Breaking (tackle) news on Bernard Pierce

Breaking (tackle) news on Bernard Pierce
May 14, 2013, 9:00 am
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If you want to lobby for more touches by running back Bernard Pierce in the Ravens offense this coming season — he had 108 carries and seven receptions for 579 total yards in his rookie year in 2012 — there’s a stat you can add to the mix to bolster your argument.

As compiled by the Football Outsiders website, Pierce ranked among the NFL’s top running backs in rate of broken tackles per touch. In his 115 touches, Pierce recorded 19 broken tackles, or 16.5 percent. That ranked fifth in the league among running backs.

The Ravens’ No. 1 running back, Ray Rice, broke tackles at an 8.5 percent rate, though, with his 318 touches, that added up to 27 broken tackles on the season, tied for ninth among NFL backs.

This is a subjective measurement, but here’s how the Outsiders define a broken tackle: “one of two events: either the ball carrier escapes from the grasp of the defender, or the defender is in good position for a tackle but the ball carrier jukes him out of his shoes. If the ball carrier sped by a slow defender who dived and missed, that didn't count as a broken tackle.” The Outsiders didn’t measure special teams plays.

Pierce’s hard-running style actually isn’t all that different from Rice’s, but he offers a different look in that Pierce, at 6 feet, is about three inches taller than Rice. And as the stats show, Pierce was harder to bring down last season.

The Steelers put two running backs among the tops in broken-tackle rate — Isaac Redman was first (18.6) and Jonathan Dwyer was fourth (16.7). Overall, the Ravens ranked 10th in the NFL in broken-tackle rate at 6.0.

When the Outsiders turned the stats around and looked at broken tackles from the defensive perspective, you see a possible reason the Ravens were willing to let safety Ed Reed leave via free agency. Reed led all NFL defensive backs in allowing broken tackles — percent measured from the sum of solo and broken tackles — at 22.7 percent, or a total of 15, second in the NFL to 18 by the Titans’ Michael Griffin.

Two Ravens linebackers — one departed (Dannell Ellerbe) and one returning (Jameel McClain) — were in the top 10 at their position for highest broken tackle rate, McClain at 10.6 and Ellerbe at 10.1. On the other hand, once cornerback Cary Williams got his hands on a ball carrier, he didn’t let go. Williams was No. 4 in lowest rate among defensive backs, at 2.7 percent.

As a team, the Ravens defense had the No. 3 highest rate, 7.1.  

In the end, how does this stat figure as a predictor of overall success? You’ll find playoff teams and also-rans among the best and worst rates. In fact, the most efficient tackling team in the NFL least season, according to this stat, was the Bills, who went 6-10 with their 3.3 rate. And the 2-14 Chiefs had the seventh-best rate, 4.6. So, maybe it’s nothing more than an off-season talking point.