Missed Tackles – Three Year Bests and Worsts

| July 21, 2011

Just take him down! Football, under all its sophisticated cat and mouse scheming, is still a game of blocking and tackling, and you expect defenders to make tackles. We’ve now got three seasons worth of data in the books and it shows that all too often they don’t.
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Obviously, modern defensive players differ dramatically depending on the position they play, and the tackles being made by defensive linemen rarely resemble those being made by cornerbacks or safeties in the open field with space to marshall. As we’ll see a little later, the numbers reflect that. Nevertheless, it’s interesting seeing the distribution of players and the variance of performance within the same position over just three short seasons.

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In essence, the data neatly separated itself into three distinct bands, as you might expect: Defensive linemen performed the best, then linebackers, and defensive backs were the poorest. There were some exceptions to that general trend though, and before we get to the tables, we’re going to give them a mention.
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Firstly, in order to qualify for the study a player needed to have 75 attempted tackles (including sacks) over the past three seasons (three times the single-year threshold), which excluded rookies like Brandon Spikes, who has yet to miss a tackle as a professional. The only other player worth mentioning in this regard is the Chiefs’ Tyson Jackson. Underwhelming as he may have been so far for Kansas City, he has yet to miss a tackle in 55 attempts in the NFL.
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18 of the best 19 missed tackle ratios over the past three seasons came from defensive linemen – the 19th? Takeo Spikes, who recorded the seventh best ratio overall with a ridiculously low four misses in the past three seasons (from 255 attempts, more than double anybody ahead of him). We’ll look more closely at how that compares with the rest of the linebackers later in this article, but to rank seventh overall, with the next linebacker coming in 26th is a pretty impressive performance from Spikes, who remains about as solid a tackler as it’s possible to find.
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At the other end of the scale, 16 of the poorest 17 ratios came from defensive backs. DeAndre Levy was the other. Levy posted the seventh poorest ratio overall with a massive 28 misses over the past three seasons. The Lions like Levy’s potential, even if they haven’t quite settled on his best position, but as a linebacker he can’t miss that many tackles and needs to clean up that area of his game going forward.
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One more performance worth noting, heaping yet more misery on the underachieving career thus far of Amobi Okoye – he was the poorest performing defensive lineman by some distance in the study, missing one in every 8.08 of his attempts over the past three seasons.
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Defensive Lineman and the Perfect Score

With the qualifying threshold of 75 attempts eliminating several players who have gone without a missed tackle in their few chances, only one perfect score remains in the study, belonging to the Bears’ Israel Idonije.
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Idonije was the only player in the NFL over the past three seasons with more than 75 tackle attempts not to miss a single one. As impressive as that is, the performance of Kendall Langford in second place isn’t far behind. Langford has missed just a single tackle, along with four other players, but his 120 attempts gives him by far the best ratio of the group.
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The top 15 defensive linemen show an interesting spread among all positions, regardless of front, with defensive ends and tackles from 4-3 defenses represented alongside 3-4 defensive ends and nose tackles. Ahtyba Rubin deserves mention for the most attempts from that group at the top with 139 attempts over the past three seasons, giving him a ratio of one miss per 46.3 attempts.  The most prolific linemen in terms of number of attempts were the run-stuffing monsters of Trent Cole (225) and Terrell Suggs (215), who finished as the only defensive linemen to top 200 attempts, and were closely ranked in terms of ratio with a miss every 18.8 and 19.6 attempts respectively.
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Top 15 Defensive Linemen, Tackle Attempts per Miss, 2008-2010

Player
Sacks
Tackles
Assists
Misses
Attempts / Miss
Israel Idonije1754140N/A
Kendall Langford792201120.00
Luis Castillo65920186.00
Shaun Cody06618185.00
Chauncey Davis66111179.00
Roy Miller3648176.00
Dwan Edwards37417248.00
Shaun Smith26228247.00
Ahtyba Rubin29935346.33
Kedric Golston46818246.00
Brett Keisel89223342.00
Ty Warren36611241.00
Aaron Kampman208212339.00
Justin Bannan29316338.00
Pat Williams38819337.67

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At the less glorious end of things, we’ve already talked about Okoye, but Chris Long makes an interesting name alongside him. Long has actually missed one more tackle than Okoye, but his greater number of attempts sees him with a slightly better ratio. Five players posted a miss every ten attempts or worse, with Robert Geathers, Raheem Brock, and John Abraham making up the rest of the inglorious five.
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Interestingly, no defensive lineman has missed more tackles than the 18 notched by the Patriots’ big run stuffer, Vince Wilfork, who is the next poorest ratio after those five, and has missed a tackle every 10.3 attempts over the past three seasons.  He’s not the only dominant DT to rank at this end of the scale, with the Vikings’ Kevin Williams also featuring inside the worst 15.  Williams might have been the best DT in the NFL over the past three seasons, but the 13 missed tackles he’s put up drags his ratio well down this list.
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Bottom 15 Defensive Linemen, Tackle Attempts per Miss, 2008-2010

