Pittsburgh Steelers Advanced Stats: Broken Tackles Not a Problem in 2013

Broken Tackles are an important statistic in the National Football League. A broken tackle or two can lead to a big gain on a play that should have been cut much shorter. It can be the difference between making the extra couple of yards needed for the first down or touchdown and not.

Football Outsiders tracks their own version of broken tackles during their game charting projects. Broken tackles are a subjective statistic and will be slightly different with each source that tallies them. Football Outsiders’ data includes when a player escapes the grasp of another player and when a defender is in good position to make a tackle, but the runner puts the moves on him causing a missed tackle. It does not include when a defender dives and misses a runner or when a defender is blocked out of the tackle by another player. Special teams plays were not included in the data.

Considering the 8-8, up-and-down, mess of a season the Pittsburgh Steelers had last year, they actually did pretty decent in broken tackles. They ranked in the top ten in the stat on both offense and defense and a few players stood out as well.

Offense

Overall, the Steelers offense ranked seventh in the league in broken tackles in 2013. They ran 1010 offensive plays with 65 of those plays having a broken tackle resulting in 70 total broken tackles and 6.4% broken tackle rate. This is down slightly from the 7.5% and 7.8% rates from 2012 and 2011 respectively, but is still a good number to have.

As far as players go, we will begin where the offense begins, with the quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger was third among quarterbacks in broken tackles with twelve. All twelve were “Houdinis,” where a quarterback escapes a sack as opposed to broken tackles on the other side of the line of scrimmage. His numbers were way up from 2011 and 2012 when he didn’t even break the top ten lists for quarterbacks. This is amazing itself, considering he has always had a knack for escaping pressure and Houdini-ing his way out of things to extend plays. I’m not sure how to account for this and they didn’t elaborate on it, so I will move on.

Le’Veon Bell was fifteenth among running backs with 21 broken tackles on his 288 carries for a 7.3% rate. The running back position is the most consistent from year-to-year with the beasts of the league (Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson, etc.) being on top of the list every year. With his running style, Bell will most definitely continue to put up good numbers in this category for the foreseeable future.

Incoming free agent LeGarrette Blount was not on the list of running backs with twenty or more broken tackles last year, but they did make mention of him being in the top five in yards after contact, which is another great statistic for runners. This will most likely be expanded on in a future article by the Football Outsiders.

Nov 3, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) runs the ball against New England Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (37) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

In the case of the wide receivers, we all know that Antonio Brown has the speed and shiftiness to put the moves on defenders at will. He was third among wide receivers in the NFL in 2013, with 15 broken tackles on his 117 touches for a 12.8% broken tackle rate. You can pretty much guarantee these were all of the juke variety rather than the beast variety. His rate is a good bit lower than other players like Golden Tate and Cordarrelle Patterson, who had more broken tackles on fewer touches, but it’s still not bad. His total went up from four in 2012, due most likely to his becoming a central part of the offense in 2013.

Defense

While there were no single players among the Steelers defense that stood out in the broken tackle category in 2013, the team as a whole ranked ninth. Out of the 1031 plays on defense, 53 of them had at least one broken tackle for a total of 64 and a rate of 5.1%. With the young talent that is taking over on the defensive side of the ball and being coached up in Pittsburgh, this should only get better.

The Good News

The good news is the Steelers are ahead of the rest of the AFC North in this category on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Cincinnati Bengals follow closely at ninth, but the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns are at the bottom of the league, ranked 31st and 32nd respectively. On defense, the Bengals and Browns are ranked twelfth and thirteenth respectively, while the Ravens come in 28th. These rankings help explain part of the reason why Baltimore didn’t have a successful follow-up season to their Super Bowl victory after the 2012 season.

The Bad News

The bad news is that two of the free agents the Pittsburgh Steelers brought in this offseason to help shore up the defense are among the worst defensive players when it comes to broken tackles. Mike Mitchell had 12 broken tackles versus 58 solo tackles for a 17.1% broken tackle rate with the Carolina Panthers in 2013. This was bad enough for 14th worst among all defensive players and 11th worst among defensive backs. Cam Thomas had five broken tackles with the San Diego Chargers last season to tie him for fourth worst among defensive linemen. His 19 solo tackles give him a 20.8% broken tackle rate. Hopefully, the coaching in Pittsburgh will help these players cut those numbers down.

It’s good to see they have a stat like this to maintain in 2014, and hopefully help lead to more success. What say you, Steeler Nation?

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