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Breaking Tackles: Bucs On Bottom On Both Sides Of Ball

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Football Outsiders looked at broken tackles in the NFL in 2009, and you wouldn't be surprised to find out that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fared poorly on both sides of the ball. Basically, Bucs runners were stopped right away, while those who ran on the Bucs defense were often given a second (or third, or more) chance.

Football Outsiders looked at broken tackles in the NFL in 2009, and you wouldn't be surprised to find out that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fared poorly on both sides of the ball.

On offense, the Bucs ran through the third fewest broken tackles. Only Chicago and Green Bay had fewer.

On defense, the Bucs had the third most broken tackles, behind Detroit and Indianapolis.

Basically, Bucs runners were stopped right away, while those who ran on the Bucs were often given a second (or third, or more) chance.

They were so bad at stopping the run, that the top two players who failed to wrap up runners were both Buccaneers:

... looking at the players with the most and fewest broken tackles does a good job of showing us which defenders were able to wrap up and which ones got run over. And when it came to broken tackles, one player stood head and shoulders above (or, perhaps, below) the rest of the league: Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Sabby Piscitelli, who had four more broken tackles than anyone in the league. (No. 2 was also a Tampa Bay player, Mr. Ronde Barber.)

A "broken tackle" was defined as 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.

While broken tackles on either side of the ball isn't a measure of how good you are, it does tell us a lot about the makeup of the team. Come with us after the jump as Buc 'Em contributor Michael Neilson takes a closer look at the failures on both sides of the ball.

In 2002, the Bucs fielded the most effective defense in the history of the NFL, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com (AskMen ranked 'em No. 6 all-time). Jump forward seven years and they found themselves among the bottom of the league.

Last season, the Bucs brought in defensive coordinator Jim Bates, who disassembled the Tampa 2 for a defensive scheme that 1) didn't match the talent they had; and 2) has failed at virtually every stop Bates has made.

Rather than blame Barber and Piscitelli, I would argue that it was more of a indictment on the system rather than the players.

Barber has never been known as a bad tackler. He gets low, wraps up and generally makes the play. So why did his numbers jump last year? Bates' system largely relied on individual players to make plays. There was little pursuit to the ball and left his defenders on islands far too often.

As a safety, Piscatelli absolutely should be able to make an open-field tackle. He is the last line of defense, and his numbers are inexcusable. Ronde Barber, however, has always played in a system in which he is asked to just hold the flats. He has traditionally used the sideline and forced everything back to Pro Bowl linebackers. The T2 has made Barber's career. It's a system that fits his skill set perfectly. Last year, he was far too often asked to chase people down.

Piscatelli, on the other hand, is infamous for trying to dislodge the ball, rather than wrapping up. There are players who make a living doing this, but Piscatelliisn't one of them. He was consistently lost in coverage and force to try to make arm tackles because of this. Piscatelli simply lacks the talent to be a starting safety in this league. Bates also lacked the systematic knowledge on how to make Piscatelli serviceable. He would be better off playing in a system in which he had help.

The 2002 Bucs were notorious in the NFL for having six or seven jerseys around the ball. In a system that is built on pursuing the football, Piscatelli can get away with poor tackling technique. Kudos to head coach Raheem Morris for recognizing this, pushing Bates out of Tampa, and reverting back to the Tampa 2 with a more aggressive nature.

I also haven't even mentioned Football Outsiders' failure to consider smaller defenses built on speed, which is how the Buccaneers' back seven was built. The defensive line was so pathetic that equating them into a terrible tackling defense is note-worthy. The line often got blocked out of plays and weren't able to account for enough blockers, which left far too many bodies on the linebackers. Making tackles while getting blocked makes everyone's' life more difficult.

On offense, I don't know exactly what to make of this other than talent.

Derrick Ward is a physical enough back to run through arm-tackles and Williams still has the ability to make people miss. However, to highlight this talent would mean that we would first have to run the ball.

Even with a terrible passing game, offensive coordinator Greg Olsen still elected to pass the living daylights out of the football.

If you break it down by talent, Michael Clayton is pretty easy to bring down, and certainly isn't in a position to exploit the open field (not sure that he ever got enough separation to even get in the open field). Sammie Stroughter is young, light and was outmatched too often.

If anyone could have helped the broken tackles last year (and that certainly goes for the upcoming season, too) it would have been rookie QB Josh Freeman. He is huge, quick, and strong enough to break arm tackles in and out of the pocket.

However, if Donovan McNabb can't help pad the Eagles' numbers with fast and quick DeSean Jackson, Freeman and Stroughter were probably hopeless to make this look more respectable from Tampa Bay.

I would also venture to guess that a large percentage of broken tackles came in the running game. We ran the ball 404 times last year, which is good for 25th in the league. Chicago, Seattle, Detroit and Washington also struggled in breaking tackles and were in the bottom tier of run attempts for the season. If these numbers are to improve, it will take us running the ball 40-50 more times throughout the season and an effort on Tampa's young WR corps to get separation from defensive backs.

It is my belief that you will see us come back to the league average in broken tackles next year. I have a ton of confidence in Morris running the defense and I hold out a glimmer of hope that Olsen will take a good look at his depth chart and understand his teams strengths.

Piscatelli will become a more situational player with Sean Jones taking the starting role. Barber will be able to finish his career playing in the Tampa 2, and be able to play how he feels most comfortable.

With more talent being added to the DL and more experience for the LB, this defense as a whole should return to at least the league average in efficiency, all resulting in 2009 as being a fluke year for "Broken Tackles."

Editor's Note:  Thanks a bunch to Buc 'Em contributor Michael Neilson for putting this together.

Photographs by cstreet.us, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.