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Friday, February 1, 2013
Quick look at Lewis, Willis and Bowman

By Mike Sando

NEW ORLEANS -- Super Bowl XLVII features arguably the greatest inside linebacker in NFL history (Ray Lewis) and the two best in the game today (Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman).


We've frequently heard about Lewis leading the NFL in tackles for Baltimore this postseason. That stat made me wonder whether there could be a way to evaluate the quality of those tackles. I wondered if we could generate a comparison for Lewis and his San Francisco 49ers counterparts, Willis and Bowman.

There's no surefire way to do it, to my knowledge. But with an assist from Hank Garguilo of ESPN Stats & Information, we're able to see how many yards opposing players gained on average before Lewis, Willis and Bowman tackled them.

We eliminated from consideration tackles made on pass plays. Instead, we focused on tackles made on runs inside and outside the tackles.

The method is imperfect, of course. Missing a tackle would be worse than making one 10 yards downfield, but the missed tackle wouldn't factor into the averages. Making a tackle 20 yards downfield on the other side of the field could be a spectacular play, but it would "hurt" a player's average for these purposes.

But if you're interested in knowing generally how far downfield these players make tackles against the run, note that Bowman makes them closer to the line of scrimmage than Willis, who makes them closer to the line of scrimmage than Lewis.

Where each man lines up is another key variable. Willis is particularly versatile in this way.

"Willis' overall numbers get inflated when he walks out into the slot and makes a tackle," Garguilo noted.

I'll be watching these three players closely Sunday.