Tracking broken tackles in the NFC North

Our friends over at Football Outsiders have put together an interesting report on broken tackles during the 2009 season -- both from an offensive and defensive perspective. Thankfully, FO president Aaron Schatz has been kind enough to streamline the information for an NFC North audience.

First, a bit of an explanation: Schatz and his staff evaluated every attempted tackle of the 2009 season. Quoting from this Insider piece, here's how they defined broken tackles: "Either the ball carrier escapes from the grasp of the defender, or the defender is in good position for a tackle but the ball carrier jukes him out of his shoes. If the ball carrier sped by a slow defender who dived and missed, that didn't count as a broken tackle."

Given those criteria, let's look first at the team rankings for highest percentage of broken tackles on offense, and lowest percentage of defensive players missing a tackle they should have made. They're to your right.

A couple of interesting points stood out to me:

  • The Vikings, Bears and Packers all played versions of the West Coast offense last season -- a scheme that relies on open-field running after receptions. We don't have a breakdown of broken tackles on running plays versus passing plays, but we can see that the Vikings overall were among the NFL's best and that the rest of the teams in the division were relative non-factors in gaining extra yardage after contact.

  • On the other hand, the Packers had one of the league's best tackling teams based on this evaluation. The analysis also confirmed a general sense that Minnesota's defense missed far too many tackles during the second half of the season.

  • The Lions finished last among all NFL teams, so it's not surprising to see their players holding six of the top 10 spots on the chart below -- which lists the NFC North players with the 10 most missed tackles in 2009. Middle linebacker DeAndre Levy's appearance on that list, despite starting only 10 games, confirms what some of us saw last season and provides at least a reason for pause amid the general optimism surrounding his future.

Finally, here is a list of the NFC North players with the most broken tackles in 2009:

Some highlights:

  • Peterson ranked No. 3 among all NFL players, behind Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson and Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. Combined with Percy Harvin's 25 missed tackles, tops among all NFL receivers, you can see why the Vikings ranked so highly as a team.

  • 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.

  • Grant's number is lower than I would have guessed. Gaining 1,253 yards by breaking almost the same number of tackles as Kevin Smith? That speaks highly of the Packers' play calling and blocking, which gave Grant more favorable opportunities than, say, Forte had last season.