Tackling Linebackers

| 2 years ago

Tackling Linebackers

A couple of months back, we began looking at the tackling prowess of individual defenders in the 2010 season. We’ve seen cornerbacks and safeties, but now we get to the meat of things, the linebackers.
For the purposes of the study we’re going to separate 3-4 OLBs – because they play as much as defensive ends as they do linebackers – from the rest of the linebackers (the 4-3 OLBs and ILBs in both three and four-man fronts). These numbers also include only regular season games.
Guys in the secondary are primarily coverage machines, and run support is very often a secondary (sorry) concern for them, but a linebacker’s job is to read, react, and flow to the ball. You’re expecting linebackers to sniff out the ballcarrier and make tackles. So let’s take a look at who was a sure thing and who disappointed in 2010.

Top of the Class

We were high on the rookie season of the Patriots’ Brandon Spikes even before this. He was a force against the run all season long, coming downhill and blowing up run plays in the backfield, as well as taking on blockers and generally disrupting plays. He was also the only linebacker with more than 25 attempts not to miss a tackle.
Spikes may be the only guy with a perfect record, but he’s not the only player deserving of serious praise. Kirk Morrison missed just a single tackle in his 79 attempts last year, and Takeo Spikes was once again among the elite in this study, missing only twice in 104 attempts. That’s a serious number of tackles to be racking up between misses, and in Spikes’ case in particular, it’s part of a long trend of impressive performances. Over the past three seasons, Takeo Spikes has now missed just four tackles – total – including a season without a single miss. He has missed just once in every 64.75 attempts over three years.
Brandon Spikes’ New England teammate Jerod Mayo, however, was the benchmark standard this season for miss ratio, given the prolific nature of his numbers. Mayo finished 3rd, missing just three tackles on the season; one in every 48.33 attempts.
In an uncharacteristic slip in this regard, Patrick Willis recorded eight missed tackles, dropping him all the way to 36th in the study, missing a tackle every 16.63 attempts. Only one player in the Top 10 missed more than three tackles – DJ Williams of the Broncos (4), but his 119 attempts ensured that his ratio remained a healthy one in 29.75 attempts.
Lastly, it’s worth giving a mention to a pair of players that managed to maintain a solid ratio despite some impressive tackle totals. Though neither can come close to Mayo’s performance, as he really set the bar in terms of mistake-free production, both Chad Greenway from the Vikings and Tennessee’s Stephen Tulloch attempted more than 139 tackles, and neither player was into double-figures for misses on the season. Each went more than 17 attempts between misses.

Top 20 Linebackers, Tackle Attempts per Missed Tackle

PlayerTeamSacksTacklesAssistsMissed TacklesAttempts per Miss
Brandon SpikesNE037150n/a
Kirk MorrisonJAX0699179.00
Takeo SpikesSF09210252.00
Jerod MayoNE211129348.33
JoLonn DunbarNO1296137.00
Bart ScottNYJ15911236.50
Michael BoleyNYG15711235.50
Paul PoslusznyBUF310428434.75
Jonathan GoffNYG1569234.00
Eric BartonCLV04911231.00
D.J. WilliamsDEN69217429.75
Gerald McRathTEN1465227.00
Nic HarrisCAR2213127.00
Omar GaitherPHI0242127.00
Bradie JamesDAL08323522.20
Sean LeeDAL0192122.00
Dan ConnorCAR1319221.50
Channing CrowderMIA0373221.00
Clint SessionIND3313219.50
Kamerion WimbleyOAK11395319.33


Not so hot

At the other end of the scale, things were not so great from some other big name players. Cincinnati’s Keith Rivers missed 14 tackles on the season – one in every 5.71 attempts, for the poorest ratio amongst players with more than 25 tries.
DeAndre Levy was talked up a lot by the Lions’ coaching staff, but he matched Rivers with 14 misses on the season, and finished with a narrowly better ratio of one miss in every 5.86 attempts. Levy has talent, but he can’t afford to miss that number of tackles as a 4-3 MLB.
The only player to miss more than the 14 recorded by Levy and Rivers (Lofa Tatupu also missed 14, or one in 6.64 attempts), was Tennessee’s Will Witherspoon, who missed 16 tackles on the year.
Two more players that topped double digits in misses were the much-heralded duo in Chicago, Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. Together, the pair combined to miss 27 tackles (Briggs with 15, Urlacher with 12), for ratios of one in 6.73 and 10.83, respectively. There’s more to playing linebacker than securing tackles, and both players graded well over the season – Urlacher exceptionally so – but those are figures that they won’t be pleased to see.

