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The Not-So-Curious Case of Ronde Barber

This is one of those articles that I dread writing, but feel an obligation to do so.  With the offseason in full swing (i.e. dead), it enables us as fans to look back at the previous year with a bit of attachment and not only gain perspective on the past season(s), but also on players.  Over the last few years, there has been a quiet mystery around Ronde Barber and the remaining years left in his NFL career.  We've all speculated that at one point or another he would hang up the cleats and pursue his post-NFL options, but the timing is something that only he knows.

As each year passes and the number of snaps played increases, it only is logical that we are in the twilight of Barber's career.  Barber turned 35 in April of this year, and while he still has something to offer the team and the league, we all know we are closer to the end of his career than the beginning of it.  And while I'd like to sit here and assail you with stories of how Barber contributed to the team and what he means to the current Tampa Bay Buccaneers, now is not the time for nostalgia.  Once the games start, I'll relish watching him play what could be his last year, but with no games or recent plays to obscure my judgment, now seems as good of a time as ever to look at Barber in 2009 and the direction he is heading.

I feel obligated to note that regardless of how the numbers and analysis turn out, this is not a case whereone year defines the player. I am not lobbying for Barber to be cut or given a raise.  I am not asking that he retire.  I am not claiming he was terrible or other-worldly in his prime.  This is what most people call statistical analysis and rather than putting the blinders on, evaluating a player/team based on a year of play.  We can compare the data to other years, and I'm aware that another year may show entirely different results, but since we evaluated 2008 for Ronde (seen here) lets look at 2009 and how Mr. Barber performed. 

I should note that all stats are compiled from either Pro-Football-Reference, FootballOutsiders, or ProFootballFocus.

As we all have come to find out, stats in football can be more subjective than in other sports.  If a cornerbackracks up 110 tackles, that is an outstanding number, but something is wrong.  No corner should be making that many tackles.  Likewise, if a corner only has 20 tackles, this paltry number may or may not represent an issue.  This is why we turn to advanced stats as another tool to help us gauge a player's effectiveness.  By putting all of this information together, we should be able to grab a clear view of how a team or player performed.

Lets start out with a few numbers that we all recognize.  Tackles, interceptions, pass defended etc. 

Year Sk Int PD FF Tkl Ast AV
2007 1 2 14 1 48 10 10
2008 2 4 12 0 65 8 13
2009 2 0 6 2 69 8 9
Career 25 37 131 13 824 157 141

This will give us a quick "fly by" as to what numbers Barber produced over the last three years.  I've also included his career numbers just as a source of context.  His tackle numbers are right in line with career norms, but down about 20% from his prime, when he was regularly in the 80 tackle per year range.  This, by itself tells us nothing.  Before I hammer on a not so surprising point, let me first preface this by saying I saw every game last year and I am very aware at how bad bothour defense and defensive line was.

This brings us to two declining and depressing numbers, Ronde's interception total (the same amount I had last year) and his passes defended number.  For the first time in Ronde's career, he had no interceptions.  He also tied his lowest passes defended number in his career since the stat was first kept.  I'd venture a guess that with the emergence of Aqib Talib, Barber was targeted more, leading to more opportunities (If anyone knows where to find the numbers that indicate how many times a certain defensive player was thrown at, I'd love to se those.  I can't find them anywhere).   That becomes particularly depressing when you see how often the ball was in the air against us early in games this year.  There's no doubt, at least in my mind, that Ronde was hurt by a switch to a more man to man scheme.  It's been widely held that Barber functions best in a zone scheme that allow him to cover an area as opposed to an athlete.  Whether that's true or not, well, you'd have to ask Ronde.

To get a bit more indepth as to how Ronde fared in pass coverage, lets turn to FootballOutsiders and their meaures. 

Plays Stops Dfts Yd/Play Rank
2009 47 19 11 7.4 22
2008 61 29 15 7.4 31
2007 51 23 9 6.3 5

Anyone else see a general decline from 2007 to 2009?  While Barber did improve from 2008 in terms of yards per play and defeats, he has fallen drastically from his 2007 numbers.  Of course, it should be noted that if Ronde is our #2 corner now, he falls about where you would want or expect your secondary back to fall, in the mid 20's. 