Player
Sacks
Tackles
Assists
Misses
Attempts / Miss
Amobi Okoye66811128.08
Chris Long177214138.92
Raheem Brock17756129.17
Robert Geathers86921129.17
John Abraham37727139.92
Vince Wilfork4140241810.33
Will Smith2394241510.40
Aaron Smith95611810.50
Juqua Parker1984121210.58
Jamaal Anderson56210810.63
Charles Johnson237941110.64
Jonathan Babineaux1689111210.67
John Henderson586171110.82
Kevin Williams1694191310.92
Adewale Ogunleye116415911.00

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Linebackers – Tackling Machines

While only two defensive linemen posted more than 200 attempts over the past three seasons, eight of the top 15 linebackers bettered that mark, including four over 300, and one (Patrick Willis) topping 400 attempts, in itself quite a ridiculous figure. As we mentioned earlier, Takeo Spikes was some distance clear of the field with his ratio, but just how far?  Spikes missed one tackle in every 64.8 attempts, the next best mark was one in every 28.3 attempts from Gerald McGrath. Spikes averaged more than 35 tackle attempts more than any other linebacker between misses, a ratio that itself would have been good enough to lead the list.
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It won’t surprise anybody that saw our 2010 missed tackle study that Jerod Mayo shows well over the past three seasons, coming in 4th place with a miss every 26.8 attempts. He’s joined by fellow inside linebackers Bradie James, Paul Posluszny, and Willis in close quarters. What is perhaps more interesting is the showing from DeMarcus Ware and Tamba Hali. Both known more as edge rushing dynamos, the duo have combined for fewer missed tackles than Wilfork has managed himself, and have both topped a ratio of one miss per 20 attempts (23.8 and 21.9 respectively).
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While 200 attempts was the high benchmark for the defensive linemen, it seems that 400 was the upper reaches for the linebackers, with only Willis (411), Ray Lewis (407) and Jon Beason (411) topping that mark. Beason was by far the poorest ratio, missing a tackle every 11.4 attempts. Lewis recorded a miss every 14.0 attempts while Willis was able to maintain an excellent ratio along with his prolific rate, missing one in just 24.2 attempts.
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Top 15 Linebackers, Tackle Attempts per Miss, 2008-2010

Player
Sacks
Tackles
Assists
Misses
Attempts / Miss
Takeo Spikes522228464.75
Gerald McRath17011328.33
Bradie James10250561227.33
Jerod Mayo3276561326.77
Paul Posluszny4277501424.64
Patrick Willis11329541724.18
DeMarcus Ware5013421923.78
Tamba Hali3111026821.88
Bryan Thomas1611314721.43
Thomas Howard31519821.38
D.J. Williams13266371620.75
Eric Barton2178331120.36
Kevin Bentley15521420.25
Kamerion Wimbley2212722920.00
Thomas Davis615114920.00

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At the bottom end of the scale DeAndre Levy is followed by Corey Mays, whose missed tackle ratio is just one more reason he should never have been starting ahead of Derrick Johnson in Kansas City. Mays missed a tackle every 6.7 attempts while Johnson, far from the sharp end himself, at least bettered that with a mark of 8.9. Other names that might raise an eyebrow down at this end of the scale are Chicago’s Lance Briggs, Seattle’s Lofa Tatupu, New Orleans’ Jonathan Vilma and the perennially bad Ernie Sims.
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Bottom 15 Linebackers, Tackle Attempts per Miss, 2008-2010

Player
Sacks
Tackles
Assists
Misses
Attempts / Miss
DeAndre Levy012315285.93
Corey Mays06614146.71
Geno Hayes716218307.23
Lance Briggs627735487.63
Tully Banta-Cain177313157.87
Will Witherspoon520232348.03
Brady Poppinga26016118.09
Clark Haggans1310011178.29
Ernie Sims416333278.41
Ben Leber413517218.43
Lofa Tatupu416633278.52
Keith Rivers213734238.52
Jonathan Vilma727154448.55
Scott Shanle319732308.73
Julian Peterson1117037288.79

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Defensive Backs – From Dependable to Dependably Bad

I held off earlier talking about this particular performance, but Bradley Fletcher topped the rankings for defensive backs, with a miss every 31.3 attempts.  That was good enough to rank him 20th overall, and ahead of every linebacker not named Takeo Spikes.  Elsewhere in the Top 15 is a mixture of players you would expect to see and some you might not. Antoine Winfield, Charles Tillman, and Yeremiah Bell all secure themselves a spot in the top 15, as does Champ Bailey, a player whose run support has always been underrated. Also in the list is O.J. Atogwe, not known for his play against the run, but missing just one in 20.9 tackles over the past three years.
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Top 15 Defensive Backs, Tackle Attempts per Miss, 2008-2010

