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Rewind'10: NFC North tackling

Our friends at Football Outsiders have posted the results of their annual broken-tackles projects, allowing us to compare the improvement or regression of each NFC North team between 2009 and 2010.

First, let's remember that broken tackles are a subjective statistic based on the work of individual charters. As some of you pointed out in last year's discussion, it's a measure similar to fielding percentage in baseball: Faster players who cover more ground are penalized in a sense because they have more opportunities to miss tackles than those who can't get to the ball carrier in time.

Indeed, here is how Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz defined the statistic: "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."

Given those caveats, let's look at the results for 2010 in the chart. My thoughts:

  • Because these statistics are based on subjective judgment, I think the relative NFL ranking is probably most important. If everyone is judged by the same scale, we can at least feel comfortable knowing how each team compares.

  • The Minnesota Vikings had the biggest improvement on a percentage basis from 2009, when they missed 6.7 percent of their tackle attempts and ranked No. 25 overall. Anecdotally, however, I think we all can agree that the Vikings' tackling was shoddy at times last season, especially in the secondary. So it's worth nothing that their 4.3 percentage is based on 964 opportunities -- the fifth-fewest in the league. Given some of the aging veterans in their secondary last season, I think the two numbers make sense.

  • The Detroit Lions moved up one spot from last season's No. 32 overall ranking. I have a feeling that cornerback Alphonso Smith didn't help matters.

  • Indeed, Football Outsiders found Smith missed the highest percentage of tackles in 2010 for all players with at least 10 missed tackles on the season. Smith was credited with 35 tackles and 10 misses for a rate of 22.2 percent.

  • Lions middle linebacker DeAndre Levy, whose tackling was a major discussion point for us after the 2009 season, improved slightly. He missed 10 tackles last season and made 64, according to Football Outsiders, for a rate of 13.5 percent.

  • On the other end of the spectrum, Football Outsiders did not find a single missed tackle for Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. Schatz again acknowledged the subjective nature of a miss, but the key point is Matthews was as sure of a tackler last season as any player in the NFL. The Packers' defense as a whole missed 4.3 percent of their tackle attempts on 971 opportunities.