One of the most fundamental skills in football is tackling. You can put players in position to make a play defensively, but if they can’t bring the ball carrier down your formations, shifts and blitzes don’t amount to much.
Last season, the Cleveland Browns missed 102 tackles in 1,188 defensive snaps. That total was tied for third-best in the league with the New York Jets, and just behind the Chicago Bears with 97, and the San Francisco 49ers who had 94.
When you consider the number of snaps a defense played however, the Browns were the best team in the league at not missing tackles, to the tune of .086 missed tackles per snap. These numbers come courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
Now, missed tackles is not an exact stat to be certain. What exactly constitutes an attempted tackle? Certainly there is room for variance among those counting these missed opportunities. Comparing these numbers across the league is somewhat tricky as well, considering the teams don’t play the same schedules. There are just so many variables.
Still, it is encouraging to think that the Browns are at the top of these rankings and not near the bottom such as the Saints, Buccaneers, Jaguars and Raiders. (Also interesting to note that the Browns were 3-1 against those teams at the bottom.)
So what real value is there to this stat?
First, we can compare the overall team numbers to previous seasons. Did Mike Pettine and Jim O’Neil’s defense fare any better than that of their predecessors? The answer is yes actually. The Browns missed 130 tackles in 2013, which was near the bottom of the league.
So what changes from 2013 to 2014 account for this improvement? Was there a better emphasis from the coaching staff? Did key acquisitions make a big difference? Even while making this comparison, there are still so many variables that make a fair comparison tough. Different schemes, different personnel on the field and different opponents to tackle being chief among them.
What can be more useful, is taking a look at individual player numbers and seeing which players may be better—or worse—than you think at making the most basic defensive play.
In the accompanying chart, there are 15 key players from the defense. Defensive backs are on top, followed by defensive linemen and finally linebackers. What might jump out at you right off the bat is that Donte Whitner missed the most tackles of anyone on the team. He also played the most snaps, and therefore likely had the most opportunities to miss tackles as well.
Whitner missed .012 tackles per snap, or less than one per game. By comparison, Desmond Bryant missed just one tackle in almost 750 snaps. Does that mean Bryant is a more sure tackler than Whitner? Not necessarily. Bryant normally plays on one end of the line of scrimmage, while Whitner plays in the middle of the field. Sheer position would indicate that many plays Bryant doesn’t even have a chance at the ball carrier. The number of made tackles would suggest that Whitner (76) is in a position to make a tackle 3X more than Bryant (25).
When compared to other top safeties in the league, Whitner’s numbers are comparable enough not to raise any red flags.
Bryant’s numbers are very good for a defensive lineman, as are Haden’s compared to other top cornerbacks.
Conversely, Paul Kruger’s numbers aren’t what you want to see from his position. Curious about Barkevious Mingo? He played 681 snaps and missed nine tackles for a .013 missed tackles per snap number. Also not great when compared to others around the league at his position.
Take these numbers with a bit of a grain of salt, but they are a reflection of what actually took place on the field. The real question of course will be what the team does going forward. Can they stay in the top ten of tackling?