Packing the Stats: Defense Tackling Improvements All Green Bay Packers All the Time

Packing the StatsIn my recent perusal of the internet for some Green Bay Packers news in the offseason, I came across an article at Football Outsiders by editor-in-chief Aaron Schatz. “Broken Tackles 2012: Defense” focuses on the best and worst defensive players when it came to broken tackles last season. Those of us who regularly follow the Packers know that tackling was a big point of interest after an abysmal 2011 season when, according to, they missed a whopping 109 tackles.

Naturally, I was intrigued to see how the Packers and some of their individual players ranked among the rest of the league for 2012. I braced for the worst, knowing the defense was lacking against opposing rushing attacks. (They gave up 132.6 yards per game, for 25th in the NFL.) And then, of course, were the games against Adrian Peterson.

Imagine my surprise when I found out the Packers were in the top three best teams when it came to missed tackles.

Now, let’s clear something up first. Football Outsiders clearly defined their criteria for a “broken tackle,” which should not be confused with the PFF “missed tackle” statistic. (Though for comparison’s sake, the 109 missed tackles from 2011 dropped down to just 81 in 2012 as charted by PFF.) That aside, here is how FO defines a “broken tackle”:

We define a “broken tackle” as one of two events: either the ballcarrier escapes from the grasp of the defender, or the defender is in good position for a tackle but the ballcarrier jukes him out of his shoes. If the ballcarrier sped by a slow defender who dived and missed, that didn’t count as a broken tackle.

Before we get to the team’s overall numbers, I want to highlight the two Packers players that made “best” and “worst” lists. First, take comfort in the fact that no player from Green Bay recorded 10 or more broken tackles. None of the defensive backs made the bottom ten in broken tackle rate; of course, none of them made the top ten either.

No, our two players in question were linebackers.

Inside linebacker Brad Jones made the “naughty” list as one of the twelve worst linebackers when it came to broken tackles in 2012. For his 61 solo tackles on the season, he had 7 broken tackles, for a rate of 10.3%. That put him seventh from the bottom.

There was, however, another Packers inside linebacker to make the “nice” list. You get one guess as to who it is . . . Yes, the infamous A.J. Hawk. For his 90 solo tackles, he had just two broken tackles, for a 2.2% rate. That made him the NFL’s eighth best linebacker in this statistic, and he showed some improvement from 2011, when he had six broken tackles.

If you haven’t suffered a heart attack from that news, then just keep the ambulance on hold until after you read the next part.

The Green Bay Packers were the second best team in the NFL when it came to their percentage of plays with a broken tackle in 2012. They ranked just behind the Buffalo Bills and just ahead of . . . wait for it . . . the San Francisco 49ers. Of their 1026 plays, the Packers had broken tackles on 35 of them for a rate of 3.4%.

Football Outsiders: 2012 Broken Tackles by Team
Football Outsiders: 2012 Broken Tackles by Team

Now, you might notice that their total number of broken tackles was a bit higher at 45. That means that on 10 plays at most, they suffered more than one broken tackle. In this case, it is higher than San Francisco’s total number of broken tackles – the only NFL team to not have more than one in a single play. However, if you calculate the Total BT as a percentage of Total Plays, then the Packers still rank third, just eking out the Denver Broncos at 4.39%.

This should be good news for the Green Bay Packers. For a team that emphasized tackling technique this past year, their efforts have seemingly paid off.

Just be careful, you do have to take this information at face value to know what it really means. The Packers were very good at taking their guy down once they made contact. Note those key words: “once they made contact.” This statistic reflects nothing in regard to the defensive players getting in position to actually get their hands on the ball carrier.

And really, that is one of the biggest issues coming out of last season, especially in regard to defending the run. According to FO’s unique statistical analysis, the Packers ranked 14th in Rush Defense DVOA at -6.4%. Not horrible, but leaving a lot to be desired.

