It’s that time of the year again–time to look at the best and the worst when it comes to tackling in the NFL. As with every season we’re going to start our analysis with the safety position, the last line of defense.
When tackles are missed, it’s almost always a bad thing, but when safeties miss tackles, it’s often catastrophic and results in six points. As the very position name would suggest, safeties should be reliable tacklers, able to bring the runner down when they have to and make sure the play doesn’t get behind them, but that just wasn’t the case with a lot of players this season.
Tackling in 2011 was far from impressive from the safety group, featuring some of the worst tackling we’ve ever seen.
There really is no other place to start this list than the play of Tampa Bay’s Tanard Jackson. Somehow by the end of the season there were still people defending Jackson’s play, despite all evidence before them. “He had come back from a suspension and with all things considered, he really wasn’t performing that badly” they claimed. The only trouble is he was, and then some.
Jackson missed 18 tackles in the run game, which is just three fewer than the number of tackles he made. In total, he missed a tackle for every 2.4 he attempted all season, which was the worst mark in the NFL by a distance this season. In four seasons of PFF data, Jackson is the only safety to fall below a missed tackle every three attempts, and his mark is a full 20% worse than the next poorest since 2008.
What makes Jackson’s tally of misses all the more impressive (he led the entire NFL, at any position, with 24), is that he did it in just 10 games this season. He missed a tackle in every game he played in, with multiple misses in all but three. For a safety that can hit the way Jackson can, there is no excuse for this level of tackling ineptitude.
No other safety came close to the 24 misses that Jackson recorded, but that’s not to say that he was the only poor performer out there. There were 22 other safeties who missed double-digit tackles on the season, and in several other cases the performance was bad enough to get that player benched.
The Rams had their defensive problems and both safeties showing poorly in this study didn’t help. Darian Stewart missed a tackle in every 4.3 attempts and totaled 20 for the season (second only to Jackson’s 24), but big-money free agent Quintin Mikell also struggled. Mikell missed a tackle every 6.2 attempts, giving the Rams a pair of safeties in the bottom 30 among qualifying players. It wasn’t all bad news for the Rams though, as we will discover shortly.
2011 Tackling: Safeties, Bottom 20
Safe in Coverage
We have divided the tackles made into plays against the run and plays in coverage, and there are nine safeties who played a qualifying number of snaps and avoided missing a single tackle in coverage (all missed at least one against the run). Those nine players each made at least 11 tackles in coverage with five of them posting more than 20 solos and the Cowboys’ Abram Elam racking up 37 solo and six assisted tackles in coverage without missing one.
The sample size may be smaller, but that isn’t to say that it is automatic that players will miss far fewer tackles in coverage as opposed to the run game. Sean Jones, also from the Buccaneers–who, as a team, showed some all-time levels of ineptitude for tackling–and Charles Godfrey of the Panthers each missed 10 tackles in coverage. The Miami pairing of Reshad Jones and Yeremiah Bell each missed at least eight in coverage, with Bell’s mark particularly surprising given his strong history in this study.
The fact that there were nine guys who managed to avoid missing a tackle in coverage is not to be dismissed, and deserves significant recognition. Seven of them finished in the Top 20 overall in tackling efficiency. One that didn’t was Cleveland’s Mike Adams, who missed out because of the six misses he had in the run game.
2011 Tackling: Safeties in Coverage, Top 20
Cover Tackle Attempts
Cover Tackle Misses
The Surest Twenty
Remember the good news for Rams fans I mentioned earlier? Well, here it is: it comes in the shape of Craig Dahl, who missed just one tackle all season to top the Efficiency Rating at a rate of a miss in every 40 attempts.
The Texans made Danieal Manning one of their biggest free agency priorities to help out a leaky secondary, and though Jonathan Joseph got all of the press with Houston’s improved play this year, Manning’s reliability as a tackler helped in a major way as well. Manning missed only two tackles this season (neither in coverage) to finish second on the list with a miss every 26 attempts. Houston’s third-year safety, Troy Nolan was neck-and-neck with Manning in rating, missing only one tackle against the run, and keeping a clean slate against the pass (where most of his work on the season was done). Nolan missed a tackle once every 24 attempts this season.
The Browns also find themselves with a pair of players inside the Top 10, with Usama Young and T.J. Ward combining for just five missed tackles. To put that into some perspective, Tanard Jackson missed five tackles in a single game, against the Saints in Week 9.
2011 Tackling: Safeties, Top 20
This is not the first season that Carolina’s Sherrod Martin has featured in the lower end of the table. In 2010 Martin missed a tackle every 6.8 attempts and this season he was even worse, missing one in every 4.5. At the other end of the scale, this is the third season running that Danieal Manning has ranked at the sharp end. In 2010, as a member of the Bears, Manning missed a tackle just only every 22.3 attempts to finish in the Top 6, and in 2009, he missed a pair of tackles to finish in the Top 5 with a rating of one miss every 29.0 attempts. This season, Manning was able to maintain his fine level of tackling efficiency while the rest of the league seemed to forget the fundamentals of their position.