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Advanced Defensive Stats: Missed Tackles

| June 29th, 2021

Continuing our tour of advanced statistics about Chicago’s 2020 defense, today I want to take a look at missed tackles.

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The Bears excelled in the missed tackle area last year, finishing with only 89, the 6th lowest mark in the NFL. To go more in-depth, let’s hone in on how individual players and units contributed to that, building on work I did last offseason. The setup here is fairly simple:

  • Split players into positions (DL, LB, and DB).
  • Compare their missed tackle rates to how everybody else around the NFL fares at their position.

You can see the full data here, but generally the positional medians for missed tackle rates are 10.8% for DB, 9.5% for LB, and 8.5% for DL. With that in mind, let’s look at how Chicago’s defense did last year.

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Defensive Backs

The table below shows all Chicago defensive backs in 2020, as well as how they did overall as a unit. Players with 20 or more tackle attempts were ranked based on how they fared relative to all NFL DBs.



A few thoughts:

  • Eddie Jackson continued to struggle with missed tackles for the 3rd year in a row. It’s not his strength, but that’s fine if he continues to excel in coverage, which is far more valuable (spoiler alert for upcoming article: he did not excel in coverage in 2020).
  • Tashaun Gipson struggled with missed tackles in both 2018 and 2019, but was excellent here in 2020. The Bears will need him to continue to excel in that area given the tackling question marks around him.
  • Kyle Fuller and Jaylon Johnson were both awful with missed tackles in 2020. That continued a long-time pattern for Fuller, but was a bit of a surprise for Johnson, who rarely missed tackles in college. However, I should note that 6 of his 9 missed tackles came in the last 4 weeks as he played through a shoulder injury before it shut him down for the year. In his first 9 games, he had a missed tackle rate of only 10%, which is around league average.

  • Fuller is gone now, so his missed tackles aren’t a concern, but replacement Desmond Trufant isn’t exactly an upgrade as a tackler. He ranked in the bottom 10% for this category in both 2019 and 2020.
  • Chicago’s real hope for tackling improvement among CBs would come from reserves Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor. It’s a small sample size, but both were excellent tacklers when pressed into action late in the year. How much playing time they see in 2021 remains to be seen though.
  • I highlighted missed tackles in the secondary as a concern going into last year, but strong performances from Gipson, Skrine, and the backup CBs kept them around league average overall. Tackling in the secondary is definitely a concern going into 2021 as well.

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Linebackers

Now let’s move on to the linebackers, where tackling is a clear strength, as you can see in the table below.



A few thoughts:

  • Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan both continued strong tackling from 2019. Having two solid tacklers in the middle of the defense is a big boon in run support.
  • It’s weird to count edge rushers as linebackers, but that’s how they’re officially listed. Khalil Mack has generally been around average here, and the same is true for newcomer Jeremiah Attaochu. Robert Quinn, meanwhile, has been consistently bad for years (11% or higher missed tackle rate in 2018, 2019, and 2020). He’s not good at all in run support, which is why he needs to excel as a pass rusher to justify being on the field.
  • The reserve players as a whole did just find here too.

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Defensive Line

Finally, let’s end with the defensive line. The table below matches the 2 above, just for Chicago’s defensive linemen.



A few thoughts:

  • Every key player did well here in 2020, which is why the unit as a whole excelled as well. This matches what we saw in 2019 and thus expected going into the season.
  • Brent Urban, John Jenkins, and Roy Robertson-Harris are gone, but Angelo Blackson and Mike Pennel have been brought in. Blackson struggled with missed tackles in 2020, but that was not a consistent trend from previous years. Overall, he has missed around 7% of tackles since 2018, which would make him solidly above average.
  • Mike Pennel, on the other hand, has been consistently good at not missing tackles. He has a 4% missed tackle rate or lower for 4 straight years. If he makes the roster as a backup nose tackle (he is likely competing with rookie Khyiris Tonga for that spot), he can be relied upon as a sure tackler in the middle of the defensive line.

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Wrap Up.

Heading into 2020, it was expected that the front 7 (minus Robert Quinn) would be sure tacklers, while the secondary would struggle with missed tackles. That’s exactly what happened in season, and while there have been some moving pieces on the defense this offseason, that remains the expectation going into 2021.

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