half as many balls as the guys above him. He looks to now have the trust of the Seahawks’ coaching staff and could be poised to break out.

I do understand these are two different sites, but you yourself said the difference should only be by about 1 or 2 broken tackles, up or down, and that should of got him on the list.

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#23 by Mountain Time … // Apr 14, 2012 - 10:24pm

I don't think you understand how this works.

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#30 by Aaron Schatz // Apr 15, 2012 - 1:01pm

We registered Tate with 8 broken tackles. Again, if you want to suggest specific plays we might have missed, I'm happy to take a look.

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#33 by chemical burn // Apr 16, 2012 - 11:13am

It's amazing how much LeSean McCoy has changed as player - after his rookie year, I genuinely thought he had no business paying at the NFL level because he would go down when brushed by a feather, he was just so small and weak that he would get knocked to the ground by the back of his o-line when trying to bounce to a hole. (Also, because he carries the ball so precariously, it seemed like fumbling was going to be a huge issue for him.) But now, 2 years running, he's one of the hardest dudes in the league to bring down - guess I don't always have to ignore a team's insistence that "he put on weight and beefed up in the off-season" even though it's still bunk probably half the time...

Also, Vick's numbers are funny because of his terrible sack rate - as if it was even an open question, he's clearly causing his own sacks by trying to land "Houdini's." Just compare his sack rate to Vince Young's extremely low numbers... I would genuinely be interested to see "QB gets pointlessly hammered because he's dancing around back there on a hopeless play" numbers because Vick has to lead to league in those.

Points: 0

#34 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 16, 2012 - 2:42pm

Vick loses about as many yards to sacks per year as McNabb did, but runs for about 500 more yards per year. Vick's Houdinis seem to work out for him at least as often as they result in a Roethlisberger.

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#36 by chemical burn // Apr 17, 2012 - 11:19am

double post

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#35 by chemical burn // Apr 17, 2012 - 11:18am

That's fine - I would agree that McNabb caused a ton of his own sacks. My point is that he's causing the problems, not the o-line (which is the standard media narrative.) I personally am just pretty tired after 10 years of watching QB's dance around in the backfield at the worst possible times, increase their risk of injury and cause an unnecessary amount of negative plays. It's all better than watching David Carr or whoever play QB, but I wish that Vick (and McNabb in his early years) would be more judicious with their scrambling around...

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#37 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 17, 2012 - 11:29am

Cutler was pretty good behind a porous line and still took a ton of abuse despite dumping the ball off to avoid the sack.

I think Vick does often run himself into trouble, but that's also often subsequent to having run out of earlier trouble. There's also the spy factor -- the existence of his threat to run often demands either zone coverage or a man+spy. His passing effectiveness likely rises because his scrambling stretches the amount of time DBs must cover and his threat to run for positive yardage absorbs a LB who would otherwise be in coverage. This isn't a concern with the Captain Checkdown types.

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#38 by chemical burn // Apr 17, 2012 - 2:17pm

Yeah, but look at his sack numbers compared to Vince Young's last year - they are starkly different and with a reasonably large sample size for a single-season (Young played basically 4 games worth of snaps vs. Vick's 11-ish.) The Eagles line is good and certainly was above average by mid-season - they had the best LT in football playing for them and McCoy was frequently 10 yards down field before he got touched. (And, again, Young had one of the better sack rates in the NFL and he's sure not a quick-thinking check-down type.)

Yes, Vick gains efficiency as a passer from his running, but he's also creating a huge amount of negative plays and getting himself injured, which reduces his effectiveness to zero. Truly, he'd be better off picking his spots and generating 2 or 3 really effective scrambles a game to put the fear in defenses than getting hammered for negative yards (or a small pick-up) every single drive. But he was #5 in rushing DVOA and #2 in rushing DYAR, so he's certainly generating value. I just think he's taking too much punishment and having too many negatives...

Anyhoo, I think for a variety of reasons, the Eagles better not be planning on building the team around Vick in 2013 (and they'll be faintly lucky to get a useful 2012 out of him)...

Points: 0

#39 by LionInAZ // Apr 17, 2012 - 6:39pm

I agree with you that Vick gets himself into situations where he gets hurt too often, but:

1) Vince Young was sacked 8 times in 114 attempts in 2011 (7.0% rate) vs Vick's 23 sacks in 423 pass attempts (5.4%) [source:], so unless you're using very different numbers Young actually gets sacked more frequently than Vick. (Young is also much bigger than Vick, making him a tougher tackle, but that doesn't appear to be relevant here.)

2) Can you really compare the O-line blocking on run plays versus plays where Vick is improvising a scramble? The first case has set blocking assignments, while in the second case the blockers have to react to what Vick is doing. (I don't think it means he's running out of trouble though. He could be trying to divert coverage from his receivers to his threat to run.)

Points: 0

#40 by chemical burn // Apr 18, 2012 - 3:35pm

I'm using FO's adjusted sack rate, which accounts for strength of opponent, among other factors. Vick rates worse by those numbers and Young, much much better. It was one of the most striking things when they posted them - Vick vs. Young.

I can compare the pass-blocking to the run-blocking because I watched the games and Vick definitely runs himself into trouble - this is also taking into account Vick's extremely long and sloppy dropbacks which every DE knows is coming and account for. I would guess a lot of his sacks and scrambles originated in DE's tearing straight back past the T's outside shoulder straight off the line to a point beyond where the normal pocket would be as that's where Vick would start to get set - they'd almost meet him there. Since stepping up into the pocket is tough for the short Vick, those plays would break down in a hurry - he'd frequently try to shoot out the land caused by the ultra-wide speed rush of the DE... but the LB's would know what the DE's where planning to do and would be right there in the hole to meet Vick. That he frequently nonetheless turned these plays into useful gains testifies to his amazing athleticism... but he style of play caused him to need to utilize that athleticism. And that's my only point here: that's one of several ways in which he's the source of his own problems and having the best o-line in the league wouldn't cause his sack rate to go down significantly, nor prevent him from finding himself in constant trouble.

I am probably over-stating it, but that's actually why I would be curious about my semi-joking "number of plays where the QB dances around and then gets himself hammered" stats to contrast with the "Houdini's" another stat with a joke-y origin. I bet Vick leads the league in both. And I would gladly accept fewere Houdini's to go along with fewer "dude got pointlessly hammered" plays.

Points: 0

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