BGA Weekly : Missing The Point

I spent most of last offseason looking back at certain aspects of the Jets’ season by analyzing data compiled from all nineteen games, rather than watching film. For the next few weeks, I’m going to be revisiting some of the more interesting and relevant topics until free agency opens on March 13th. I will be revisiting as many different topics as possible, but welcome your suggestions or requests in the comments.Last February, I took a deeper look into the impact of missed tackles and their impact on the Jets’ 2010 season. Clearly the defense struggled more in 2011 so, this week, I’ll be considering how much of a part missed tackles played and who the main culprits were.

Once again, this article has used data exclusively provided to us from the guys at PFF. Our thanks, as ever, go out to them. Missed tackles on special teams or on offense (ie on an interception return) have not been considered.

Basic statistics

When I researched missed tackle numbers for last year’s article, there did not seem to be a strong correlation between the success of those teams this missed the most tackles and those that missed the fewest. This led me to conclude that, perhaps, missed tackles didn’t necessarily tell us who the worst defenses are, because a good defense might miss more tackles due to the fact that they (a) get their guys into a position to make plays and (b) give up fewer big plays so it takes a longer drive to score on them.However, this year, it seems there IS a strong correlation between the top defenses and those that missed the fewest tackles. Maybe the fact teams went to the air more this year was a normalizing factor of some kind or perhaps last year was an anomaly.Either way, there’s some sound logic in there somewhere. Missed tackles? Generally bad, but you can overcome them and you can lose even when you manage to mitigate them.

This year, the Jets missed 85 tackles, as compared with 71 in last year’s regular season. (You may recall that, in the postseason, they missed way more than their average, not just in the loss to the Steeler, but also in the win over New England). That 5.3 missed tackles per game still lands then squarely within the 4.0 to 6.0 missed tackles per game group which last year comprised over three quarters of the league.As noted, there’s a strong correlation between the top defenses and their number of missed tackles. Even including playoff games, the 49ers had just 67 missed tackles. Houston had 77, Pittsburgh had 72 and Baltimore had 82. At the other end of the scale, the Patriots had 111 and the worst defense I saw all year – Tampa – had 169…over 10 a game!

Good tackling isn’t all there is to stopping other teams though. If you can’t get off a block, take a bad angle or fall over in pursuit, no missed tackle will be recorded, but you still won’t be able to stop the play. However, it is a good measure for how often a team let itself down by allowing yardage that should have been preventable. This year at least, it seems that the defenses that limited those mistakes were the better ones. For a team like New England, 111 misses is particularly alarming considering how much of those yards came through the air as opposed to running through their defense.

How Missed Tackles Affected the Jets

Just like last year, there were not only examples of games where missed tackles killed the Jets, but also where they won in spite of a high number of missed tackles. Likewise, there are examples of games where they didn’t miss many tackles but still lost. Let’s look at some of the more interesting :

Their highest missed tackle count of the year was in the Giants game. They missed 11 and many of these were memorable (including Cruz’s 99-yarder and Ahmad Bradshaw trucking Brodney Pool).However, on three occasions they had three or fewer missed tackles and still lost (Oakland, Baltimore, New England). These were three very different games. In the Baltimore game, the defense actually played really well and it was turnovers on offense that killed them. However, in the Oakland game it was a poor defensive performance. This is a great example of missed tackles not being the reason the defense played poorly. They had none in the second half, but the problem was instead tacklers not being able to make it to the ball carrier or overpursuing plays rather than missing tackles.

They did have some good games when they kept their missed tackles to a minimum. They only missed two tackles in both the first and third games in the three game winning streak that got them to 8-5. However, against San Diego, they managed to win despite missing seven tackles.Here’s where yardage becomes important. While a missed tackle will often be looked upon as a black mark against an individual or a team, they often make a positive contribution in terms of slowing the runner down so that the next man to the ball carrier can make the play. None of the plays in that San Diego game were especially damaging, as they totalled just 28 yards (four per play). In contrast, they gave up 90 yards on the three missed tackles in the Oakland game and an average of over 12 yards over the course of the season on plays where a tackle was missed.

In that Giants game, those 11 missed tackles came on plays that accounted for 196 yards. The Giants only ended up with 332 in total. One of the limitations of this data set is that a missed tackle might have occurred at the line of scrimmage or 50 yards downfield, so the above stat doesn’t mean that the Giants would have only had 136 yards if the Jets had made every tackle because, but it’s still useful to consider the overall damage on such plays from an individual and team perspective.

Let’s move on then, to look at the Jets’ individually, considering anyone with at least 300 snaps.

Jets Individual Missed Tackle Stats

In terms of total missed tackles, the Jets “leaders” were as follows :

Jim Leonhard – 9
Muhammed Wilkerson, Bart Scott, Kyle Wilson – 8
Antonio Cromartie, Brodney Pool – 7
David Harris, Eric Smith – 6
Calvin Pace – 5
Everyone else – 4 or less

Of course, David Harris plays every snap whereas Kyle Wilson and Brodney Pool are backups, so it is also interesting to look at tackle percentages (ie total tackles divided by tackle attempts, where tackle attempts is tackles plus missed tackles).In order to represent that data as accurately as possible, we need to split the players into position groupings because last year’s data showed that the further you are from the line of scrimmage, (a) the lower your tackle percentage is likely to be and (b) the higher the amount of yardage on those plays is likely to be, because you have fewer people in a position to make the play behind you.

