NFC North: Rewind'10

Earlier this week, we reviewed the tackling proficiency (or lack thereof) of NFC North defenses last season using Football Outsiders' annual charting project. Now let's check out how Football Outsiders rated each NFC North offense's ability to break tackles.

As a reminder, broken tackles in this subjective analysis are defined thusly: "Either the ballcarrier escapes from the grasp of the defender, or the defender is in good position for a tackle but the ballcarrier jukes him out of his shoes. If the ballcarrier sped by a slow defender who dived and missed, that didn't count as a broken tackle."

To me, the rankings listed in the chart make intuitive sense. The Minnesota Vikings have two of the NFL's best open-field runners at their positions, tailback Adrian Peterson and receiver Percy Harvin, and those two players largely accounted for the Vikings' No. 13 overall ranking. There are many talented running backs and receivers in the NFC North, but not many of them are known for breaking tackles.

Some notes and thoughts on players listed in the individual rankings:
  • Peterson ranked No. 8 in the NFL, and tops among NFC North players, with 35 broken tackles on 320 touches. His friendly rival, Tennessee Titans tailback Chris Johnson, broke 41 tackles on 360 touches.
  • The NFC North boasted two of the top three receivers in this category. Harvin led the NFL with 13 broken tackles on 89 touches, while the Detroit Lions' Nate Burleson broke 12 in 69 touches. Meanwhile, Chicago Bears receiver Earl Bennett broke a tackle at a higher rate than either Harvin or Burleson -- 18.9 percent, or nine broken tackles in 49 touches.
  • Bears tailback Matt Forte had one of the NFL's most productive seasons in 2010, but I think we can all agree that breaking tackles isn't among his strengths. He had 15 on 297 touches for a rate of 5.2 percent.
  • One mild surprise: Green Bay Packers tailback John Kuhn was credited with only four broken tackles among 99 touches. But in retrospect, many of Kuhn's runs are of the "fall-forward" rather than "run-through-people" variety.

Rewind'10: The Lions' key role

February, 10, 2011
On a number of occasions during the 2010 season, we suggested the NFC North championship would go through Detroit. The Lions were scheduled to host the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings over the final five weeks of the season, putting them in position at least to have a direct impact on the division title and beyond.

They did just that -- and then some.

Perhaps you've already realized this, but the Lions largely determined the NFC North and Super Bowl titles. Here's how:
  1. The Lions' 7-3 victory over the Packers in Week 14 essentially turned over the division to the Bears. Had the Packers won that game, and the rest of the season played out identically for both teams, they would have clinched the division in Week 17 based on a superior conference record.
  2. On the other hand, an improbable Lions victory the following week was largely responsible for the Packers' wild-card berth. The Lions hadn't won a road game in more than three seasons before taking a 23-20 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Had the Lions instead extended their 26-game road losing streak, and the rest of the season played out the same, the Buccaneers would have beat out the Packers for the NFC's No. 6 seed in the playoffs. The Packers would never have received their opportunity to make a playoff run.

If nothing else, file these scenarios under "circumstances that are interesting to me."