Player
Sacks
Tackles
Assists
Misses
Attempts / Miss
Bradley Fletcher0856331.33
Danieal Manning216618727.57
Champ Bailey214311723.29
O.J. Atogwe4192231120.91
Nathan Jones4885520.40
Bryant McFadden319971120.00
Antoine Winfield5204261319.08
Charles Tillman0222231418.50
Kenny Phillips012018818.25
James Butler013217917.56
Jairus Byrd19021717.00
Stanford Routt1877616.83
Jacques Reeves0771516.60
Yeremiah Bell5275302016.50
Dre' Bly1864616.17

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A surprise to no one, Asante Samuel is found plumbing new depths in the bottom group. The consistently dire tackler has missed 36 tackles over the past three years, and while that doesn’t lead the way as the worst mark, his ratio of one miss every 4.3 attempts does. Take a moment to think about that a for a second – Samuel has missed a tackle every 4.3 attempts while Bradley Fletcher has missed one every 31.3 attempts!
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Three players have missed more tackles than Samuel over this period, and though they all have poor ratios, not one of them threatens Samuel’s ratio of missed tackles per attempt. Antrel Rolle has missed 38 tackles, one in every 8 attempts. Michael Griffin has missed 39 tackles, one in every 6.7 attempts, but the 44 Ronde Barber has missed leads all players, one miss in every 6.1 attempts.
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We’ve talked about the disastrous quality of Samuel’s tackling before, so won’t labor the point here, except to say that he is bottom of the rankings by a clear margin.
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One name that jumps out at the lower end of the spectrum is that of free agent supertarget, Nnamdi Asomugha, who has missed 20 tackles, which is one in every 5.5 he has attempted. I’ve had brief discussions with people before on this topic and so I didn’t want to leave it with just the raw numbers – I wanted to look a little further into Asomugha’s misses.
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13 of his 20 misses were against running backs on designed running plays, including all of his 2010 misses. I’ve heard it suggested that this is a result of Asomugha not being asked to support the run, and so he is often out of position and approaching the tackle from poor angles or positions, but that isn’t really the case. In the majority of times, he’s in position, but simply can’t make the stop. Six of the misses were in the passing game against receivers, but perhaps the most damning miss came from 2008 when he was stiff-armed to the ground by a scrambling Jay Cutler.
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I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest (and bear in mind I’m not going to claim it makes Ike Taylor a better cornerback, as some have) that for all Asomugha’s coverage prowess, he too can be something of a liability against the run (where we have graded him negatively two of the past three seasons), and misses far more tackles than you would like for a player of his physically imposing stature.
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Also finding a home in the bottom 15 are Tanard Jackson, Ronde Barber, and Vontae Davis. Renowned poor tackler Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie narrowly avoids it with 27 misses – one in every 6.9 attempts – though in his case it’s worth pointing out that any play where he just showed no interest in getting anywhere near contact won’t show up in the missed tackle count.
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Bottom 15 Defensive Backs, Tackle Attempts per Miss, 2008-2010

Player
Sacks
Tackles
Assists
Misses
Attempts / Miss
Asante Samuel01119364.33
Marvin White09314255.28
Tanard Jackson111415305.33
Nnamdi Asomugha0845205.45
Sherrod Martin07020205.50
Melvin Bullitt013312325.53
Drew Coleman5704165.94
Donald Strickland3698166.00
Ronde Barber420217446.07
Edward Reed112214276.07
Shawntae Spencer0954196.21
Vontae Davis0909196.21
Sabby Piscitelli011513246.33
Fabian Washington01057216.33
Aaron Rouse1869176.65

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So what conclusions can we draw from all of this? Well, the first is that some teams are happy to live with players that miss a lot of tackles if they can make up for it in other areas. Asante Samuel is as bad as it gets at making tackles, but last season his coverage was exceptional, and the Raiders have been prepared to pay Asomugha like the best corner in football because he can shut down one side of the field through the air, even if he misses more than his fair share of tackles.
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We’ve also learned that if you want someone brought down on contact, your best bet is a defensive lineman, and if you’re running up the gut in San Francisco, you’d better put a body on both Takeo Spikes and Patrick Willis, because the chances are they’re going to bring things to a halt otherwise.
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Follow Sam on Twitter: @SamMonson … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
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  • imbroglio21

    It’s also quite surprising to see Ed Reed in the “worst” list too. For your info, he had 13 MTs in 2008, and 7 both in 2009 and 2010. Keep up the awesome work, guys. I just love it!

    Claude

  • bogart118

    This is why I keep coming back to Pro Football Focus! Great article. Is that assistant editor working yet? I noticed a few grammatical errors. In addition, it’s Ahtyba Rubin with a “b.”

    • Rick Drummond

      Thanks bo, Sean’s not up-and-running quite yet. That flubbed Ahtyba was on me. :(