Defensive Backs

Tackle Percentage

Darrelle Revis, Smith – 93%
Donald Strickland – 91%
Cromartie – 86%
Wilson – 83%
Pool, Leonhard – 82%

Despite losing Drew Coleman who had nine missed tackles and Dwight Lowery, who also had a tackle percentage in the low-eighties and bringing in Strickland, the secondary did worse than last year, although there were 42 DBs in the league in double figures for missed tackles, so nobody was among the league leaders. The likes of Pool and Cromartie saw their tackle percentages drop by 5% and Jim Leonhard’s dropped by almost 10% to near-2009 levels (where he led the Jets with 13).Eric Smith was much improved in terms of his tackle percentage and Kyle Wilson also made a slight improvement. However, both were culprits in high profile plays that cost the Jets dearly over the course of the season. Revis is always consistently in the 90’s.

Where it gets really interesting is in terms of the yardage given up. As with last year, where two or more players missed a tackle on the same play, I have split the yardage equally between them. I have only looked at guys with at least five missed tackles.

Leonhard – 22 yards per play
Smith – 20 yards per play
Cromartie – 17 yards per play
Wilson – 16 yards per play
Pool – 13 yards per play

Last year, on plays where they missed tackles, Smith gave up 12 yards per play, Leonhard gave up 11 and Wilson just eight. Clearly you can see how missed tackles in the secondary were much more damaging in terms of big plays this season. Five touchdowns were also scored on plays where one of these five missed a tackle.Cromartie and Pool actually gave up less yards per play when they missed a tackle this year, but that still amounts to over 200 yards between them. Leonhard actually accounted for exactly 200 on his own.

There were some high profile big plays this year that may have skewed the numbers. Notably, Leonhard missed a tackle on Darren McFadden’s 70-yard TD run in Week 3. However, even if you omit that, he still gave up over 16 yards per play which is still much higher than last year. Wilson and Cromartie each missed a tackle on the Cruz 99-yarder, without which Wilson would have been at around 10 yards per play. His tackle rate is still a concern though, especially considering that was advertised as a strength when he was drafted.Had Eric Smith been awarded a missed tackle on the Cruz play, his numbers would have looked even worse, but he didn’t have the angle due to his lack of speed. In any case, 20 yards per play (including the Tebow touchdown in Week 11) is still quite damaging, but at least he doesn’t miss them as often as some of his colleagues in the secondary.

Linebackers

Let’s look at the tackle rates for the Jets linebackers in 2011 :

Jamaal Westerman – 96%
David Harris, Calvin Pace – 93%
Bart Scott – 88%

As noted above, sometimes players are unable to get to the ball carrier or overpursue runs. Westerman is someone who has been guiltier of this than anyone else in the linebacking corps, which might explain why his run defense grades are not that good even though he only missed one tackle on the year. Hopefully, if he returns, he will continue to get better at this, as he seemed to over the course of the season.Bryan Thomas, Josh Mauga, Aaron Maybin and Garrett McIntyre are not considered because they all played less than 300 snaps.Pace and Harris clearly had good years, slightly improving on 2010, but Bart Scott saw a slight drop-off after only having had two missed tackles in 2010. I see this – and perhaps to some extent Harris’ improvement – as being attributable to the fact he also played in a slightly different role this season. Whereas in the past Scott was usually attacking the line of scrimmage and Harris was cleaning up everything behind him, they split those duties more this year, with another side-effect being that Scott was actually more statistically productive than Harris on a per-snap basis.

Somewhere else this is reflected is in the numbers for average yards per play when a tackle was missed. In 2010, 13.5 yards were gained on average when Harris missed a tackle, whereas only 6.0 yards were gained when Scott missed a tackle. This is easy to rationalize if Scott if attacking the line of scrimmage because it would mean that Harris is more likely to be in position to make a play when Scott misses a tackle than Scott would be if Harris missed one. Sure enough, the gap is narrowed in 2011, with the yards per play when Harris misses a tackle reducing to nine and when Scott misses one increasing slightly to seven. Ultimately, they gave up the same yardage (59 each) on plays where they missed tackles.

Impressively, when Pace missed a tackle, the average gain was only four yards. This makes sense given how well he set the edge all year. If he was tempted to get off his block and make a play, then that would still contribute towards preventing a big gain, as long as he set the edge well in the first place.

Defensive Linemen

In 2010, the defensive linemen let themselves down in the postseason after not missing many tackles in the regular season. Mike DeVito ended up with a tackle rate of 91% but he improved on that this year by missing just one tackle.

Here were the 2011 tackle rates :

DeVito – 97%
Pitoitua – 95%
Pouha – 94%
Wilkerson – 83%
Dixon – 82%

The numbers for Wilkerson and Dixon are disappointing, but the yardage surrendered wasn’t too bad – 113 between the five of them (seven per play) with 59 of those yards attributable to Wilkerson (also seven yards per play).

Wilkerson led all NFL 3-4 DEs with his eight missed tackles and, although he played a lot of reps as a 4-3 DE, the three 4-3 DEs with eight missed tackles or more all played at least 268 more snaps than he did. However, that’s one area that he can look to improve on in 2012, which will hasten his development into what the Jets hope will one day be a dominant player.

Conclusions

Despite the obvious limitations of the missed tackle as a statistic, there can be no doubt about the extent to which missed tackles damaged the Jets’ playoff hopes in 2011, particularly in terms of safety play. The Jets are going to have to upgrade the secondary and gambling on Eric Smith and/or Jim Leonhard playing better if they’re healthy and Kyle Wilson developing at a faster rate than he did last year being enough would be ill-advised.As for the front seven, it could have a different look in 2012. While the Jets will hope that Wilkerson continues to develop, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on David Harris and (assuming he returns) Sione Pouha to lead from the front again.For a look at some other issues like how the Jets 2010 performance compared with the two years prior to that or the effect of cold-weather on late-season missed tackle numbers, go back and look at last year’s article linked to at the start of the article.

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