Whether it’s the players getting off of blocks to make the tackle, or closing up gaps and forcing ball carriers into defenders, or just simply taking good angles, the Packers defense still has some improvements to make. Just because the players are making their tackles doesn’t necessarily mean that they were at a beneficial location in reference to the chains.

But it is a comforting step in the right direction. We should all be thankful to see some much-needed improvement in this aspect of the defense’s play. Again, fans did do a lot of fist shaking at poor tackling just a year ago, and we got what we asked for. Now it’s time to take the next step in 2013 and make those tackles really count.


Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski


19 thoughts on “Packing the Stats: Defense Tackling Improvements

  1. Good analysis. And your points as to the flaws in the data are valid. If a player does not get off a block to make a tackle in the gap he was assigned to, it does not count against him in football outsiders. And I think that would be the biggest criticism of most of the packers front seven players.

    Also, from the sounds of it, when Erik Walden was getting used in the playoff game against the 49ers, the criteria used would not have given him a bad grade. A faster player sped past him and he never made contact. But I think any fan could look at that game and say it was one of the worst performances by a defensive player all season. (The scheme was complete crap and the team was unprepared as well, but that is a different topic altogether.)

    Now, if the Packers could get off blocks AND make tackles they could be talked about in the same breath as the 49ers and other good defenses. But that is a tall order.

    They were still 25th against the run. Some is scheme and some is guys just getting beat by the man in front of them. Hopefully Datone Jones will allow the packers to play more 3 man fronts. Cannot be a good run defending team in nickel all game long.

    1. Great points.

      Do you think some of the reason we played so much 2-4 nickel is because our 3rd DE/DT wasn’t as good of a player as our 5th CB/S more than it was a reaction to down and distance? It feels to me, through my green-and-gold colored glasses, that Cullen Jenkins was on the field more in a 3-4 alignment than we used it last year.

      1. I think the 2-4 nickel is due to the amount the NFL has evolved into a passing league. And the best way to combat that is with a pass rush. In the 34 D the OLB are the primary pass rushers, much like the DE’s in a 43. THe DT in the 2-4 nickel front are basically much like pass rushing DT.

        Its a matter of using the pieces of a 34 D to combat the pass and get the most pressure on the QB.

      2. I believe that did play a part in it. Who would you rather have on the field Hayward(The best nickel CB in football according to PFF) or Worthy/Daniels etc.?

        The other part is like Stroh said. The league is evolving into a pass happy league which explains part of it but doesn’t explain why a Capers led defense used Nickel/Dime to such an extreme rate compared to the rest of the league.

      3. I don’t think a DC is ever asking himself,

        “Who’s a better player, cornerback #5, or DL #3?”

        to determine the front he’s putting on the field.

        Down and distance, field position, opponent tendency under those conditions.. Those are your factors in deciding what defensive front(base, nickel, dime) you are putting on the field.

        Particular alignments and which specific players within a certain postion group? Now, those are decisions made based on which players are bigger play makers or whose skill sets match the above criteria better.

        There are exceptions, but they are rare, and require unique players- Charles Woodson -was- one of those players. He was capable of playing not just corner, but effectively as a roving safety or LB… But even then, he’s playing as that other position.

        You MIGHT decide # of down lineman based on if you have better LBs, but definitely wouldn’t determine the # of defensive backs based on your linemen.. Two completely different positions, they are not interchangeable.

    2. IDK Walden played pretty bad but according to PFF Wilson and Raji were absolutely destroyed in the running game also. Walden’s overall grade according to PFF was -2.2 which was his 9th worst graded game of the season. Thats absolutely insane when you consider players like Hayward, Matthews, and Shields didn’t have 1 game graded lower than -2. Actually Matthews and Shields didn’t have all their negative games combined equal -2.

