Three Years of Tackling Efficiency: Edge Rushers

| 5 years ago

Three Years of Tackling Efficiency: Edge Rushers

Our three-year look at missed tackles has focused primarily on the back seven on defense, but today we’re moving toward the line of scrimmage.

We’ve combined 3-4 outside linebackers with 4-3 defensive ends to produce a list of ‘edge rushers’ and run the missed tackle numbers for them all. What we find is the biggest spread in performance yet, ranging from the near-perfect to the worryingly poor.

As a reminder, Tackling Efficiency is a simple ratio of missed tackles to number of attempts: Solo tackles + Assists + Misses / Missed Tackles = TE. As with the other studies, we imposed a threshold of 1,200 snaps for a player to meet before they were included in the list. This eliminated all rookies and provided a healthy sample size or more than a full season’s worth of play over the past three years.


The Active Outside

No edge rusher has made more tackles over the past three years than the Cowboys’ Anthony Spencer. The Dallas defender gets criticized for failing to deliver big sack numbers opposite DeMarcus Ware, but a closer look reveals Spencer does bring pressure, and is an extremely active and effective player against the run. Over the past three seasons he has notched 162 solo tackles and 23 assists and earned a +35.2 PFF grade for his work in the run game. Spencer may never be the player Dallas fans want him to be, but it would be a mistake to write him off as inadequate; he is a solid performer in all areas of the game.

Close behind Spencer is Pittsburgh’s James Harrison, who has recorded 155 solo and 29 assisted tackles over the same period. Harrison is a player that has a legitimate case to be called the best outside linebacker in football, bringing a devastating pass rush along with prolific tackling. These two players are some way clear of the chasing pack in terms of their volume of tackling alone.


RankPlayerSnapsTksAssTot Tkls
1Anthony Spencer288816223185
2James Harrison273515529184
3Kamerion Wimbley311313326159
4Terrell Suggs280711730147
5Mario Haggan194812418142
6Calvin Pace235412516141
7Trent Cole250011521136
8Manny Lawson198212114135
9Clark Haggans254711617133
9Tamba Hali314210924133


Missing Many

Here is where the angry Dallas fans do have something they can rightly complain about, because in addition to leading the edge rushers in tackles made over the past three seasons, Spencer has also led them in missed tackles over that period with 18. To be fair to him, he is tied for the lead with the Patriots’ Rob Ninkovich, who has missed the same number with a little more than half of Spencer’s tackle count.

Clark Haggans, a player that always looked a little light for the position, is next in line with 17 misses, one ahead of the Jets’ Calvin Pace. Next follows a trio of players with 15 missed tackles: Tamba Hali, Clay Matthews and Brian Orakpo prove that missing tackles won’t hold you back from becoming an elite playmaker if you can do everything else pretty well.


1Anthony Spencer288818
1Rob Ninkovich156818
3Clark Haggans254717
4Calvin Pace235416
5Tamba Hali314215
5Brian Orakpo283415
5Clay Matthews270715
8Trent Cole250014
8Lamarr Woodley250614
10Manny Lawson198213
10Justin Tuck220613


The Good and Bad of the TE Ratio

Now we get down to the important part–the players who have managed the best and worst ratios when it comes to missed tackles.

At the top we find Alex Brown, who despite not playing in 2011, was good enough in the two seasons prior to miss just a single tackle on 68 attempts. He is followed by Elvis Dumervil, who is, it turns out, a very reliable tackler in addition to being a speedy pass-rusher. Dumervil has also only missed one tackle, although with fewer opportunities than Brown, with 61 attempts.

Derrick Harvey might be seen as a significant draft bust, but he also has just the lone missed tackle to his name over the past three seasons from his 59 attempts. Those three players have a significant gap at the top of the table, with the next man up having a ratio of one miss for every 31.8 attempts (Spencer Johnson).


RankPlayerSnapsTksAssMTTackling Efficiency
1Alex Brown1448607168.0
2Elvis Dumervil1743519161.0
3Derrick Harvey1300508159.0
4Spencer Johnson168610419431.8
5Bryan Thomas1624797329.7
6Israel Idonije21267014329.0
7Lawrence Jackson12216310325.3
8Ahmad Brooks17135612323.7
9James Hall227811812622.7
10Tyler Brayton19147214422.5
11Andre Carter24838917522.2
12Jason Hunter16728717521.8
13William Hayes15696120421.3
14Stylez G. White13314810320.3
15Tim Crowder13626311419.5


The player with the most misses, Ninkovich, also holds the worst ratio among edge rushers with a miss every 6.9 attempts. That’s not quite Asante Samuel territory, but for a linebacker like him it’s a pretty poor ratio, especially given how many of them came against Tim Tebow and the Broncos’ option offense. One of Ninkovich’s former teammates, Tully Banta-Cain is next up with a miss every 7.5 attempts and Dwight Freeney is close behind with a miss every 7.8 attempts.

People have accused PFF of being a little too hard on Jason Pierre-Paul after the season he had, but we can’t deny there was negative in that season as well. A double-digit total of missed tackles left him with a ratio of a miss every 8.1 attempts and landed him in the Bottom 5 league-wide. As we have discussed before, missed tackles don’t preclude you from great play, but they’re always going to drag your performance down somewhat, and it’s an area we would look for JPP to improve on as he goes forwards.

John Abraham and Lamarr Woodley are another pair of big name pass rushers with poor ratios that find themselves in the Bottom 10 (along with Matthews and Chris Clemons) while Julius Peppers only narrowly escapes that unwanted distinction.


RankPlayerSnapsTksAssMTTackling Efficiency
1Rob Ninkovich15688423186.9
2Tully Banta-Cain1418638117.5
3Dwight Freeney2094221257.8
4Jason Pierre-Paul13805912108.1
5Robert Geathers21595830128.3
6John Abraham1950729118.4
7Will Smith25346617118.5
8Juqua Parker148448578.6
9Lamarr Woodley25069216148.7
10Clark Haggans254711617178.8
11Mike Vrabel17057817128.9
12Chris Clemons2015541089.0
13Clay Matthews270710120159.1
13Julius Peppers2670818119.1
13Jason Taylor196358789.1


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| Senior Analyst

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

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