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Has Ronde Barber lost it? A look into the numbers

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The defining moment of our team last year may have very well centered on Ronde Barber.  Typically a good zone pass defender and staunch run supporter, Ronde found himself in a one on one situation in a crucial game.  The game I'm referring to is the Monday night debacle at Carolina.  Sitting at 9-3 and ready to show the league that the Bucs indeed were playoff bound, they marched into Carolina ready to adminster a whooping.  Instead, the Bucs left with a loss, the first of four in a row that would have them missing the playoffs.

Back to Ronde, on two crucial plays (back to back no less), Ronde found himself squared up against Jonathan Stewart on the outside.  Barber went in for the tackle, got met with a brutal stiff arm and ended up on his back.  The next play, a similar play to the opposite side of the field saw Barber and DeAngelo Williams matched up.  Williams mimicked his younger counterpart and stiff armed Barber on his way to a touchdown. Not a pretty sight for Bucs fans.

This led to many media outlets calling Barber washed up, finished, on the decline of his career.  Barber seemed to be beat on longer and longer pass plays, with his only splash plays coming against the woeful Lions and his own personal quarterback, Donovan McNabb

With 2009 a few days away, and Ronde being the lone veteran holdover, and a key figure on the Bucs D, I wondered what the numbers had to say about 2008 and how he stacked up in the years before that. 

Hit the jump to take a journey through #20's numbers.

Ronde Barber has made a very successful career by being a good run defender, an excellent pass defender when in zone coverage, and became the first 20/20 (sacks/interceptions) cornerback in NFL history.  But as he gets older, the whispers have started to creep in that he's done, on the decline, should only be a nickelback and so on.

A quick look at his standard stats shows that there hasn't been a serious decline in skill set, if you believe these numbers tell the whole story.  As a note, all numbers are from FootballOutsiders (FO).

 

Year Total Tkl Tkl Ast Sacks Int IntTD PD FF FR
2008 75 67 8 2 4 1 12 0 1
2007 58 48 10 1 2 1 14 1 2
2006 98 84 14 0 3 2 16 2 0

 

Ronde has started and played in every game over the last three years.  As you can see, his total tackle numbers have decreased from 2006, with the other parts of his game staying relatively the same.  But what these numbers don't tell us, is how effective he was against the run.  A tackle missed on 3rd and 5 after giving up 6 yards is a more crucial play than a tackle made on 1st and 10 after giving up 2 yards. 

To help us dive into the advanced stats, I'll again defer to some explanations straight from FootballOutsiders.

One of the stats we'll be looking at is called Stops.  Now that sounds easy.  A stop is when you stop a play, or a tackled, right?  Wrong-o.  Here's the complete definition.

The total number of plays by a defensive player that prevent a successful play by the offense, defined as 45% of needed yards on first down, 60% of needed yards on second down, and 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down. In general, "plays" refers to tackles, passes defensed, fumbles forced, or interceptions.

As you can see, a stop is a situational play.  It all depends on down and distance.  Tackling a player after 4 yards on 1st and 10 is a stop, but after 5 yards is not.  It's not relegated to just tackles, but anything done to disrupt the play. 

Another stat we'll look at is Defeats.  This stat relies on data solely from 3rd and 4th down.

The total number of plays by a defensive player that prevent the offense from gaining first down yardage on third or fourth down, stop the offense behind the line of scrimmage, or result in a turnover. "Plays" refers to tackles, passes defensed, fumbles forced, or interceptions.

As a side note, defeats and stops are show as a percentage of total plays.  A defeat will always be considered a stop, but a stop is not always a defeat. 

 

Year Plays Stops Dfts Yd/Play Rank Stop Rate Rank
2008 85 44 20 6.3 9 52% 7
2007 70 35 12 5.7 4 50% 8
2006 115 49 22 7.5 32 43% 42


This is a classic case of one or two plays causing a huge distortion in opinion.  While Ronde was involved in less total plays when comparing 2006 to the next two years, his percentage of plays and yards per play have gotten more favorable.  I look at this data and I see the yards per play has decreased from 2006 (a Pro Bowl year) by 26% and by 16%.  Not too shabby.  To put it in context, let's compare to the much heralded "Best cornerback in the game" Champ Bailey.

 

Year Plays Stops Dfts Yd/Play Rank Stop Rate Rank
2008 44 18 7 10 90 41% 54
2007 93 47 18 6.4 9 51% 7
2006 107 52 28 6.8 17 49% 21


I'm not using this data to pick on Champ, but to show that Ronde stacks up pretty favorably when comparing these stats.  Of course, there are variables to consider (system, surrounding cast etc), but this gives us a bit of help when looking at Barber. 

Back to Ronde's numbers, he's ranked in the top 10 the last two years in yards per play and in stop percentage.  Looks pretty solid to me.

Those numbers were inclusive of both the pass and the run, but let's take a look at each individually.  First, we'll look at his advanced stats against the run.  Ugh, those ugly stiff arms are coming back to mind. 