      25th against the run is seriously skewed by Peterson. Honestly they were an above average run defense outside of the last 3 games. Those 3 games are all that stick in our heads though and proves the run game needs help. Who knows having Bishop, Pery, and Jones on the field could make GB a good run defense that doesn’t allow teams to run on them like that. All advanced statistics say GB was an above average run defense also.

  2. This defense will show marked improvement because of Eddie Lacy.

    Amazing growth in this area considering all the missed tackles AP creates. For GB to improve after the monster year he had in general and specifically against us…

    This gives me great hope that MM will fulfill his vow to improve the run game. He said tackling would improve, and it did. Could he also say they will have guys in better position to make plays?

  3. Nice work.

    As you intimated, though, a team that is more disciplined and plays fast on defense may see numbers that are artificially high. So there’s some deception in these numbers.

    The double-dip on SF (very low number of defensive plays AND low number of broken tackles) is impressive. Something the Packers should aspire to.

    1. Good point. I hadn’t thought of it from the opposite angle, where teams get to the ball carrier quicker, but with more tackles broken. They could still have more productive tackling despite those numbers.

    2. Again, the very low number of defensive plays are more the result of a ball-control offense. Eddie Lacy.

  4. So if you don’t get off a block and aren’t in position to make the play, or you’re so slow you can’t get in on the action, you actually get rewarded with this stat.

    Don’t know what it tells me other than when the Pack do get hold of an opponent, they more often than other teams bring him down. It also doesn’t tell you whether the defender was dragged a few yards either. As a worthwhile stat – *yawn*

    1. This is exactly the problem here. Their definition of broken tackles.

      Though it’s not irrelevant, as what we saw in 2011 was a number of broken tackles by the precise definition (players not wrapping properly, etc…), the issue of the defense in 12 was getting off blocks and positioning properly.

      It was the main reason we lost to the 49ers, yet it’s not accounted for in the data.

      And, like you said, it also doesn’t take into account “accomplishment”. What’s good is making the tackle if it’s beyond the first down market?

      Somewhat relevant data, but it leaves out too many facts to be considered a reflection of how the defense performed in the tackling department alone, even less how good the defense was.

    2. Just to add, Football Outsiders publishes another “advanced stat”, defensive stops, if I’m not mistaken.

      The definition is not completely comprehensive, but it’s a much better reflection of a players’ and a defense’s performance.

  5. I think this goes to show that some fans just will continue to blindly parrot old cliches about the defense without actually focusing on a play and analyzing it and being willing to revise their opinion from year to year. Now this is not to say that the Pack had a tremendous run defense last year. Anyone that thinks Football Outsiders is trying to say that is completely missing the boat. But broken tackles was not the issue. This worries me since it shows many fans are unable to comprehend a play as they watch it.

  6. It’s also further proof of how underrated Hawk is. Broken tackles isn’t the end-all-be-all, but it’s surprising how many people insist that he sucks in all respects just because they expected more out of his draft position or because of his salary. He is still useful in his own right, even if he doesn’t produce as many turnovers as you’d like.

    1. Hawk was a major problem in all the playoff games. consistently destroyed by the FB. consistently completely taken out of the play.

      hawk is no longer a downhill player. he has regressed since his first two years in the league. as a rookie he looked more instinctive and aggressive than most players on the defense. not he is just an average LB, at elite LB pay.

      1. I will almost guarantee that when Hawk is done and retired, DC, MM or Winston Moss will be asked about Hawk, and they will state something to the effect of “Hawk played without any ego whatsoever; we literally tasked him with identifying the lead blocker and tying him up so the other guys could make the play.. and he did it play after play, with no whining or complaining.”

        Watching Hawk play, it’s not that he can’t avoid or shed a blocker.. he seeks them out. Considering it’s that obvious, and the coaching staff keeps him around and has spoken highly of him… it seems the logical conclusion.

        Like it or not, Hawk has been doing what he has been asked to do, in my estimation. Identify the primary lead blocker, attack him, and keep him off of anyone else.

Comments are closed.