News & Analysis

Stories of the Season: Missed Tackles

By Khaled Elsayed
Nov 24, 2011

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“Football is only two things – blocking and tackling.”

You don’t need me to tell you who uttered those words, but in this age of spread offenses and option quarterbacks it’s easily forgotten. Maybe it’s something we’ve all neglected in the past, but given the changes to practices that were part of the new CBA along with a shortened offseason, it was always going to be a talking point … and, after watching Packer defenders bounce off LeGarrette Blount it’s now even more of one.

So I’ve looked through all the PFF data on tackling over the past two years to not just offer some numbers as to whether more tackles are being missed, but also to find out which teams are missing them. Now, what constitutes a missed tackle is, to a degree, subjective, but we do apply universal rules amongst our analysts so it’s objective in that regard.

Anyway, the findings …


The Increase

Let’s get this out of the way: more tackles are being missed this year. This is all figured out by looking at how many tackles have been attempted (tackles + assists + missed tackles), adding them up and then working out a little percentage based on how many were missed. We can’t give you a reason as to why, but our data shows that while 9.37 percent of all tackles attempted were missed in 2010, that numbers has risen to 9.89 percent in 2011. That may not seem like a lot, but applying this seasons’ percentage to ’10 would equate to an extra 175 missed tackles. That’s like giving over half the league an Asante Samuel clone and watching him go to work.

I could waffle on about the causes and implications, possibly even offer a few suggestions. But one man’s ranting can tend to get in the way of some more definitive stories, especially from this year. So let’s focus in on the 2011 data and look at some of the success stories – and some of the letdowns.


Success in San Francisco

Back in 2010, the 49ers weren’t exactly a bad team in the tackling department. They had the seventh lowest percentage of missed tackles in the entire league, led by Takeo Spikes and Patrick Willis, who missed just 10 between them. Not bad when you’ve combined for 221 tackles and assists. Losing Spikes (who only missed two all year) could have seen this unit drop off, and while NaVorro Bowman has missed 10 alone, improved play in the secondary has led to the 49ers missing fewer attempted tackles than any other team. Take a look at a player like Dashon Goldson who missed 10 tackles last year, and has missed only three so far this year. Incredibly, that’s the second-highest number on the team. Other franchises have multiple players miss that many in a single game. It’s not the biggest reason for the 49ers’ upturn in fortunes, but it has played a part into making them a legitimate playoff team.


Terrible Tackling in Tampa

If I’m honest, the inspiration for this research just so happened to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After watching them miss 42 tackles in three games, I was astounded and started digging to find out just how much worse they are than everyone else. Well, as it turns out, they’re quite a lot worse. Their 15.54% of attempted tackles missed almost makes even the atrocious Eagles look competent. Almost. It’s nothing new for the Bucs as they had the sixth-highest percentage last year, but it’s almost impressive how much worse they’ve become. Players deserving special mentions (percentage of tackles missed in parenthesis) include Quincy Black (25.5%), Ronde Barber (22.7%) and Tanard Jackson (a staggering 44%) who have all played significant parts.


Not learning from their mistakes

Tampa Bay isn’t the only notoriously bad tackling team. People thinking that this is a problem the Philadelphia Eagles have developed this year are sorely mistaken. They led the league with 11.43% of attempted tackles missed last year, and have managed to raise that figure to 13.24% in 2011. Normally, it’s pretty clear where to lay the blame for Eagle misses (Asante Samuel), but he’s being upstaged by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (26.1%), Nnamdi Asomugha (27.3%) and rookie Brian Rolle (22%) as the Eagles are splitting the blame between a number of players. Still, while the Bucs have missed 42 tackles in three weeks the Eagles do seem to be getting better. Just 21 over the past three games shows definite improvement.


Tackling the Issue

When you think of the best defenses in the league at the moment, who springs to mind? You’ve got the aforementioned 49ers, but what about teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos? Both have among the lowest percentage of missed tackles, and it’s a big reason why they’re in with a shot at making the playoffs. The same has to be said of Houston, who went from missing the 10th-most attempted tackles in 2010, to the fifth-fewest so far in 2011. Such an overlooked part of the game, yet so important, it’s one where if you can get the basics right, you’re in position to do good things.

Perhaps I’m overstating it, though. The game is different to the era Vince Lombardi referenced with his famous quotes. But I’ll stand by my belief that one of the biggest ways you can improve your defense is by doing the simple things right. It’s why Houston looks to be a sure bet to make the playoffs, and why Tampa Bay doesn’t. Why the Broncos can get by with Tim Tebow flinging the football, and the Colts can’t do without Peyton Manning. Why … well, you get my point. Tackling plays a big role in a teams’ success, so let’s look at which teams rank where when it comes to missing tackles.


TacklesAssistsMissed TacklesTTAMT %
Tampa Bay Buccaneers436649259215.54%
Philadelphia Eagles390626952113.24%
Carolina Panthers435647157012.46%
Detroit Lions450617258312.35%
New Orleans Saints408686654212.18%
Miami Dolphins431666856512.04%
Green Bay Packers409796255011.27%
Atlanta Falcons416705954510.83%
Indianapolis Colts5241327973510.75%
Tennessee Titans488656461710.37%
St. Louis Rams447756058210.31%
San Diego Chargers417945856910.19%
New England Patriots45679585939.78%
Arizona Cardinals48065596049.77%
N.Y. Jets42163525369.70%
Cincinnati Bengals41780525499.47%
Washington Redskins44086545809.31%
Minnesota Vikings46775555979.21%
Kansas City Chiefs45172535769.20%
Baltimore Ravens42684515619.09%
Cleveland Browns44465505598.94%
N.Y. Giants43663495488.94%
Jacksonville Jaguars43677495628.72%
Pittsburgh Steelers39978455228.62%
Chicago Bears44058465448.46%
Seattle Seahawks45974495828.42%
Oakland Raiders40883455368.40%
Houston Texans35265384558.35%
Denver Broncos45760475648.33%
Buffalo Bills45385435817.40%
Dallas Cowboys41475395287.39%
San Francisco 49ers40463304976.04%


Follow Khaled on Twitter @PFF_Khaled and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed @ProFootbalFocus




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