 

Year Plays Stops Dfts Yd/Play Rank Stop Rate Rank
2008 24 15 5 3.5 5 63% 16
2007 19 12 3 4.2 13 63% 11
2006 43 21 4 5.3 26 49% 33


Wait a minute.  So these numbers are telling me that in spite of those two plays I saw on national TV, that he's actually improving against the run?  It appears that way.  Again, the total number of plays have decreased, as have his numbers (which on defense, is a good thing).  He's registered slightly less stops, but due to the lower amount of plays involved in, his stop rate has increased from 49% to 63% and holding.  This has taken him into the top 16, not too bad of company.  The yards per play is what stands out to me.  It's decreased almost a full two yards in the last 2 years. 

To compare, the other CB mentioned above saw a yards per play (2006 to 2008) of 5.0, 5.6, 11.2.  I'll take Ronde's numbers, against the run anyways.  Pretty impressive for an old washed up defensive back.

Ok, ok, we'll take a look at the pass numbers.  The numbers vs the run obviously don't support the public roasting of Ronde Barber, so the pass numbers have to be bad, right?

 

Year Plays Stops Dfts Yd/Play Rank Stop Rate Rank Tkl Stop Rate
2008 61 29 15 7.4 31 48% 22 47 32%
2007 51 23 9 6.3 5 45% 22 36 22%
2006 72 28 18 8.8 55 39% 56 56 21%


Not so fast my friend (wrong version of football, but it applies here).  While Barber's numbers aren't gaudy (high rank of 22nd in NFL on stop %), they are nothing if not steady.  His yards per play are down from his '06 Pro Bowl year, his stop rate has improved each year and his rates against receptions only (last two columns) have improved.  His number actually compare very favorably with Bailey's, but while Barber's numbers have improved from 2006 to 2008, Bailey's have gone in reverse.  I guess now is as good a time as any to say again, this isn't a witch hunt against Bailey.  I'm using him as a perfect example (and Barber too) that what you see and hear don't always tell the whole story.

While Barber's numbers here don't scream out defensive stalwart, they're solid.  What I'm particularly encouraged about is the yards per play coming down, and seeing his numbers against receptions improve. That was what we (myself included) thought the weakness was in his game.

Now unfortunately, I have to deliver some bad news.  Though I'm not sure I can quantify it, there is something around the league telling teams to target Barber.

 

Year Hits Hur Tgts Tgt% Rank Avg Dist
2008 4 5 79 20.20% 26 9.2
2007 0 1 53 13.30% 71 7.3
2006 1 3 86 21.20% 19 11.3


His targets were way up in 2006, slightly down in 2007, but creeping back up.  This pretty much coincides with his overall numbers and his numbers against the pass.  He was targeted 20% of the team (just over, 20.2% actually) and the average distance on those plays has started to increase.  Could be a one year fluctuation and will be interesting to look at the completed 2009 numbers to see what they bear out.

Here's where it gets a bit ugly.

 

Year YAC Rank Suc% Rank PaYd Rank
2008 5.3 80 45% 62 9.2 79
2007 3.2 38 47% 48 6.5 20
2006 3.1 25 46% 68 7.9 54


The YAC (Yards after Catch) has risen dramatically, going up by 71% from 2006 to 2008.  That ranking he has (80th) is pretty nasty too. The success percentage is the amount of times the offense is not successful, meaning they didnt get 45% on 1st down, 60% on second or 100% on 3rd or 4th down.  He's maintained his numbers here, but those are near the middle of the pack.  And as you can see, his adjusted yards are on the high (read: bad) side of things.

Is Ronde Barber finished?  If you're asking that question now, I'd refer you back to the top of the column and ask you to read it again.  The numbers bear out that what we see and hear aren't necessarily true.  His numbers against the run have improved, his numbers against the pass are steady and we haven't seen any huge spikes from 2006 to 2008 indicating a severe loss of talent or speed. 

He does have his weaknesses, particularly allowing yards after catch.  Will that continue?  As a fan, I hope not. As a realist, I imagine it will.  They've been increasing since 2006, I see no reason for that to change.

2009 is a new season.  These numbers aren't predictive in any way.  But they show that up to this point, up through the end of the 2008 season, there wasn't the huge need for panic.  Yes, Ronde gave up some ugly plays, but overall, I'd say he was a very solid player, and the numbers back it up.  We'll take a look back as 2009 numbers become available to see which direction he trends, but I think, at least looking back, we can put away the pitchforks and spears for Barber. 

And next time you're watching a game, or reading a newspaper (do people still do that?), keep in mind that all the sensationalizing, the hyping, the decimation of a player may not be what they are making it out to be.  After all, everyone said Barber's 2008 year was pretty bad, yet his numbers were better than his Pro Bowl 2006 season. 

(Editor's Note/Update:  All of these advanced stats, as well as any quotes on the descriptions are from FootballOutsiders.  I apologize if I in any way construed the numbers as my own.)