There are a number of things that need to be taken into consideration when looking at the tackle stat, and being the type of people we are at Pro Football Focus, we go through them. The outcome? Well, we’ve got a stat that does a far better job of giving you an idea of which players are the most impactful run defenders in the league.
Yes, it’s our Run Stop Percentage Signature Stat, and for this piece we’re examining all linebackers (except those who play outside in a 3-4) who were in run defense for at least 200 snaps. That gives us 82 to dissect with some stats you won’t see anywhere else.
What’s in a Tackle?
Where better to start than looking at our tackle numbers? You’ll notice these are always different to the official ones as we have the rather easier job of jotting them down retrospectively. As for the player who leads the way, it’s none other than D’Qwell Jackson who recorded 19 more tackles than any other linebacker in run defense. Astonishing. In years gone by, the 74 tackles (not including assists) that London Fletcher managed would have led the way, but he could only manage the second spot in 2011, one ahead of Derrick Johnson in third.
Here are the Top 10 tacklers in run defense from 2011:
|3||Derrick O. Johnson||KC||74|
But there’s an inherit problem in comparing the number of tackles each player made: some players are on the field more often than others. Until we came along there really was no way of looking at how many tackles a player made relative to how many snaps he played. Fortunately, we record every player on every play, and as a result we can tell you that no player in the NFL had a higher percentage of his plays in the run game end with him making a tackle than Desmond Bishop. He picked up a tackle on a rather remarkable 21.71% of all plays he was in on in run defense. That was significantly better than the man in second place (Donald Butler), who himself had a decent sized gap to third place (where Ray Lewis is firmly situated).
But Tackling Numbers are Limited, Right?
While Tackles Per Snap is a more meaningful number than simple tackles, it still doesn’t address one fatal problem with the tackle number: it doesn’t tell you where it happened and whether or not it represented a win for the defense. For this you need to look at the Defensive Stop stat that measures where a tackle was made relative to the down and distance. D’Qwell Jackson is at the top much as he was in the tackle stat, but it’s worth noting that while he had 20 more tackles than Derrick Johnson, he only managed two more stops.
|2||Derrick O. Johnson||KC||476||74||50|
Which Brings Us to the Run Stop % …
To fully appreciate the how many stops a defender has made, you need to once again look at how much they’re on the field. That’s what brought the Run Stop Percentage Signature Stat to life; that desire to measure how often defenders were responsible for offensive failures relative to how often they were on the field. It’s through this stat we see that the Denver Broncos may have scored themselves a bargain with the re-signing of Joe Mays, as their middle linebacker led the league with a stop percentage of 14.29%. He was joined at the top by NaVorro Bowman who had an identical number as both men frequently left their mark on running backs.
Mays was one of a number of linebackers who were/ are free agents to fare well. Curtis Lofton was ranked sixth overall, a massive 42 spots ahead of a man he is likely to replace in Jonathan Vilma. The Henderson brothers also both impressed, with E.J. Henderson just edging out his brother Erin Henderson as they finished eighth and ninth, respectively. Cowboys fans will also be happy to note that Dan Connor excelled in this area (not a surprise to anyone who has watched him) with a 12th place finish. With Stephen Tulloch in 19th, this was certainly a year for teams to get linebackers who could make an impact in run D.
|20||Derrick O. Johnson||KC||476||74||50||10.50%|
Of course, there’s more to playing linebacker and contributing in run defense than making tackles and defensive stops–you need to be able to stand-up blockers, blow-up fullbacks, and re-direct runners–but it doesn’t hurt if you can make those plays that result in a defensive win. The Run Stop Percentage does as good a job as any at showing who is really getting it done.