The NFL season has finished, and with the last of the confetti it’s time to turn our attention to a bit of evaluation and stock-taking of the season that just was. 2011 provided us with some interesting numbers and play, but perhaps none more so than some of the data we find in our tackling study for cornerbacks.
For any of you who have seen our tackling studies in previous seasons, you will be well familiar with the sight of Asante Samuel being firmly rooted to the base of the table with an impressive level of tackling ineptitude. This season, the Philadelphia Eagles have given Samuel company at the bottom end, and for once, he isn’t even the poorest performing tackler on his own team.
Tackling Optional in Philly
Nnamdi Asomugha was the marquee free agent of last season. The Eagles won the offseason bidding war for his services and added Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to give them one of the most impressive looking three-man corner rotations in the league. As anybody watching could tell you, that trio performed far worse on the field than it ever did on paper, and the Dream Team’s secondary was far from shutdown all season long.
Asomugha, for his part, was moved around far more than he ever was in Oakland, and he came to town with ideas of becoming Philadelphia’s Charles Woodson; a cover defender who could be aligned anywhere and make plays. The problem is that Asomugha has always been a pretty poor tackler, inexcusably so for a player of his physical tools. He was thrown at so infrequently in Oakland that it was something that never really stood out, and only showed up in our missed-tackle surveys as a curious statistic, but with his added exposure from playing the slot and being moved around in the Eagles defense, we can clearly see that it wasn’t just a series of anomalous results, it’s a legitimate problem.
Asomugha attempted 20 tackles against the run and missed four of them, but he was even worse in coverage where he attempted 32 and missed eight. His combined total means that Asomugha missed a tackle every 4.3 attempts over the season, which was only saved from rock bottom by Kevin Barnes from the Redskins, who missed one for every 3.9 attempts. That’s clearly bad, but just how bad? Over the four seasons we’ve been running the numbers, only four players have sunk lower (Asante Samuel twice in ’09 and 2010, Fabian Washington in 2008, Nathan Vasher in 2010, and Barnes this season).
What makes matters worse for the Eagles is that all three members of that impressive looking corner stable finished in the Bottom 11, with two of them (Asomugha and DRC) in the bottom four places. Collectively, the Eagles’ trio missed a tackle once every 4.7 times they attempted one this season, or more than one-fifth of the total tackles they attempted.
With a minimum of 25 attempted tackles required to be included in this study, here is the bottom of the qualifying group:
2011 Tackling: Cornerbacks, Bottom 20
Everyone loves a shutdown corner, but many people completely overlook the impact a corner can have with his run support, closing down the sideline for rushers looking to bounce things outside for make big gains against soft cornerbacks. Antoine Winfield, among others, has made a career out of impact plays in the running game, and PFF has a bit of a soft spot for these kind of guys, so let’s give them some notice.
In addition to being the best cornerback in the NFL–and maybe the best since Deion Sanders–Darrelle Revis also went the entire season without missing a tackle in run support. The Jets’ defensive stud made 14 solo tackles and was in on another assist in the run game without a single miss, tying him for the lead with Arizona’s A.J. Jefferson.
In total, 23 corners went without a miss against the run, but only seven of them attempted more than a dozen tackles in that area. Joining Revis and Jefferson in this group are Bradley Fletcher from the Rams, Brandon Browner of Seattle, Kareem Jackson from Houston, Carlos Rogers from the 49ers and Carolina’s Darius Butler. Antoine Winfield, of course, also showed well before his injury, and was perfect on his nine attempts before he went down hurt.
In addition to the perfect tacklers there were other corners who showed well in run support with just a single miss despite a large numbers of tackles in the run game. The Titans’ Jason McCourty was way out in front in this regard–one miss despite 32 attempts–but Washington’s DeAngelo Hall (not known for his work in the run game) also missed just a single tackle in his 23 attempts. Baltimore’s Cary Williams and the Jaguars’ William Middleton each also missed a lone tackle from 20 run-play attempts.
The Efficient Tacklers
So where does that leave us at the sharp end? When we look at the most efficient tacklers at the cornerback position for last season, a pair of names distance themselves at the top: Kelly Jennings and Alan Ball.
Jennings (a miss every 32 attempts) and Ball (one every 31), missed just a single tackle each, both in coverage to top the rankings. Some players in the Top 15 deserve a little recognition either because of the players they were tackling of the volume or attempts they made, like the Titans’ Jason McCourty who made 106 attempts on the season yet missed only six. Kyle Arrington and Joe Haden both also racked-up the tackle attempts while maintaining a low level of misses, and Denver’s Chris Harris Jr. was often left dealing with big tight ends from his slot-role in the Broncos’ defense and yet still finished in the Top 15.
The Titans deserve some credit with their trio of corners missing only 18 tackles despite a massive combined number of attempts of 236 on the season. That means that they missed a tackle for every 13.1 they attempted, or just 7.6%. Compare that mark to that of the Eagle trio that we mentioned earlier, and you’ll see the different ends of this season’s scale.
2011 Tackling: Cornerbacks, Top 20
|15||Chris Harris Jr.||DEN||432||64||4||16.0|
No corner missed more tackles this season than Ronde Barber’s 22. In fact, no corner came within five of that mark as Barber went toe-to-toe with teammate Tanard Jackson in the race to lead the league in misses. Only the number of attempts Ronde made saved him from the bottom of the chart, but even with 70 solos, he still missed one in every 4.6 he attempted this season, ranking firmly in the Bottom 5 and raising serious questions about his ability to get the job done anymore.
Eleven other corners missed double-digit tackles, but only three others missed 15 or more. Charles Woodson (15), Jabari Greer (17) and Woodson’s Green Bay teammate Tramon Williams (16) all found themselves down at the wrong end, with the Green Bay duo helping to explain why the Packers’ defense was hemorrhaging yardage at an alarming rate all the way through the season.
One other interesting number of note: despite his ropey start to the season, Kansas City’s Brandon Flowers remains one of the league’s must sure tacklers, and was the only qualifying corner not to miss a single tackle in coverage. Flowers was thrown at 86 times, allowed 46 receptions and made 40 miss-less tackle attempts.