Poor Linebacker Play In 2011 Likely Culprit For Inflated Tackles For Ryan Clark

Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Ryan Clark had a great statistical season last year as far as tackles go. He was in on 100 tackles total with 71 credited to him as being of the solo variety, where he was the primary, or in some cases, the only player involved in making the stop. Both of those numbers were career highs for Clark, but that is not necessarily such a good thing though.

The Steelers run defense struggled at times last year and allowed 4.0 yards per carry on the season. Clark recorded 33 of his 71 solo tackles last year against the run according to my stats and on those plays the defense allowed  6.1 yards per carry. Of those 33 plays, 21 were deemed successful for the offense. A play is deemed successful when the following occurs: 40% of yards-to-go are gained on 1st down; 60% of yards-to-go on 2nd down; or 100% of yards-to-go on 3rd & 4th down. So basically 64% of those 33 plays were successful that Clark was relied upon to make the primary stop. 9 of those 33 plays resulted in first downs and 6 of them went for 10 yards or more.

22 of the assist that Clark had last season were also against the run and they equated to a 5.4 yards per carry on those plays with 50% of them deemed successful and 6 of them resulting in first downs. 2 of the 22 went for 20 yards or more.

So in total Clark was involved in 55 tackles against the run, which was 55% of his total tackles. Now Clark is not to blame here, in fact he should be lauded for being such a willing tackler and helpful in run support. Where the problem mostly lies is that Clark should not be relied upon so much to be the primary tackler. Teams rushed 399 times against the Steelers in 2011 and Clark was 6 solo tackles shy of recording solos on 10% of all those rushes.

Buck linebacker James Farrior was credited with just 41 solo tackles against the run in 2011 with 22 of those running plays being deemed successful by the offense. Farrior was only involved in 50 rushing tackles in total in 2011. Lawrence Timmons, who did see quite a bit of time at outside linebacker in 2011 because of injuries, was in on 57 total run tackles with just 37 of them being solo. Timmons had 55 solos against the run in 2010 as teams rushed a total of 333 times against the Steelers. Add in another 27 assist against the run for Timmons in 2010 and he was involved in 25% of the rushes against the Steelers that season in which he recorded.135 total tackles. Timmons had just 93 total tackles in 2011, roughly a third less than 2010.

With Farrior now gone and both LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison back healthy on the outside, Timmons will get to go back to his natural MACK position, hopefully to stay. Larry Foote now takes over at the BUCK position with Farrior now gone and hopefully this all shores up the linebacker group to better play the run and should result in the defense not having to rely so much on Clark to make primary run stops.

  • Moderatelysane

    Geez. That’s a disturbing set of stats and analysis. It highlights how far Farrior had fallen, although one has to account for the games he missed. I think the d-line was also a large part of the problem last year, with big snack no longer agile enough to manage cut blocking (seems strange to use the word agile in a sentenlce with the big boy). Additionally, smitty went out, leaving Heyward to play as a rookie. I’m hoping that Ziggy finally makes the leap, and Heyward is not leaned on so much. That could presumably translate to fewer Clark tackles and a lower percentage of successful plays among Timmons and foote’s tackles.

  • jlaw

    Sorry if I missed it, but did you ever do an article comparing similar stats of Timmons from 2011 only the games he started inside compared to his 2010 season? I realize the numbers would be skewed but it would be interesting to see his per game differences and numbers against the divisional opponents.

  • Foote may be the more “proven” veteran, but I want to give Sly a chance first. We’ve been developing him for a couple years, and this could be a breakout season ofr him.

  • SteelerDave

    Great break-down. I agree, with all the injuries to our LB corps and Timmons having to play outside plus Farrior showing his age Clark did all he could. Unless our LB’s stay healthy we simply do not have a defense capable of stopping the run effectively.

  • Wdmason

    only if they all stay healthy and the league is still looking to suspend Harrison

  • I have been saying for a while that Timmons is overrated. He is decent but inconsistent against the run and terrible in coverage. He is a good athlete that does well when playing on instinct, but when he has to think he is a liability.

  • Of course, we all knew Farrior was a liability last year, being on his last legs and all. I am hoping Foote will help against the run while Sly develops and eventually takes over.

  • Yep. Any time someone in your secondary leads your defense in tackles, it is indicative of one or more problems. Last year, we had several.

  • dgh57

    Uninspired play is more like it or at least didn’t help matters much!!! On this very blog towards the 1st 6 weeks or so of last season were reports of players NOT giving full effort!!

    Hood and Woodley I remember as some players mentioned.

    Could it be Woodley received a new contract? Had he been in the last year of his contract things would of been different?

  • Daveb1952

    If you are looking at the dropoff in Linebacker play, you need to go a little further. Hood, and McClendon, are not Arron Smith and Casey Hampton. Our DL is supposed to keep the Linebackers “clean” so they can make the tackles. The decline in Hampton’s play, and having Hood at LDE is directly the cause of Farriors’s tackle numbers dropping, obviously show up in a porportional increase in the amount of tackles Clark made.

  • Jb

    Yeah, to me it really looks as if the offense is headed in the right direction… of course, there’s still lots to prove on that side of the team. Also, I think the overall corner talent has been greatly improved. But, the backers and d-line are a concern. If Timmons had gotten substantially better the backers would probably be okay… even with Farrior’s removal and Harrison coming close to the end.

    The only thing that will save the Steelers defense from taking a noticeable dip would be a resurgence of Troy (I remember several years back that the Bears Brian Urlacher looked like he was done and has since come back to have a few real good seasons). And, every team needs a few good surprises. A player or two in both the backers and d-line that step-up further than both the coaches and fans thought they originally would.

  • Jimmy

    If your Manager moved you from the Lab and put you in accounting,your production may not be promotion material either.Timmons is not the problem. He was a junior at Florida State as a DE and the Steelers specifically drafted him to study in a complex defense as a ILB
    in the 1st round as a junior. Every year Timmons played his position he led in tackles and even responded in sacks drawn up by Coach Lebeau. When Woodley or Harrison was hurt He played out of position. He also played hurt due to lack of depth. Farrior was slipping years ago,missing tackles and couldnt cover.This year Timmons will be playing in his mack position.IF Woodley & Harrison can stay healthy and stay on the field TOGETHER, This should spark some heathy heated competition for the Buck position. The key will be the DL. Can they get a push or will they be pushed around? This is the Question!