Football Outsiders has once again published its charting of broken tackles for the past season, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans can be reasonably happy with the result: with 65 broken tackles on 57 plays (5.6% of all plays), the Bucs are now in the middle of the pack when it comes to tackling opponents. Rejoice!
That actually represents a massive step forward. The Buccaneers were the worst tackling team in the NFL in the abysmal season we call "2011", missing tackles on a ridiculous 9% of all plays and missing one in every ten tackle attempts in total (based on tackle totals from Pro Football Reference). That has now subsided to 5.6% and 6.9% respectively this season.
That's still below average, but it does represent a massive step forward. But why did the Bucs take that step forward? Was it because of the tackling circuits during the offseason? Or was it just a result of replacing some poor tacklers with better tacklers? Looking at the results, it mostly looks like the latter. Removing Tanard Jackson (16 missed tackles in 2011) and Sean Jones (17 missed tackles) created instant improvement. Those two players were two of the top three worst tacklers in 2011.
Four players in 2011 represented 53 of Tampa Bay's 106 broken tackles in 2011. Two of those players were cut, while Quincy Black returned to being a solid tackler (as he had been in the past), while he also saw his playing time drastically reduced. Ronde Barber was the only player who continued to miss tackles at over 10% per play, but that has long been a part of his play. The Buccaneers did add Mark Barron, who surprisingly missed 12.4% of his tackles this past season.
But we can't in earnest say that the Bucs suddenly turned into a tough tackling team. Instead, they simply stopped being the worst team in the league. That feels like a great accomplishment, but it really shouldn't be. And a tackle here and there may have been the difference between a win and a loss in the many, many one-score games the Buccaneers played last season.