The New York Giants defense has a tackling problem. Or, at least it had one -- a serious one -- in 2014. That's the only way to read a Football Outsiders study of broken tackles allowed by defenses in 2014.
Per Football Outsiders, the Giants missed a total of 96 tackles on 79 plays last season, a rate of a missed tackle on 7.9 percent of defensive plays. That placed the Giants 27th in the league in that category. Scream about the schemes of former defensive coordinator Perry Fewell all you want, but that is 96 times (exactly six per game) Fewell's defenses put players in position to make tackles that did not get made.
Let's break it down even further.
- The Giants missed 20 tackles on attempted sacks, giving up 12.5 yards per play on those misses. Astoundingly, no other team missed more than 11 tackles on attempted sacks.
- The Giants missed 43 tackles on running plays, surrendering 11.6 yards per play on those.
- The Giants missed 33 tackles on receivers, surrendering 17.2 yards per play on those.
All together, the Giants gave up 13.6 yards per play when they missed tackles. Think that didn't make a difference as they bumbled their way to a 6-10 record?
Now, let's look at the primary culprits.
You might have guessed from the missed tackles on sacks and running plays, that the Giants defensive linemen were primary offenders. You would be right.
- Robert Ayers led all NFL defensive linemen with eight missed tackles. He had 19 solo tackles, a missed tackle percentage of 29.6.
- Jason Pierre-Paul missed five tackles and had a missed tackle percentage of 7.7.
- Cullen Jenkins missed four tackles. With only seven solo tackles to his credit, his missed tackle percentage was a whopping 36.4.
- Mathias Kiwanuka and Damontre Moore each missed three tackles.
No Giants linebackers made the list. New Giant J.T. Thomas III did make the list, though, with 10 missed tackles last season while with the Jacksonville Jaguars. That meant he missed tackles 14.1 percent of the time, eighth-worst among linebackers.
Antrel Rolle missed 11 tackles (13.6 percent). Worse than Rolle, ex-Giant Quintin Demps missed 10 tackles in far fewer snaps, ending up with an atrocious missed tackle percentage of 20.8. FO does not show data for Stevie Brown. Pro Football Focus, however, credits Brown with five missed tackles and 32 solos, a missed tackle rate of 13.5 percent. Look at those numbers and it's little wonder the Giants are starting over at the safety position.
Prince Amukamara missed just one tackle in 464 snaps, per Football Outsiders. He had 42 solo tackles, a missed tackle percentage of 2.3, fourth among cornerbacks. Chykie Brown was the primary replacement for Amukamara, had 24 solo tackles and five missed tackles, a missed tackle 17.3 percent of the time. That tells you a little about how much the Giants missed Amukamara the second half of the season.
You can make the perfect defensive call and put players in the perfect position to make plays. But, then they have to actually make those plays. These numbers provide startling evidence of just how miserably the Giants failed to make those plays in 2014. How much of that is Fewell's fault? Who knows? That's probably impossible to quantify. More importantly, what can new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo do about it?
Maybe not much, except replace the players who couldn't tackle with guys who they hope can. Problem is that in the NFL you can't practice tackling. There is barely any contact during practices. Even in padded practices the Giants do not allow full-fledged tackling. They always want the ball carrier or pass receiver to finish the play upright. The only time tackles are ever executed in the NFL is during games. If you are a poor tackler when you enter the league, chances are you will remain one. There is simply no real way to practice the skill.