Stop Rate Rank Pct Tm
2009 40% 46 13%
2008 48% 22 18%
2007 45% 22 14%

We see the same decline here when looking at stop rate, although this time he goes from middle of the pack to lower end #2 DB.  Ronde has taken on a new role for sure, and these numberscould lend themselves to a number of conclusions, including being targeted more often, which is often the result from playing opposite a shut down corner, and running an inferior defense (or a defense with inferior players). 

All of the above numbers were in the passing game in general, but now lets focus on the passing game when focusing on completed passes only.

Tkl Stops Stop Rate
2009 39 11 28%
2008 47 15 32%
2007 36 8 22%

He has improved since 2007, but we see a slight decline from 2008 to 2009.  Nothing so major to declare Ronde a floundering fish, but enough to keep an eye on in 2010.

Next up, the run game.  The same types of stats are kept, so we can analyze these from 10,000 feet much the same.

Plays Stops Dfts Yd/Play Rank
2009 36 23 11 5 18
2008 24 15 5 3.5 5
2007 19 12 3 4.2 13

 More defeats than ever in 2009, but more yards per play and a lower rank.  Ronde has always been pretty solid in run support (the Carolina game not withstanding) and this certainly lends credence to that notion.  As the running backs get bigger and Ronde gets older, these numbers may suffer.

Stop Rate Rank Pct Tm
2009 64% 14 64%
2008 63% 16 63%
2007 63% 11 63%

The last of the ground game numbers.  Ronde ranks pretty favorably in stop rate, maintaining his position in the top 16. 

Overall, when you combine the passing and running game, here is what you see for #20.

Plays Stops Dfts Yd/Play Rank Stop Rate Rank Rank
2009 83 42 22 6.4 8 51% 17 32
2008 85 44 20 6.3 9 52% 7 14
2007 70 35 12 5.7 4 50% 8 44

As you can clearly see, in yards per play, Ronde ranks pretty well.  For the life of me I can't come up with a reason for this based on the other numbers.  I'd normally attribute it to the fact that if he got beat, there were always 2-3 players there to help clean up, but I'm not so sure that was true in 2009.  In stop rate, you can see that while 2008 provided a bit of an anomaly, 2007 and 2009 weren't years to write home about.

Next, we'll look at one site's subjective ratings of Ronde on the 2009 season.  This being ProFootballFocus.  I'll readily admit I haven't done the due diligence as far as looking at their methodology, so take this as a grain of salt and realize it is just an unbiased opinion on Ronde(or any other player you choose to look up). 

Ronde played in all 16 games and generated an overall score of -10.3 (negative being bad).  This ranked Ronde as 94th out of all cornerbacks (ouch).  Most of the year he fell within acceptable ranges, but five games stand out as games that cost Ronde dearly in this department.  The second game of the year (against Buffalo) was Ronde's worst overall performance according to PFF.  His run defense score came out to 1.1, respectable and placed him 43rd among NFL cornerbacks. 

Ronde ranked in the top 10 for pass rushing skills with a score of 1.2.  This tells us what we all know, Ronde is excellent in the blitz and should be utilized more in this manner.  Particularly when our defensive line blows.  The last figure is Ronde's coverage rating.  This should be fairly important given the position he plays.  He checks in at a disturbing -8.1, good for 99th of the 107 qualifying corners.  Not exactly what any of us wanted to see.

Based on what we've seen, it's very hard to argue that Rondedoesn't deserve to be out there.  While his numbers aren't as spectacular as they were in his earlier years, they are still respectable and should improve witha return to the Tampa Two.  Part of the challenge with Ronde is understanding that this isn't 2002 Ronde Barber.  While we have been fortunate to have him on our team, we have to recognize he is our #2 corner at this point and may even be in a battle for that job.  2009 Ronde seemed to fall off in a number of categories, but if RaheemMorris knows defense like we all think he does, we should see a bounce back for #20 this year.