Bottom 20 Linebackers, Tackle Attempts per Missed Tackle

PlayerTeamSacksTacklesAssistsMissed TacklesAttempts per Miss
Andra DavisBUF0171248.25
Rocky McIntoshWAS27418138.23
Moise FokouPHI131458.20
Julian PetersonDET15918118.09
Geno HayesTB4738128.08
DeMeco RyansHST137468.00
Quentin GrovesOAK032358.00
Na'il DiggsSL027757.80
Lance BriggsCHI2786156.73
Lofa TatupuSEA26314146.64
Scott ShanleNO05410126.33
Will WitherspoonTEN35922166.25
Keith BulluckNYG018346.25
Ashlee PalmerDET123156.00
Chris ChamberlainSL017346.00
Stewart BradleyPHI0513115.91
DeAndre LevyDET0617145.86
Sean WeatherspoonATL132585.75
Keith RiversCIN15114145.71
Larry GrantSL115054.20


The 3-4 OLBs

The first thing that stands out looking at the totals for these guys is how much of a variance there is in number of attempts. No 3-4 OLB made more attempts than the 94 Pittsburgh’s James Harrison racked-up. OK, so some of that is due to the number of snaps he played, but the one player at the position to play more snaps than Harrison last year was Tamba Hali, who recorded just 51 tackle attempts. Despite the difference in attempts, the two finished next to each other on the list in terms of ratio, with Hali missing just a pair of tackles and Harrison right behind him, missing just four of his 94.
Two 3-4 OLBs went the year without missing a tackle, and both played for the Packers, but neither are the player you’re thinking. Erik Walden and Brad Jones combined for just 42 attempts on the season and neither recorded a miss. As for that other guy … Clay Matthews attempted 59 tackles and missed four, for a pretty reasonable ratio of 14.75.
At the poor end of things, the man with the nickname ‘One Man Gang’, Lorenzo Alexander, missed one in every 5.88 tackles he attempted. Perhaps predictably showing some issues with playing in space after having converted from defensive tackle in the off-season. Alexander owns the poorest ratio of the 3-4 OLBs, but Clark Haggans of the Cardinals and Mike Vrabel of the Chiefs aren’t far behind, missing one in every 6.43 and 6.63 tackles respectively.

Top 10 3-4 Outside Linebackers, Tackle Attempts per Missed Tackle

PlayerTeamSacksTacklesAssistsMissed TacklesAttempts per Miss
Brad JonesGB01770n/a
Erik WaldenGB21510n/a
Bryan ThomasNYJ8253137.00
Ahmad BrooksSF5183127.00
Jason HunterDEN3389226.00
Tamba HaliKC17257225.50
James HarrisonPIT116514423.50
DeMarcus WareDAL15424321.33
Scott FujitaCLV3304219.50
Manny LawsonSF3414317.00


Bottom 10 3-4 Outside Linebackers, Tackle Attempts per Missed Tackle

PlayerTeamSacksTacklesAssistsMissed TacklesAttempts per Miss
Robert AyersDEN1314410.00
Tully Banta-CainNE632659.80
Brian OrakpoWAS834969.50
Parys HaralsonSF427959.00
Rob NinkovichNE437568.67
Joey PorterARZ533768.50
Jason TaylorNYJ523248.50
Mike VrabelKC0331286.63
Clark HaggansARZ529476.43
Lorenzo AlexanderWAS228985.88

Follow Sam on Twitter: @SamMonson … and, of course, our main Twitter feed: @ProFootbalFocus

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • snowman88

    is there going to be a three-year showing like the other articles???

    • Rick Drummond

      We might be able to jam a three-year look at this into the schedule.

  • mdavis

    This is an awesome article. This is the meat and potatoes stuff this website needs. Loved reading it, and studying it. More please. You should also flip this for running backs at some point. Eluded tackled (Leon Washington and Reggie Bush) or broken tackles (Ray Rice and company). I think that could be interesting to read from a scouting perspective.

    I also agree seeing three years worth of stats could also be better.

  • scent2112

    Where is Rolando McClain in this list?

    • Rick Drummond

      McClain = 15.67 attempts/miss (6 misses in 94 chances).

  • mtn of blah

    How about Dhani Jones? seeing Keith Rivers so low is disheartening…

  • Rick Drummond

    Jones = 14.11 attempts/miss (9 misses in 127 chances).