If blind homerism were a reliable stat, life would be a lot simpler. We'd never have any debates anymore about whether Tony Romo is the best, the second best (passer rating), third best (ESPN's QBR), fourth best (WPA), sixth best (DVOA), eighth best (PFF grade), 10th best (EPA), or the 15th best (passing yards) QB in the league.
If somebody were to talk about broken tackles, we'd simply say "DeMarco Murray," drop the mic and walk away. Everybody knows that DeMarco Murray has the most broken tackles in the league. After all, he's a slippery dude, he plays for my team, and I saw him break a lot of tackles in the games I watched with my own eyes - so it must be true.
Unfortunately, blind homerism is not a reliable stat.
DeMarco Murray has a heck of a lot of broken tackles - 58 on rushing attempts and 18 after receptions, according to Pro Football Focus - but Marshawn Lynch has more. Lynch leads the league with 79 broken tackles (68 rushing, 11 receiving), three more than Murray.
But regardless of whether he's ranked first or second, few things are more exciting than watching Murray break two or three tackles, falling forward and picking up a first down on second-and-long. Broken tackles on offense are a key factor in keeping offenses on the field, because they give an offense extra time of possession where they would have normally turned over the ball via a punt or a field goal attempt.
Similarly, few things are more frustrating to see than when your safety whiffs on a tackle and lets the opposing running back gain an extra 15 yards before he's brought down.
For the Cowboys, DeMarco Murray is not the only player breaking tackles, though he contributes by far the most broken tackles:
|Broken Tackles through Week 14, 2014|
PFF shows the Cowboys with 115 broken tackles over 13 games, tied for the most in the league with the Seahawks, who also have 115. But the Cowboys ran slightly fewer plays on offense (816) than the Seahawks (831), so their broken tackle rate is 14.1%, the best value in the league.
Running backs often break multiple tackles during the same run, so the 14.1% broken tackle rate doesn't mean the Cowboys will break a tackle every 7.1 plays (7.1 = 100 / 14.1), but the percentage is a good indicator of the relative frequency at which a Cowboys player breaks a tackle.
|Broken Tackle Rate by Team, Wk 14 2014|
|Team||Plays||Br. Tkls||in %||Team||Plays||Br. Tkls||in %||Team||Plays||Br. Tkls||in %|
Broken tackles will never be a stat that is directly correlated to winning and losing, for that the metric is simply too dependent on other variables in the game. But they are a great stat for showing how good an offense and specific players in that offense are at breaking tackles. Similarly, missed tackles by a defense illustrate well how good or bad a team is with the fundamentals of tackling.
Which brings us to the defensive side of the ball and a metric called Tackling Efficiency. Tackling Efficiency calculates the number of tackling attempts per missed tackle with a simple formula:
Total Tackles + Missed Tackles
The resulting number shows the number of attempted tackles per missed tackle. The league average so far this season is 8.2, meaning that the average NFL player misses a tackle once every 8.2 tackle attempts. The higher the number the better, because a higher number would indicate that a player doesn't miss a lot of tackles.
The Cowboys have a below average Tackling Efficiency number of 7.7, which ranks them 25th in the league. The Cowboys miss more tackles than many other teams. Here's how the Cowboys compare with other teams across the league:
|Tackling Efficiency by Team, Wk 14 2014|
|Team||Tkls||M.Tkls.||Tkl. Eff.||Team||Tkls||M.Tkls.||Tkl. Eff.||Team||Tkls||M.Tkls.||Tkl. Eff.|
While the NFL records and keeps a tally of tackles, tackles are not an official league statistic. The problem with tackles is that unlike a completion or an interception — which are generally undisputed as far as record-keeping goes - tackles are awarded in split-second judgment calls by the home team's scorekeeper. In many cases, the tackle numbers listed in the official gamebooks don't make a lot of sense. And by not making them an official stat, the league doesn't need to verify tackle numbers or take any responsibility for whether they are accurate or not.
The Cowboys, like all other NFL teams, keep their own stats which they compile from the coaching film (at least that's how the legend goes). Those stats show that Rolando McClain is the team's leading tackler with 101 combined tackles (79 solo, 22 assists). NFL.com shows McClain with 72 tackles (59 solo, 13 assists). Pro Football Focus show McClain with 77 tackles (67 tackles, 10 assists). For this exercise, we're going with the PFF numbers, simply because they are the only source listing missed tackles, so we might as well use their tackle data as well.
Going by those numbers, the Cowboys aren't a team that's particularly good at tackling. But not every Cowboys player is a bad tackler. Here's an overview of all the Cowboys defenders with at least ten tackles for the season and what their Tackling Efficiency looks like:
|Broken Tackles through Week 14, 2014|
|Name||Total Tackles||Missed Tackles||Tkl. Efficiency|
At the top of the list you have four defensive linemen who haven't missed a single tackle all season. That's pretty impressive.
But perhaps even more impressive - at least for me - is where Sterling Moore is ranked. I've never thought all that much about Moore's coverage ability, but if you compare him to Brandon Carr, who'd you rather have in coverage? Moore misses a tackle once every 13 tackle attempts, Carr every four tackle attempts. That's bad.
Earlier this week we used the PFF rankings to look at the Top-rated Cowboys Players Through Week 13, and there was some discussion about whether PFF were grading Carr and Wilcox too harshly. They might be, but those missed tackle rates are harsh all by themselves.
The Cowboys had their lowest missed tackle total of the season against the Jaguars, where PFF only shows one missed tackle for the defense. Their highest total was 15 missed tackles in the 31-28 win over the Giants in Week 12. Their second highest total came in Week 13, when they missed 12 tackles at home against Philly.
If the Cowboys want to win on Sunday, they'll have to tighten up their tackling. And they'll need Murray and Bryant to go all Heisenberg on the Eagles.